2012-09-03 at 16:43
First week back: MPPs deal with controversial Putting Students First Act
MPPs Sarah Campbell and Michael Gravelle.
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The controversial legislation to end negotiations with education workers dominated the first week for MPPs returning to Queen’s Park from summer break.
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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty called back the legislature early in order to deal with the ongoing negotiations with teachers and support staff. Calling it the Putting Students First Act, the piece of legislation would require school boards and local bargaining units of teachers and support staffs to accept an agreement with the government.
The deal was influenced by the arrangement the government already made with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. They included wages freezes, banning strikes and lockouts for two years, forcing three unpaid days off, stopping unused sick days from being cashed out at retirement and cutting the annual amount of sick days in half to 10.
The bill passed second reading and was heavily debated on Thursday before the legislature broke for the long weekend.
MPP Michael Gravelle (Lib, Thunder Bay – Superior North) said it was a difficult first week.
“The legislation has gone forward and that was certainly part of the debate this week,” Gravelle said. “We even had one night sitting quite late into the evening which I was a part of. This is something we believe needs to be moved forward in terms of recognizing that we want to be sure our schools certainly do open and stay open without being interrupted.”
More than 200 education workers rallied outside the provincial offices on James Street Tuesday to protest the Liberal government’s plan to legislate unions back to work. The unions criticized the government for taking away their bargaining rights.
Gravelle said the government bargained for many hours in order to reach the deal with the OECTA and the other unions had walked away from the table.
“The fact is we did have a very significant negotiation discussion with OECTA and the legislation is based on the OECTA agreement,” he said.
“It was a negotiated settlement that took 300 hours of bargaining. That’s certainly a fact and the legislature is a reflection of that settlement and that’s the template.”
The government issued a media release on Friday saying they had reached another agreement with thousands of education assistants. The government still hasn’t reached an agreement with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
MPP Sarah Campbell (NDP, Kenora – Rainy River) said although debate at the legislature focused primarily on the labour disputes with the education workers, the main goal for the minority led Liberal government is to do well in the two by-elections.
If the Liberals can win the Kitchener-Waterloo riding while maintaining MPP Greg Sarbara’s former Vaughan riding, then majority status is theirs.
Campbell said that’s been the goal of the government all along and added the recent announcement of the Northern Policy Institute was only done to gain political favour because Gravelle and fellow MPP Bill Mauro (Lib. Thunder Bay – Atikokan) aren’t in the best position.
“The general direction of this fall session seems to be around the by-elections,” Campbell said. “The Liberals seem reoccupied with seizing their much desired majority. In the last couple of days, it seems they have started releasing their plan B. I think there’s a slow realization that they may not win these two by-elections.”
Campbell tries not to be cynical but when she heard about the NPI she thought it was a set backwards for the North, she said. Instead, she would have preferred a Northern committee made up of MPPs. The committee then could directly bring concerns to ministers, she said.
Campbell wasn’t sure when they would be debating the Putting Students First Act next week but said she felt that the government was pushing to have the bill go through soon.
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