Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten says using the powers afforded to her by the controversial Bill 115 had to happen in today's volatile economy.
In an interview with Metro Morning's Piya Chattopadhyay Friday morning, Broten defended the decision to impose contracts on teachers as a "fiscal necessity."
"As the result of a global recession and the fiscal realities we've had, we needed to curb our expenditures within the ministry of education," Broten said.
She says the contracts the province is imposing on teachers are similar to ones already signed with the Catholic school board, which include pay freezes for most teachers, a cut in the number of sick days allowed each year and a limit to how many sick days teachers can cash out when they reach retirement.
The province gained the power to impose contracts when Bill 115 was passed last fall. The legislation also allows the government to ban teachers' strikes.
Broten says part of the impetus for the imposed contracts was to "keep teachers employed."
"It's a recession — we want people to have their jobs," Broten said. "But to do that, we have to ask for a pause when it comes to teacher pay increases and we have to put an end to something called bankable sick days."
Union reacts with disgust
Chantal Mancini, president of the local bargaining unit of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, reacted to the news with "utter disgust."
"It's unprecedented and it's unbelievable that the government would attack collective bargaining rights and attack democracy," she said.
Lisa Hammond, president of the local bargaining unit of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, also condemned the measures.
"We're angry and extremely disappointed that the government has gone down the road of misusing their authority to take away our rights when it was convenient for them."
Mancini added that she and other OSSTF leaders will meet next week to discuss next steps.
"This level of government can expect a larger political battle moving forward," she said.
Bill 115 to be repealed: Broten
Just as quickly as Bill 115 was used for the first time, Broten announced the government will repeal it now that contracts are in place, adding the bill has "accomplished what we set out to do."
She's also hoping the move will be taken as a "gesture of god faith" that will help usher extracurricular activities back into schools.
"Extracurricular activities are defined as voluntary under the education act," Broten said. "There's no tool I have in my toolkit to get those extracurricular activities back."
So, she says, the government has "removed the impediment" in order to "build for the future."
Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond condemned that logic at a news conference Thursday morning.
"This is an extremely cynical use of power that makes little sense," he said of Broten's announcement.
The government's move, Hammond said, is creating confusion for teachers' unions and their membership, adding that he has "no idea" what the new contracts would look like or whether they would differ from school board to school board.
"I am still trying to figure out what was said this morning and where this government is headed."
Hammond didn't give specific details about how his union would proceed, but hinted at further protests.
"You cannot expect . . . that it will be business as usual in schools going into the New Year."