Statement

This document was published under a previous government and is available for archival and research purposes.

Hon. Laurel Broten Statement to the Legislative Assembly

Putting Students First Act

August 27, 2012

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today on behalf of the Ontario families and students – who are already preparing for the school year.

I rise on behalf of Ontario taxpayers looking to our government to be responsible stewards of the province’s finances.

It is acting in their best interest – and in the public interest – Mr. Speaker, that today our government introduced the proposed Putting Students First Act.

If passed, this legislation would ensure that labour agreements between unions and school boards reflect the province’s fiscal reality, while protecting this government’s investments in our publicly funded education system - a system that is the among the best in the English-speaking world.

The gains we have made by working together over the last nine years are extraordinary.

Class sizes are smaller, full-day kindergarten is rolling out and will be in about 1,700 schools this September, test scores are up and more students are graduating than ever before.

We are preserving these gains while protecting 10,000 teaching positions.

In the face of these challenging fiscal times, the choices we're making will put students first by protecting their experience in the classroom and by keeping teachers and support staff in schools.

If passed, this legislation would ensure that the school year starts on time and continues uninterrupted with the tools in place to prevent labour disruptions.

We did not make the decision to introduce legislation lightly. It is a tough but necessary step.

After six months and 300 hours of sincere discussions held in good faith, and significant give and take on the government’s initial position, we were able to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA).

This agreement served as a roadmap for future deals, resulting in more memorandums of understanding  from  the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO); and the Association of Professional Student Services Personnel (APSSP).

Four school boards have passed motions to sign onto these memorandums.

These are important agreements signed by 55,000 teachers, and at boards with 162,000 students, but still taken together, these agreements represent only 34 per cent of Ontario’s teachers and four of 72 school boards.

Ontario families need certainty that the school year will start on time and be free from labour disruptions.

And, more importantly for the future, all of us who depend on the health of Ontario’s public finances and our economy need certainty that come September 1, a significant number of teachers will not receive an automatic 5.5 per cent pay increase and accumulate two million more bankable sick days that could be paid out upon retirement.

We should make no mistake, all of us who depend on and benefit from our public services and all of us who pay for them, have a stake in the government’s fiscal plan towards a balanced budget.

The implementation of the fiscal plan is important for the health of our public finances and our economy, and for the maintenance of our public services, now and into the future.

The long-term sustainability of our public education system depends on us making tough but important decisions that will ensure we are on a balanced, sustainable pathway forward.

This proposed bill ensures that compensation within our school system – a $17 billion public sector wage bill every year, representing 85 percent of education spending – responsibly and fairly accords with the fiscal plan.

That is why after six months of difficult discussions with our partners, we are left with no other responsible choice but to proceed to introduce legislation that would ensure fair, balanced and responsible labour agreements and stability in our schools.

Before we introduced this legislation here in the House, we took the rare step of releasing the Putting Students First Act publicly, and to the opposition. We did receive constructive feedback from the Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

That's why the bill you see now has changes that reflect their advice - without amending the memorandum of understanding we signed with OECTA after over 300 hours of discussions.

We incorporated these changes into the bill before introduction to help speed the bill's passage.

I urge MPPs on both sides of this House to take the time to thoughtfully review this piece of legislation. I urge them to stand up in the best interests of students and of all Ontarians who rely on a sustainable public education system.

Mr. Speaker, if passed, the Putting Students First Act would ensure labour and employment contracts fit the government’s fiscal and policy priorities and contain measures to secure two years free from labour disruptions.

Mr. Speaker, if passed, the act would require that local agreements include provisions and parameters consistent with those in the OECTA memorandum of understanding, including a zero per cent salary increase in 2012-13 and 2013-14 and the freezing of retirement gratuity entitlements for the payment of unused sick days moving forward.

If passed, The Putting Students First Act will save the province $2 billion, will avert an expenditure of $473 million, and at the same time, ensure that we don’t take our foot off the pedal of student achievement, that we continue to see progress in our schools, and that we roll out Full Day Kindergarten and keep our classes small.

Mr. Speaker, we have been fair, balanced and responsible in our discussions with our partners…

We have fully engaged in the process of good faith consultation and consideration.

The proposed act reflects the culmination of that process.

But we’re running out of time.

We must take strong action and we must take it now to give students, parents and taxpayers the certainty they deserve, while being fair to our education partners.

Passing the Putting Student First Act before September 1 will deliver that certainty and fairness.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Compendium

Education Minister Laurel Broten speaks in support of the proposed Putting Students First Act.