The heads of two local teachers’ unions both say it’s time for a new education minister.
Ellen Chambers, who heads up the Lakehead chapter of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, and Paul Caccamo, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, said it would be a calamity for all involved if incoming premier Kathleen Wynne kept Laurel Broten in the portfolio.
Broten came under intense fire from both unions after the province stripped teachers of their right to collectively bargain, ultimately imposing contracts on teachers. In response public-school teachers across the province have withdrawn most voluntary services, putting a temporary halt to the school sports season and other extra-curricular activities.
“Given the last year and some of the comments this minister of education has made about the education sector and our ongoing pleas to allows free collective bargaining, it would certainly start from a point of strained relations if (Broten) stayed on in that role,” said Caccamo, reached via phone on Monday afternoon.
“I would hope the incoming premier would see that and look for a fresh set of eyes on the education sector to handle the file.”
Chambers wholeheartedly agreed, calling on Wynne, a former school board trustee and education minister, as well as a Harvard-trained negotiator, to make a switch when she names her new cabinet.
“She’s not going to listen to me, but I think it would be politically insane for her to put Laurel Broten back there,” Chambers said. “I think there will be a switch-up. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t.”
Caccamo said while he doesn’t expect Wynne to tear up the contracts forced upon teachers that took away a number of perks, including the right to bank sick days through to retirement, there are ways for former premier Dalton McGuinty’s replacement to reach out and show there’s a new attitude toward teachers at Queen’s Park.
There are plenty of localized issues that the education minister could allows boards to individually negotiate, and plenty of potential candidates who would allow it to happen, he added.
“What we’re looking for here are people who are committed to talking about the core issues and not misrepresenting them and coming to terms on something we could find satisfactory on both sides in the short term,” Caccamo said.
“We have continually tried to do that with this minister and have had absolutely no success. Certainly from my perspective a fresh set of ears and eyes and a real genuine commitment to sit down and solve this challenge could result in a very early conversation.”
The ETFO on Saturday issued a statement inviting Wynne to meet, saying “respectful discussions (are) needed to end the chaos created by Bill 115.”
Officials from the OSSTF last week applauded the government taking steps to repeal the bill, which took away their bargaining rights, but called on the new premier to restore those same rights immediately.