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Liberals return to Queen's Park but uncertainty lingers over Ontario schools

Teacher contracts will expire in August. Bargaining is expected to begin in earnest this summer.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

A cloud of uncertainty looms over Ontario's schools as the Liberals return to Queen's Park with a majority government.

Although the party's education platform was more palatable to unions than the job-cutting proposals of the Progressive Conservatives, resentment lingers among teachers from when the Liberals imposed contract terms on them less than two years ago.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said on Thursday night that he was relieved the Conservatives were not elected. But he could not promise a smooth round of bargaining on new teachers' contracts.

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"It's very much going to depend on the respect shown at the table by all parties," Mr. Hammond said.

He said his union has had a good relationship with Ms. Wynne and Liz Sandals, who was Education Minister. But if any of the parties look to strip collective agreements, as in the last round, teachers will not remain silent, he said. Paul Elliott, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said it is "far too early to tell" if the Liberal win means a less rocky round of teacher negotiations. Last month, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) approved a levy that will bolster its strike fund and provide three-quarters pay in the event of a strike.

James Ryan, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, said it would be going too far to say his members were happy to see the Liberals stay in power.

"Given the extreme platform that [Tim] Hudak ran on, the word is relieved," he said. "There would have been chaos in the classrooms."

There were stark differences in what Liberals and Conservatives promised on elementary and secondary education. The Liberals dangled a 2 per cent raise for elementary teachers and $150-million in new funding for technology in schools. The Conservatives vowed to cut 9,700 educational support staff, increase the numbers in primary school classes and remove early childhood educators from full-day kindergarten classrooms. Ms. Wynne spent the last few days of the campaign stressing how that plan, part of the Tories' wider platform of 100,000 public sector job cuts, would affect education workers and young graduates.

Teacher contracts will expire in August. Bargaining is expected to begin in earnest this summer. Under Ms. Wynne, the Liberals introduced a new bargaining framework on teacher negotiations. Big monetary issues, such as salaries and benefits, will be negotiated centrally by the government, provincial unions and school board associations. Bargaining on local issues, such as teachers' workload, access to technology and training, would take place between individual school boards and their unions.

Leaders of teachers' unions have said their members are looking for improvements after the cuts imposed on them in their last contract, even as Ontario faces a $12.5-billion deficit.

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"There is belief that teachers gave up something over the last contract," said Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association. "It's a difficult bargaining position when there still is no money."

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About the Authors
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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