By Kristin Rushowy and Rob Ferguson
The Ontario government officially repealed Bill 115 early Wednesday morning, a move the teacher unions have called “meaningless.”
It is not expected to have any effect on the ongoing tensions with public elementary and high school teachers and extracurricular activities will not resume.
“There’s no doubt Bill 115 had become a lightning rod,” Education Minister Laurel Broten said Wednesday, on the way into what could be her last cabinet meeting in that portfolio before this weekend's Liberal leadership convention.
“We have used Bill 115 but we also want to make it clear that going forward you do need to have a new process for future negotiations . . . Bill 115 will not be that process.”
The bill was scrapped to “show goodwill toward teachers,” Broten added, acknowledging the teacher unions are still challenging it in court.
“Have your court challenge. We will have our debate in the courtroom. But let’s allow our students to have a good year of extracurricular activities.”
Asked if he’s concerned about leaving the premiership with the fate of extracurricular activities up in the air, Dalton McGuinty said “we’re going to fix that” as he headed into his final cabinet meeting.
School boards have also complained about the additional costs the controversial bill will bring — the Peel board alone estimating a $7 million shortfall — which remain despite its repeal.
Teachers unions have said they are waiting to see who the Liberals choose as their leader this weekend and how that person deals with the ongoing education turmoil, before any decision is made on extracurricular activities.
Before the bill was repealed, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario called it a “meaningless gesture and shallow response.”
“The premier and education minister are deluding themselves if they think the repeal of Bill 115 will promote goodwill and stability in the education sector and restore their popularity,” said union President Sam Hammond in a written statement. “They used the bill and are now trying to make it disappear in the most crass of political acts. It’s a sleight of hand that ETFO members and most Ontarians will see through.”
The controversial bill — which curbed teachers’ right to strike, cuts the number of sick days from 20 to 11 and ends payouts of unused sick days at retirement — was repealed at 12:01 a.m.
At a Tuesday night meeting of the Peel District School Board, trustees voted in favour of a motion “supporting (Education Minister Laurel Broten’s) stated intention to repeal Bill 115 and requesting that all unfunded costs to boards of Bill 115 be reimbursed.”
A letter from Chair Janet McDougald to Broten states: “It is the view of this Board that it is the right, responsibility and legal authority of the local school board to negotiate with its employee groups, in good faith, to develop collective agreements that meet the local needs of students and families in Peel.
“The board is the legal employer under the Education Act. The parameters for negotiating that were imposed on school boards under Bill 115 and the subsequent contracts that were imposed, remove that right and undermine that legal authority.”
While the act “will purportedly save the province of Ontario approximately $2 billion and will prevent the spending of $473 million,” the letter says “the requirements of the bill have transferred costs to local boards and to date, there has been no information from the Ministry of Education regarding reimbursement to school boards for the costs related to the implementation of Bill 115. In Peel, that cost, in 2012-2013, is estimated to be approximately $7 million.”
- Torstar News Service