Rolling Ontario teachers’ strikes test McGuinty’s mettle

Protests over Ontario's controversial teachers' legislation have begun to ramp up across the province this week and so far it appears Premier Dalton McGuinty is willing to roll with the punches.

CBC reports that elementary teachers in two small districts -- Avon Maitland near Goderich and Ontario North East near Timmins — went on strike on Monday. The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) gave notice for further one-day strikes through the week.

The Liberal government said last week that it approved of a one-day strike, but vowed to intervene if things stretched on longer than that.

Ontario teachers walkA rotating series of one-day walkouts begins at school boards across the province

[ Related: List of Ontario elementary school strikes grows ]

So far, McGuinty is playing it cool. He released a statement expressing his disappointment at the end of nine years of labour peace with Ontario teachers, but said allowing the rolling strikes was a "small price to pay" to protect the school system.

Bill 115, you may recall, froze teacher wages for two years, stripped some benefits and empowered the government to stop job action. The government has said the sacrifices are necessary to keep the school system top notch. Some teachers' unions have signed on, while others continue to oppose the bill's heavy-handed approach

"While our government is disappointed that some teachers' unions have chosen to put students in the middle of our disagreement over pay, we are buoyed by those who have worked with us to put students first," McGuinty said in his statement.

Funny McGuinty should mention students, because a number of high school students took to the streets on Monday to demand an end to the job action. Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation members have said they would work to rule to protest Bill 115, and the students are searching for an end to the standoff.

Organizer Kourosh Houshmand told the Toronto Star that the students were not taking sides, but were urging unions and the government to put students first.

[ Related: Teacher job action could create scramble for daycare ]

A massive student rally outside Queen's Park is being organized for Thursday to push the point across.

A week or more of rolling strikes by elementary school teachers, work-to-rule campaigns by high school teachers and protests by their students. We could soon find out how much backlash the McGuinty government is prepared to take.