TORONTO — There is no way Ontario’s teachers will get salary raises higher than one per cent a year, Premier Doug Ford said Thursday.
“We either stay stagnant and roll over like the previous Liberal government did, give the unions whatever they want, or we can be responsible and respect the taxpayers’ money,” Ford told reporters outside his office at Queen’s Park.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives passed a law in November that caps salary raises for all public sector workers at one per cent. All four of the province’s major teachers’ unions are challenging the bill in court.
“We can’t have rules for the heads of the unions that represent teachers and rules for everyone else in the province,” Ford said.
The premier’s comments come as all four unions have announced plans to take or escalate job action.
Three unions are planning one-day strikes next week — The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA). Teachers in the French school system start work-to-rule this week.
The unions say they are fighting the government’s proposals to increase class sizes and mandate online courses for high school students. The province, on the other hand, says it’s all about money.
“Make no mistake about it. This is about compensation,” Ford said Thursday.
“It’s the one per cent. If I came out tomorrow and said we’re going to give them another one per cent, this would be done. But we can’t do that.”
OSSTF has asked for raises tied to the cost of living, which increases about two per cent a year, and a six per cent funding increase for benefits.
Ford’s government says that would cost Ontario $294 million more per year by 2021/22 and the cost would balloon to $1.5 billion per year if all the other unions get the same thing.
Last week, the OSSTF offered to delay a one-day strike if the province guaranteed to keep class sizes at the 2018/19 levels.
“OSSTF’s proposal demonstrates that salary and wages are not the major issue at the table as continually claimed by the Minister of Education,” the union said on its website at the time.
Ford’s government initially said it would increase average high school classes from 22 students to 28 and force students to take four of their credits online. Education Minister Stephen Lecce later watered down those policies, proposing to increase class sizes to an average of 25 students, though individual classes could be larger, and lower the e-learning requirement to two courses.
The premier was asked Thursday if he would budge on those issues.
“We did,” he said. “We already did.”