It’s Liberals vs. teachers as legislature returns

TORONTO – Ontario’s legislature is being recalled today as a labour showdown with teachers and two potentially game-changing byelections loom on the horizon.

The governing Liberals are planning to introduce a bill to impose new contracts on thousands of teachers that will rein in wages and cut benefits.

It would also ban strikes and lockouts — which some unions are condemning as an unprecedented attack on their constitutional rights.

Three unions who oppose the government’s demands are planning a rally Tuesday at Queen’s Park to protest the legislation.

They say there will be no labour disruptions this fall, but aren’t ruling out job action later in the year.

The minority Liberals need one of the opposition parties to help pass the legislation, and Progressive Conservatives have signalled that they’re willing to do that.

Opposition Leader Tim Hudak insists the bill will pass, but won’t say whether his party will vote for the bill or simply sit it out.

“Like I said, if I’ve got a half loaf I’m going to take it, but I am very worried that there have been some tradeoffs here that are handing over the keys to our schools to the union leaders,” he said.

It’s not a perfect plan, but if the legislation doesn’t go through, old contracts with teachers will automatically roll over giving them pay raises and benefits that the province can’t afford, he said.

The Tories will keep pushing for a legislated wage freeze for all public sector workers, Hudak said.

But the Liberals said they’re skeptical that Hudak will actually support the legislation and want it in writing.

“He said a number of times this bill will pass,” said government house leader John Milloy.

“He didn’t say he would support the bill and he talked about a list of concerns they have … and he has yet to share those concerns with us.”

The New Democrats haven’t revealed whether they’ll support the legislation or not, but have urged the government to go back and negotiate with the teachers.

NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said the Liberals are trying to create a crisis to win two potentially game-changing byelections on Sept. 6.

They’ve spread fear that the school year is in jeopardy to distract voters from the fiasco at the province’s troubled air ambulance service and a $190-million bill to cancel a gas plant that saved Liberal seats in the last election, he said.

The Liberals have a shot at a majority government and are willing to do whatever it takes to win in Vaughan and Kitchener-Waterloo, no matter what the cost, he said.

“The Liberals are always the same,” Bisson said. “It’s about doing what’s right for them and not necessarily what’s right for Ontarians.”

The return of the legislature also means the return of the hearings on Ornge, Ontario’s troubled air ambulance service.

The committee that’s examining the scandal surrounding Ornge, which is currently under a criminal investigation, is scheduled to meet Wednesday. But it’s not yet clear who may be called in to testify at the hearing.

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