UPDATE: Teachers rally in front of MPP's office

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Teachers and union activists rallied in front of MPP Jim McDonell's office Friday afternoon to protest cost-cutting education legislation.

Heather McGill, one of the organizers of the rally, told Seaway News elementary and secondary teachers, as well as members of the local labour council and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), want to spread the word about what critics consider to be undemocratic legislation.

"Our hope is that we can provide some information and boost morale," McGill said in an interview. "And we want to tell MPPs to repeal the legislation."

Teachers had to shout pretty loud. McDonell was out of his office for the day.

Marg Merpaw, president of the local chapter of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, was quick to point out the protest is unrelated to compensation and is instead focusing on teachers’ right to bargain.

She called Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, a piece of legislation that essentially prohibits the ability of teachers and school boards to come to their own contract agreements.

“If (Education Minister Laurel Broten) doesn’t like any new deal she can rip it to shreds,” said Merpaw. “What this provincial government has done has provided the education minister with judicial power.”

Merpaw said negotiations have continued with the Upper Canada District School Board, despite the legislation the province passed in September.

Unions leaders have promised to implement job action as the dispute with Queen's Park deepens. They have until Dec. 31 to reach a deal with their local school boards, which according to legislation enacted in September, must be substantially similar to a deal reached between the Ontario government and the English Catholic teachers’ union.

The legislation imposes cuts to teacher sick days, freezes their pay and restricts their ability to go on strike.

Teachers have been so outraged at having the terms of their contracts imposed that they have been withdrawing voluntary services, things like leading clubs and coaching sports teams, since the second week of school.

Reached by telephone, McDonell blamed the entire episode on the governing Liberals, despite the fact many Tories voted in favour of Bill 115.

McDonell suggested the Liberals got the province into a fiscal jam by providing compensation packages which Ontario can no longer afford.

“This is a mess (Premier Dalton) McGuinty got us into,” he said.

Organizations: Canadian Union of Public Employees, Seaway News, Queen's

Geographic location: Cornwall, Ontario

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