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Education workers march to Barrie MPP's office to protest Bill 115 today

Lance Holdforth

By Lance Holdforth, Special to QMI Agency

Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) marched along city streets in hopes of having their collective voices heard, Wednesday afternoon.

More than 400 teachers, assistants and educational staff met in the Georgian Mall parking lot before walking to the office of Progressive Conservative MPP Rod Jackson in protest of Bill-115.

Ian Tudor, president of OSSTF's Simcoe chapter, said the 3.5-kilometre walk was to draw attention to the effects the bill has on secondary school teachers and staff and their rights to bargain for collective agreements.

"We've encouraged all our OSSTF members and educational workers in Simcoe County to participate," Tudor said. "The bill needs to be repealed and the minister (of education) said she is going to be doing that, but she hasn't told the truth about much."

"We hope that the imposed agreements that minister (Laurel) Broten put in place in early January will be ripped up and we'll get back to the bargaining table to resolve issues in the local area," he said.

"I think the nest step is that we're in a wait-and-see mode until after the Liberal leadership convention."

OSSTF supporters walked along Bayfield Street carrying signs before venturing up Cundles Road to St.Vincent Street where they entered the final stretch to Jackson's office on Bell Farm Road.

"Barrie is a central location and we thought it would be better to have one massive demonstration than have smaller demonstrations at other MPPs' offices," Tudor said. "We think it will generate respect for the workers and citizens in Ontario because if they can do it to us they certainly can do it to other groups."

Tudor said morale was good among the marchers and the responses they received were positive.

Jackson previously met with union leaders and a political action group at Queen's Park and in Barrie to discuss the issues, but he said students are still taking a backseat to union liberties.

"I'm well aware of what their issues are and some of them are legitimate, but at the end of the day, what we have to remember here is that teachers need to be back at work," Jackson said. "Kids need to be in school and that's the most important thing.

"We're in an era now where some big private corporations don't have pensions and don't have some of the things teachers have now," he added.

Although Jackson voted for Bill-115 and stands by his decision to do so, he said he voted for the key issues within the bill and not its flaws.

"With every bill, there are multiple pieces to it and no bill is perfect, so there's some things in there that I don't like. But generally speaking, it made sure kids were going to be in school come September and through the rest of the year and I supported that," Jackson said. "This is something we've been warning the teachers and the Liberal government for some time and it's not the best way to do it. I would rather see teachers at the table negotiating and not doing illegal protests."

OSSFT members utilized their right to free speech and freedom of expression which Jackson said he fully supports, but he also feels the crowd targeted the wrong member of provincial parliament.

"I think they protesting the wrong person. The government is the one who dropped the ball on this and they should have been honest with teachers since day one and they haven't been," he said. "They (voters) got the Liberals elected and they've (Liberals) turned their backs on them like they have the rest of Ontario."

Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government passed the bill on Sept. 11, which sparked teachers and OSSTF workers to rally together in opposition, but when the bill took effect on Jan. 1, it became a harsh reality.

The goal of the march was not only to draw attention to the those affected by the bill, but also to focus attention on the need to repeal and rescind the contracts negotiated under the bill while re-establishing to right to negotiate collective bargaining.

"If they do that, the peace and stability and the goodwill that was in the education system for years will be restored and we can restart the whole bargaining process," Tudor said. "If they can do this to us who's going to be next."

Jackson said the Conservatives forewarned Liberals about the repercussions of the bill and that the ripple effect results in students suffering the most.

"It's been a long time coming and a Jenga game between the Liberals and the teachers and they played it long enough," he said. "It's not a good example for kids."

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