Hamilton education workers are hopeful the new provincial Liberal leader will re-open negotiations with teachers after a two-year contract was imposed earlier this month. Wednesday, leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy said he would work to reach a negotiated settlement if chosen.

Kennedy, speaking on CBC Radio's Metro Morning, said the relationship between Ontario teachers and the government should be "fundamentally based on respect."

"Somehow that went off the rails and that has to be restored," the former education minister told host Matt Galloway. "The only way to do that is to re-open the contracts that were imposed. Teachers are taking a pay cut, not just a wage freeze."

Chantal Mancini, president of OSSTF's district 21 teacher bargaining unit, said Hamilton teachers are hopeful that provincial demonstrations have caught the attention of the leadership candidates.

"It's not just teachers, it's education and support workers, too. There are lots of folks really upset about having their bargaining rights removed," she said, adding many Hamilton education workers plan to demonstrate at the Liberal leadership convention later this month.

Kennedy is one of six candidates running

"There's going to be quite a presence there from the labour force. Hopefully, they'll look out their window and see us there with our signs."

She added Kennedy's promise to re-open negotiations are only meaningful if he follows through.

"If he's going to keep his word, that'd be good news. We'll have to see."

Kennedy is one of six candidates running to succeed outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty at an Ontario Liberal leadership convention set for Jan. 25 to 26 in Toronto. He will enter the convention with support from 14 per cent of elected delegates. That puts him third in delegate support but well behind front-runners former MPP Sandra Pupatello (27 per cent) and Don Valley West MPP Kathleen Wynne (25 per cent).

The other candidates include Mississauga-Erindale MPP Harinder Takhar who enters the convention with support from 13 per cent support of committed delegates; Mississauga South MPP Charles Sousa (11 per cent) and St. Paul's MPP Eric Hoskins (six per cent).

The majority of elected delegates, who number just over 1,800 party members, have declared first-ballot support for specific candidates. After that they can shift support to other candidates. The delegate count also includes about 400 ex-officio members, mostly party bigwigs and former candidates, who enter the convention without having to declare first-ballot support for any candidate.