35,000 Ontario teachers walk out to protest anti-strike bill

TORONTO – Tens of thousands of elementary students in eight Ontario school boards — including the province’s largest — had no classes Tuesday as their teachers staged one-day strikes.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said 35,000 teachers, including nearly 14,000 in Toronto, hit the picket lines in what some called “Super Tuesday” in the ongoing labour dispute with the province.

Other school boards hit by strikes Tuesday were Peel, Durham, Waterloo, Greater Essex, Grand Erie and Lambton Kent in southern Ontario and the Near North board in central Ontario.

The ETFO said the one-day strikes are to protest controversial legislation that gives the provincial government the power to end strikes and impose a collective agreement on the teachers.

Federation president Sam Hammond said Education Minister Laurel Broten can end the rotating strikes by repealing Bill 115 and letting local bargaining proceed without interference.

Premier Dalton McGuinty weighed in on the walkouts on in a morning appearance on CityTV’s Breakfast Television, defending his government’s position as a financial necessity.

“It’s gotten a little sticky, that’s unfortunate, but I am convinced we are doing the right thing for the long term,” he said.

He urged teachers to return to the bargaining table and thanked parents for “all the extra efforts they are making to manage this circumstance.”

“Thankfully, it’s just the one day,” he added.

To help parents in Toronto deal with the strike, the Royal Ontario Museum offered a kids day for children aged five to 14 — at a cost of $65 per child.

The museum said the children would receive age-appropriate programming with the exploration of museum artifacts and hands-on activities.

And Second City opened the doors of its Toronto training centre offering a one-day youth improv camp for students in Grades 1 to 8 for $20 per student.

Although the governing Liberals have the power to end the teachers’ strikes, they’ve said they will allow legal one-day walkouts to occur in all school boards if 72-hours notice is provided.

If the strikes extend beyond a day, however, the government said it has already prepared the necessary legal documents to end them.

Meanwhile, Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod has called on Broten to use Bill 115 — which the Tories supported — to end the strikes.

“The McGuinty Liberals have the ability, the power and the authority to end these strikes today,” McLeod said in a news conference Tuesday.

“They chose to ignore their legislation in Bill 115 when these strikes started, we’re simply asking them to invoke their own law,” she added.

In Toronto, the teachers’ union planned to set up a picket line at the education ministry offices, in addition to demonstrations at schools and the offices of local Liberal members of the legislature.

The union said a mass rally was planned in Durham Region, where teachers were to gather at a park and march through downtown Oshawa, Ont.

On Wednesday, more than 4,800 teachers with the Bluewater, Algoma, and Halton school boards will be staging a one-day walkout.

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