Through nine long years and three hard-fought general elections, Ontario’s teachers have fought doggedly alongside the Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty, knocking on doors, pounding in signs and writing cheques that helped fund seven-digit ad campaigns.
But public displays of affection between McGuinty and the province’s two largest teacher unions, representing more than 93,000 members, have vanished. Unions say co-operation has been replaced by a deep sense of betrayal.
“Since 2003 we had a great relationship with this government, there is no doubt about that,” Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond says.
“We supported them in each of the last three elections and did that openly because this government did make substantial changes and sound investments in public education. We supported those - smaller class sizes, full day kindergarten, etc.
“As of Oct. 7 (2011), we’re dealing with a government, a premier, a minister of education, I don’t understand anymore. Quite frankly. Since Oct. 7, there has been no relationship with this government.”
Not surprisingly, it’s money troubles that are threatening to split apart this durable political marriage since last fall’s election delivered a Liberal minority - McGuinty is dealing with a $15-billion deficit that can’t be reduced without some pain for the more than 1 million workers in the province’s broader public sector, whose salaries make up a big chunk of that shortfall.
To that end, Education Minister Laurel Broten tried to convince teachers to accept both a two-year wage freeze and a freeze on salary grid movement - the automatic wage bumps teachers get as they accumulate years of service.