Ontario high school teachers drop next week's walkout plan

The union representing Ontario's public high school teachers has told Premier Dalton McGuinty its members won't hold a one-day walkout next week as originally planned.

McGuinty said at a Friday news conference that Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, told him earlier Friday morning that union is no longer asking its members to hold a one-day protest Wednesday.

The move to back off next week's walkout comes after a labour board ruled a similar walkout planned by elementary teachers for Friday would be illegal.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, ordered his members to comply with the ruling by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) shortly after it was issued at 4 a.m. ET Friday.

"I want to thank the ETFO and OSSTF union leadership for acting responsibly in the face of thOLRB decision," McGuinty told reporters.

The OLRB decision came just a few hours before thousands of educators were due to stage one-day walkout to protest the Liberals' decision to impose two-year contracts under Bill 115, a controversial anti-strike law.

The teachers' unions have argued that the legislation is unconstitutional and will fight it in court.

"This [OLRB] ruling now puts the remaining questions around Bill 115 squarely in a sphere of the courts," McGuinty said.

"The courts will rule on the constitutionality of our legislation. Teachers' unions can make their case in that forum, and so will we. And that’s exactly the way it should be."

McGuinty's comments come on a confusing morning for parents, who had gone to bed thinking the elementary teachers' walkout would close schools today. They woke up to find out the protest was cancelled after the early-morning ruling.

Several school boards had already decided to close their elementary schools in anticipation of the protest, but in the wake of the ruling, many boards, including the Toronto District School Board, say their elementary schools are open today.

ETFO and other supporters argued during the hearing that it wasn't a strike, but a political protest protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Government lawyers, who asked for the cease-and-desist order, countered that any withdrawal of services would be illegal, as the teachers were no longer in a legal strike position once the contracts were imposed.

The government "basically created the rules and put us in a ring with our hands tied," said Howard Goldblatt, lawyer for the union.

But Goldblatt's arguments didn't sway board chairman Bernard Fishbein, who declined his request.

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