Is Lib’s “Putting Students First Act” too late and too costly to boot? MPP Barrett thinks so

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Toby Barrett

This past week while by-election fever was hitting the Kitchener-Waterloo area, I had the opportunity to share thoughts on Bill 115 – the so-called, Putting Students First Act. This is legislation that comes nine years late and $411.4 billion dollars short as a tentative step towards fiscal restraint.

As Opposition Leader Tim Hudak noted, Bill 115 falls well short of the goal, representing “a half-loaf” from a government whose ideas I often hear described as half-baked.

The fact is the failure of this government to rein in nine years of reckless overspending now means parents and children have to pay for bad decisions.

Spinning plates? Ontario Liberals recent cost saving announcements are being criticized as some sort of parlour trick.

We’ve known for months that existing teacher contracts, containing unaffordable salary hikes, would expire at the end of August. But in past weeks, because the government stalled until the 11th hour, parents faced a great deal of uncertainty. And at the 11th hour, we are given Bill 115 and a supposed wage freeze which, of course, is not a real wage freeze, as teachers still move up the grid.

This can hardly come as a surprise. For over nine years, this government has handed the system over to the union leaders, not the parents. Bill 115 only puts a lid on a boiling pot of water – it only deals with one part of the public sector – and avoids the structural change we need. But, it does stand as the first acknowledgement by this government we face a fiscal crisis. If only government acted earlier in a more comprehensive manner.

This legislation is the kind of rushed action that occurs when you’ve spent nine years throwing money at everything that moves. It’s more evidence of how reckless overspending and bad decisions put the things we value at risk.

There remains a better way – a mandatory across-the-board wage freeze for all public servants that doesn’t focus just on teachers or doctors. This would prevent a crisis while helping balance the budget to the tune of $2 billion a year. Instead of across-the-board decisive action, we have a piecemeal first tentative step, while 3,999 other collective agreements remain.

A wage freeze for all, including MPP’s – as we’ve been advocating since last November – is the right and responsible course of action when one finds government staring down the barrel of a $411.4 billion debt and a $30.2 billion deficit by 2017-18. Locally, I had the chance to meet with members of the Grand Erie District School Board, and they too have concerns. A recent letter to the Minister expressed a number of their issues with the proposed agreement:
“We strongly disagree with your proposal to impose the use of seniority to hire supply teachers for contractual positions.” Adding further that, “We are surprised and disappointed that you would allow teachers to opt out of specific diagnostic testing that provides long-term data on student needs and progress.

I share these concerns, and to that end, we requested changes to the legislation that gives teacher unions control over the hiring of supply teachers as well as the testing of students.

As I’ve said from the outset, while Bill 115 represents a tentative first step, it is far from ideal – a half-baked, half-loaf that requires further ingredients and further preparation in the kitchen if it is to address the financial crisis we face today.  For the Silo by Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett

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