Imposing a settlement on teachers a necessary evil for cash-strapped Ontario

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Tough times call for tough measures.

And on Tuesday, the Conservatives and Liberals joined forces at Queen's Park to pass a tough measure.

By a vote of 82 to 15, Ontario's legislature passed Bill 115 — the Putting Students First Act — which will freeze teachers' wages for two years and restrict them from walking off the job.

"We are doing what we need to do, and we are putting the needs of students first," Premier Dalton McGuinty said in Question Period, according to the Globe and Mail.

The McGuinty government had little choice in the matter — Ontario's financial situation is in dire straights.

[ Related: Ontario anti-strike, wage freeze bill for teachers passes ]

In 2009/10, Ontario joined the ranks of the "have-not" provinces for the first time and is now the second-largest recipient of equalization payments in the country with $2.2-billion set to flow into its coffers this year.

And, according to data collated by CBC News, Ontario has the worst debt-to-GDP Ratio in the country. It also has the second highest per-capita debt burden — each Ontarian now owes approximately $36,004.  In fact, Ontario's debt situation is worse than that of the State of California.

Like in Greece, California and so many other struggling jurisdictions around the world, freezing — or even cutting — the salaries of the public service is a necessary evil.

But for big labour, this means war.

According to the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said that they would fight the legislation in the courts and teachers' unions are already calling for an "escalating" protest strategy.

[ Related: Ontario Teachers rally to protest legislation imposing wage freeze ]

And while the courts may ultimately decide on Bill 115, taking away the teachers' right to walk off the job is a concept that is supported in the court of public opinion.

A Global News/Ipsos Reid poll conducted from August 24 to 29 notes that more than 70 per cent of those polled believe teachers should be considered an essential service and should not have the right to strike.

Certainly, the Ontario teachers aren't going to like Bill 115.

But, they've had it good for so many years. According to PostMedia News, the average Ontario teacher enjoyed "a 34-per-cent salary increase — to an average wage of $83,500 a year — during McGuinty's first eight years in office."

For the Ontario government and any Ontarian that's not a teacher, today is a good day.