Analysis

Kathleen Wynne rolls the dice on back-to-work legislation for teachers

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is taking a gamble by damaging her relationship with the province's teachers, CBC's Robert Fisher writes.

Will the Liberals still be the party of choice for Ontario's teachers?

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is taking a big gamble with back-to-work legislation for striking teachers, CBC's provincial affairs specialist Robert Fisher writes. (The Canadian Press)

If there is one thing that gets under Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's political skin, it's the comparison to former premier Mike Harris.  

But faced with teacher strikes and work-to-rule campaigns — just like the Progressive Conservative premier in the '90s — she's prepared, apparently, to hear it again.

The Liberals have been told the school year is in jeopardy and as a result the party, through Education Minister Liz Sandals, is introducing back-to-work legislation and seeking the opposition's support for quick passage.

But the signals for that were there days ago. 

"I will take whatever action that I need to take to get students back to school as quickly as possible," Wynne said to reporters last Thursday. 

And that brought the obvious follow-up question. 

"Does that mean back-to-work legislation," asked a reporter?

Wynne's response was clear. "If that's what we have to do ..." 

And it's been determined they do have to act. 

"I want — we all want — the kids back in school. We want teachers back in school," said Wynne, already knowing of the growing angst among students and parents about the current strikes and the prospect they will escalate, along with a work-to-rule campaign by other high school teachers and the province's elementary teachers.

So both sides have drawn a line in the sand and both, it can be said, have underestimated the other's resolve. 

It was former prime minister Jean Chrétien who once observed that in politics if you paint yourself into a corner, you have two choices: "Wait until the paint dries or, walk on the wet paint."

For Wynne, it's a decision to walk on that wet paint and accept the consequences of damaging her relationship with Ontario's teachers.

But Wynne will be counting on two things:

1. That time heals all wounds.

2. That she is still the best option for teachers, and given the choice between her and the Patrick Brown Conservatives, teachers will support her again. They remember the Harris years and, from the last election, the Tim Hudak pledge to fire public sector workers including teachers.

And she's counting on her hard line now solidifying her standing with everyone else three years down the road in a provincial election.

For a premier who is not a big fan of gambling, it's a big roll of the dice.

About the Author

Robert Fisher

Provincial Affairs Specialist

A commentator with decades of experience covering Queen's Park, Robert Fisher writes about politics for CBC.ca. He is an award-winning broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience in public and private radio and television.

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