NDP says candidate's controversial call to slash teachers' salaries doesn't reflect party

NDP candidate for Richmond Hill Marco Coletta and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in an undated photo. Photo from MarcoColettaNDP/Facebook.

In the race to govern Ontario, the battle over teachers is a key one along the way.

Last week in the province, the Liberals took aim at the New Democrats after the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario announced they were endorsing the NDP ahead of the June 7 election.

The Liberals pointed to a comment made by Marco Coletta, the NDP candidate for Richmond Hill, who reportedly called for Ontario teachers to take a 15-per-cent cut to their salaries during his nomination meeting in April.

“I think that the teachers’ unions should come to the table and say, you know what, we’re willing to do a 15-per-cent cut across the board,” Coletta said, as reported by YorkRegion.com. “I hate to, especially when I’m talking to teachers, I hate to say that maybe there needs to be a pay cut.”

Coletta later told YorkRegion.com he “regrets making up a random number” and acknowledges 15 per cent was a substantial reduction. A Facebook page for his candidacy was deleted, but has since been republished.

“The comment distributed by the Liberal party does not, in any way, reflect the views of Andrea Horwath or Ontario’s NDP,” Ontario NDP spokeswoman Rebecca Elming told Yahoo Canada via email. “Horwath and the NDP believe that we must invest more in public education, not less.”

However, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne has said Coletta’s views show a repeated pattern for the NDP, such as in 2014 where education was not a major issue for the party.

With more polls showing the NDP climbing in support as the Liberals appear to be sinking to third place, both parties are eyeing votes from educators and their families.

There are more than 124,000 full-time teachers in the province, according to provincial government figures for 2016-2017. Thousands of elementary and secondary school teachers are on Ontario’s Sunshine List for public-sector workers making more than $100,000 annually, the National Post has reported.

At the Toronto District School Board, for example, teachers start earning around $44,000 annually. That jumps dramatically to roughly $98,000 after several steps, depending on the type of teacher. And these figures do not include benefits.

For comparison, the average wage for Canadian workers as of September 2017 is around $51,000 a year, according to Workopolis.com.

With provincial debt north of $300 billion, is now the right time to slash the wages of public sector workers, such as teachers? Or should we look elsewhere for cost-cutting measures in order to protect Ontario’s education system? Let us know what you think by voting in the poll above or having your say in the comment section below.

With files from The Canadian Press