Ottawa teachers rally outside McGuinty speech

Hundreds of Ottawa-area teachers rallied outside the Ottawa Convention Centre where Premier Dalton McGuinty spoke at a fundraising event.

As many as 500 protesters spread across Colonel By Drive in front of convention centre forcing police to close the road between Sussex Drive and Main Street until 7 p.m. Tuesday, when the rally ended.

Public school teachers across the province are protesting Bill 115, the law passed earlier this fall that curbs teachers' unions' ability to strike and also imposes wage freezes.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said Monday its 60,000 members will step up their protest by withdrawing from extra-curricular and sports activities starting Dec. 10.

Jodie Zwart, who has been teaching high school students for 12 years, said she has seen classroom sizes increase and services for students diminish. But she said she feels like her voice and her right to be heard is under threat.

"I feel frustrated that the rights to collective bargaining, that the rights to have my union that I voted in, that I paid for with my union dues … can't even operate on my behalf," said Zwart.

"So I feel like my voice is being squished."

Elementary school teachers were also in attendance for the protest, which began at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Ontario's English public elementary teachers are expected to hold strikes over the next few weeks, though the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario said it would give parents 72-hour notice before teachers walk off the job.

Stephen Skoutajan has been teaching elementary school students for two decades and said he is "disgusted and angry" with the government in the dispute.

He and other teachers said they feel they have conceded enough.

"We are in favour of a wage-freeze, but this is a wage rollback. It's impacting on everything from prep time to professional development to our salaries and benefits and so on," said Skoutajan.

The Ontario Liberals passed Bill 115 with the help of the opposition Progressive Conservatives.

Local PC MPP Lisa McLeod, who is also the education critic, said she blames the escalating protests on a Liberal government she called "too lenient" and teachers who she called "too stubborn."

"They had about 11 months to signal that they wanted to work with the province and they chose not to do that so. No, I have not a lot of sympathy for them," said McLeod.

Ottawa police warned commuters about the protest and suggested they use alternate routes.

[ [ [['xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx', 11]], '27013743', '0' ], [ [['keyword', 9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999]], 'videoID', '1', 'overwrite-pre-description', 'overwrite-link-string', 'overwrite-link-url' ] ]