NEWS

Ontario teacher dispute led to Liberal byelection loss: minister

09/12/2012 01:24 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 05:12 EST
The governing Liberals' strong-arm tactics around a new contract with Ontario teachers likely led in part to their third-place finish in a recent byelection in Kitchener-Waterloo, conceded a prominent minister.

That admission was made on CBC's Metro Morning Wednesday by Kathleen Wynne, minister of municipal affairs and housing as well as aboriginal affairs, who some Queen's Park insiders have mentioned as a possible candidate to take over the leadership of the Liberal party if and when Premier Dalton McGuinty decides to leave politics.

When CBC's Matt Galloway suggested that her party "took a real hammering in the [Sept. 6] byelection in Kitchener-Waterloo" in part due of its decision to table legislation to impose a new contract on the province's teachers, Wynne said: "I don't think that analysis is incorrect."

"There was the end of the process whereby we were realizing that we wouldn't get a resolution through the collective bargaining process with all of our education partners," said Wynne, a former education minister who forged a strong bond with the province's teachers and oversaw the implementation of the province's full-day kindergarten program.

"We had the byelection coming up, and there were tactics used — and believe me, there will be internal discussions about that — and that's again part of the calculus of what we do going forward."

Her comments come as unions representing about 191,000 teachers and other education workers say the legislation passed Tuesday with the support of the Conservatives strips workers of their constitutional rights in the name of fiscal restraint.

Teachers protest

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, meanwhile, has called on its 60,000 members not to volunteer today for any extracurricular activities to protest the Liberals' legislation.

"My hope is teachers don't rob themselves of the experience of extracurriculars with kids. Their fight is with us, and I understand that," Wynne said.

But she noted she "wasn't at the table" when the Liberals were formulating their strategy around the teacher contracts, and said there is now an opportunity to "change the dialogue I think on organized labour and their relationship with government."

"That positional, confrontational dialogue, it's an old script, and we need to move on from it," she said.

Public sector 'wage freeze' initiative coming

However, the premier's comments later that morning seemed to belie Wynne's stance.

"The ministry of finance will be bringing forward an initiative that speaks to the need for all of our public-sector partners to be part of the solution to freeze all of our wages for a couple of years," said McGuinty at an event in Toronto.

The Liberals have said that if public-sector workers are unwilling to accept a voluntary wage freeze, they would introduce legislation to force salary restraint.

When asked by a reporter how soon legislation would be coming and how far-reaching it would be, McGuinty replied: "I'll leave it to the minister to speak to the details of that, but my sense is we'll be talking about something that's more holistic in nature, that's across the board."

McGuinty also said he admits teachers and the government have hit what he calls "a bit of a rough patch," but said he can't accept any decision by teachers to stop supervising clubs and teams after class.

McGuinty said he's convinced teachers, "in their heart of hearts," understand that after class clubs are really important to students and their families.

The bill passed on Tuesday imposes new contracts on thousands of teachers that rein in wages and cut benefits, such as sick days, for two years.

It also gives the government the power, for at least two years, to stop strikes and lockouts.

MORE:cbcNews