On Campus

Ont. teachers urged to accept "fair" deal from province

Strike by 73,000 teachers would affect about 750,000 students

Premier Dalton McGuinty is urging elementary school teachers to avert a potential strike and take a “fair” contract offer that his government has put on the table.

Ontario’s public elementary school teachers have until 4 p.m. Thursday to either accept or reject the government’s four-deal deal.

Education Minister Kathleen Wynne says if teachers don’t take the $700-million offer, they will be stuck with a two-year deal that will be worth much less.

A strike would affect about 750,000 students.

Wynne says the contract proposal would give teachers a 10.4 per cent salary increase over four years, and include money to hire more teachers.

School boards have already accepted the offer, but the union says it’s outraged by Wynne’s threats and deadlines.

Last month, the union threatened to hold a strike vote if “significant progress” wasn’t made in contract talks with school boards by Feb. 13.

That could put more than 73,000 teachers and education workers in a strike position by the end of March.

The province had set two other deadlines with teachers, but an agreement was never reached.

McGuinty dismissed suggestions Thursday that setting a third deadline at the last minute makes his government look weak.

“I think what Ontarians expect of their government is that they will establish a solid, professional, good working relationship with our teachers,” he said.

“I think we’ve done that. And I think the results speak for themselves — higher graduation rates and higher test scores.”

For weeks, Wynne has insisted the souring economy meant there was no more money for elementary teachers.

But the province’s latest offer isn’t that far off the original, $800-million deal that would have given teachers a 12 per cent pay raise over four years.

That was trimmed to four per cent over two years when no agreement was reached in December.

The new offer doesn’t appear to resolve a key issue that the union says is at the heart of the dispute — the province’s unwillingness to commit to closing a $711-per-student funding gap between elementary and high schools.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.