08/22/2012 04:29 EDT | Updated 10/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Critics question Ontario Liberals’ teacher legislation

As the Ontario government tries to use legislation to get public-sector teachers to accept a wage freeze, critics are voicing concerns about other changes the Liberals are pressing for in schools.

The Liberals have said that they want all boards to reach deals similar to the ones that the province recently reached with English Catholic teachers, under the threat of legislation that would achieve the same result.

To that end, the government is recalling the legislature on Monday, so that it can introduce a bill that will force a two-year deal on all teachers in the province and prevent pending wage increases.

However, some other changes that would be implemented under the "Putting Students First Act," including the way that supply teachers are picked for duty, are being seized on by critics.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Wednesday that he believed a deal the government reached with English Catholic teachers took away principals’ power to call on the supply teachers of their choice. Instead, seniority would be the deciding factor in supply assignments, he said.

Hudak said that changing the way that supply teachers are assigned is simply a way of yielding control to union leaders whose members will benefit from a seniority-based system.

"I think that’s wrong. I’d actually put my faith in the principals that ... he or she should decide who can come in and do the best job with that particular class," Hudak told reporters Wednesday.

That concern is shared by Howard Goodman, a Toronto District School Board trustee who says that using seniority is not the way that school boards will be able to put the best teachers in place.

"By using seniority, it’s a spin of the wheel," Goodman told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Wednesday.

"Whoever’s up first gets the assignment, rather than have the principal have a roster of regulars that the principal calls upon."

Goodman said this type of arrangement could hurt young teachers who can use the short-term work to gain experience and potentially get a shot at a longer-term assignment.

Wage freeze 'just the first step'

While Hudak believes the Liberals should be enacting an across-the-board wage freeze for all public-sector workers, the Tories want the province to also move towards a broader goal of shrinking the size of the government.

"The wage freeze, it’s just the first step. There’s a lot more to be done," said Hudak.

Though he hinted that the Tories could support some elements of the Liberals’ bill.

"My approach on these things is that if you get half a loaf, you take it and then you press for more," he said.

Education Minister Laurel Broten said she was "encouraged" to hear that Hudak was talking about seeing some possible common ground with the government.

The minority Liberals will need the support of at least one opposition party — either the Tories or the New Democrats — to get their legislation passed.

The New Democrats have signalled they won't support it, saying it will spark a lengthy legal battle with teachers that could end up costing millions of dollars.

"It's no surprise that Tim Hudak is prepared to be just as reckless as Dalton McGuinty, after all a legislated wage freeze was his idea in the first place, but neither of them are willing to admit the real costs," NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said in a statement

The government should "roll up their sleeves" and work through the collective bargaining process to get a deal, he added.

Broten announced Wednesday that the York Catholic District School Board would sign onto the deal that the province had reached with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association.

"I am very pleased with them for that leadership and think that their families and parents will also be very pleased to get that news," Broten said.