With a thundering beat from the Samba Squad on stage at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s teachers waved red placards and condemned the education bill the Liberals tabled in the legislature on Monday.
The minority Liberal government has support for the bill, which will freeze teachers’ wages for the next two years, from Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives on the condition the bill not nullify savings from the freeze by offering other benefits.
Sam Hammond, leader of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, decried the bill before the boisterous crowd at Tuesday’s rally.
“Mister McGuinty, minister of education, do us all a favour and stop lying!” leading the crowd again into a cheer of “Liar! Liar! Liar!”
The union was also encouraged by the NDP’s education critic Peter Tabuns and prominent federal NDP MP Olivia Chow. Chow said her father worked as a high school biology teacher.
Teachers and supporters filled every last patch of green patches of the Queen’s Park lawn. Deafening roars and red banners demanded the Liberals change.
The legislation is being debated in second reading at Queens Park and looks set to go to committee for closer scrutiny with PC support.
Hudak says the province can get through its current tough economic situation leaner and meaner by cutting spending that drives up provincial debt.
He blames Liberal mismanagement of the public purse for making the wage freeze necessary, and has also pushed for other education cuts.
“We will let this legislation pass, and bail this government out of the mess it has created,” Hudak said in a recent statement. “But the Premier needs to learn a lesson from all this: He can’t spend what he doesn’t have. Just as important—we need to focus on what comes next.”
But New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath says the bill is unnecessary and Hudak and McGuinty are teaming up against teachers.
“People won’t be fooled by desperate attempts to play politics with the classroom,” says a recent NDP statement.
Union leaders allege McGuinty is trying to distract voters from the Ornge air ambulance scandal and to prop up Liberal support for two seats in an upcoming by-election that could deliver the Liberals a majority government.
“We’re starting this session early because the Premier’s more worried about his struggle for a majority government than the challenges facing families every day,” she said in a recent statement.
“Dalton McGuinty and Tim Hudak want to pursue a risky plan that won’t work in response to a crisis that doesn’t exist. I don’t think people will be fooled or impressed with political games that hurt kids in the classroom,” said Horwath.
The NDP argue there was no need to rush the legislation, given the unions had pledged to resume classes on schedule.
The party also questions Liberal claims of $473 million in savings, saying the government has yet to break down the figure.
The Liberals want the legislation passed quickly to give parents and students “peace of mind” that classes will resume on schedule, according to a recent statement.
The government says the legislation will protect Ontario students from labour disruptions due to striking teachers.
The Liberals have criticized Hudak’s calls for an end to all-day kindergarten, accusing the official opposition of gutting the province’s education system when it was in government.
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