TORONTO - The governing Liberals must have given Ontario's public elementary teachers a special deal to resume extracurricular activities, the Progressive Conservatives charged Wednesday.
Premier Kathleen Wynne is refusing to tell taxpayers what's going on behind closed doors with the teachers' unions, said Tory education critic Lisa MacLeod.
"She talks about clarity, yet she refuses to provide any details," she said.
"Is she prepared to water down standardized testing in the province at the behest of teachers' unions? Was there a promissory note for future negotiations to talk about future increases to teachers' salaries?"
But Wynne insists there's no special deal and no new money for public high school and elementary school teachers.
The Liberals are working with the unions on a new process for collective bargaining and how it will be implemented for the next round of negotiations once the current contracts expire in two years, she said.
"As I've said, implementation details, no new money and what's the collective bargaining process going to look like going forward," Wynne said in explaining the content of the talks.
"So that is really what we have been talking about. And whether you buy it or not, that's the reality."
The aim is to have a "clear bargaining process that has a provincial component and a local component," she said.
Over the last few years, new contracts with teachers have been reached through a so-called provincial roundtable, where representatives for the government, school boards and unions hammer out a framework agreement.
That template is then used in local negotiations to fine-tune a final agreement, as the school boards are technically the teachers' employers.
But talks with the unions need to remain confidential for now to create trust between all the parties so they can come to a resolution, Wynne said.
No details will be released until an agreement is finalized, said Education Minister Liz Sandals, a former school board trustee.
"What we know is that you don't negotiate with the media, with the cameras," she told reporters. "And as persistent as you may be, we're not changing that rule."
Students have waited long enough for the Liberals to clean up the mess they created, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"They've thrown the whole school system into chaos," she said.
"They've put kids and families and parents and education workers through the wringer, and now they're trying to clean up the mess. So God bless, clean up the mess and let's move on."
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario said late Tuesday night it was suspending its advice that members boycott voluntary activities, citing progress in talks with the government.
ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a statement that the talks will continue and the union is confident the government "has demonstrated a commitment to dealing with concrete items of importance" to its members.
Public school teachers withdrew from extracurricular activities in the fall to protest a controversial law that freezes wages, cuts benefits and stops strikes. It was used in January to force new two-year contracts on them, which teachers said violated their constitutional bargaining rights.
Former premier Dalton McGuinty maintained the move was necessary to fight Ontario's $12-billion deficit, but teachers said it violated their constitutional rights.
Talks with the unions started anew after McGuinty stepped down and Wynne — a former education minister — replaced him as Liberal leader at the end of January.
ETFO's decision comes a month after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation told its members that they could go back to extracurricular activities.
But OSSTF president Ken Coran noted a majority of public high school teachers may not return to extracurricular activities.
Note to readers: This story has been clarified. It specifies that the ETFO suspended advice that members boycott voluntary activities.
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