Ontario Premier Doug Ford slammed the province’s teachers’ unions Sunday, ahead of a week filled with walk-outs.
“The parents are losing their patience, we’re losing our patience,” Ford said.
“Let the teachers get back in the classrooms.”
Ford made the remarks at the Wiarton Willie Festival on Groundhog Day, when he was asked about the ongoing teacher strikes during a media scrum.
“I support the front-line teachers,” he said.
“I think the men and women that are serving out there work their backs off, they do a great job. I don’t support the head of the unions that are causing all these problems right across the province.”
Ford’s comments, however, are contrasted by votes the province’s four teachers’ unions previously held, which they each said resulted in overwhelming strike mandates from their members.
Some protesters criticizing the Ford government’s handling of the teachers’ strikes attended the Wiarton Willie Festival, but told Global News they were instructed to leave the property.
Ford’s remarks came ahead of a week filled with labour action by Ontario teachers’ unions.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has several rotating strikes planned and is set to hold a province-wide walkout on Thursday.
READ MORE: Where are Ontario teachers striking next?
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), meanwhile, is planning a province-wide walkout for its members on Tuesday, while the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) has walkouts planned at select boards for that day.
The government has said that the unions have made compensation the “top priority” at the bargaining table. The unions, however, have said they are fighting for student supports.
“Of course parents are losing patience, but all evidence tells us they’re losing patience with the Ford government and its short-sighted pursuit of reckless cuts that will damage students’ opportunities and Ontario’s future economy,” OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said in a statement Sunday in response to Ford’s comments.
“If the Premier truly believes that union leadership is the impediment to a deal, he should exercise his right to require my members to vote on the government’s offer. Let’s see if larger classes, fewer course options, reduced supports from education workers, and Alabama-style mandatory e-learning get my members’ approval.”
Talks between ETFO and the government resumed on Wednesday after a six-week hiatus, but on Friday talks broke down with no future negotiation dates planned.
Talks are scheduled this week between the government and OECTA. The Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontarien (AEFO), which represents teachers in the French-language system and has also been engaged in labour action, will also have negotiations.
No bargaining dates are currently planned for OSSTF.
Meanwhile, Ford said he has personally heard people “absolutely everywhere” tell him they support the government in the ongoing tensions, including some teachers.
“This is all about lining the pockets of the unions — not protecting our children — it’s about lining the pockets of our unions. Not the teachers, but the unions,” Ford said.
“They have to get back in the classroom, bottom line … These unions are holding the people hostage — and the kids. It’s unfair.”
OECTA responded to Ford’s comments in a statement Sunday.
READ MORE: Ontario education minister: ‘Disturbing’ that ETFO is withdrawing services for ‘vulnerable’ kids
“We are the last line of defence against their reckless cuts to education, and we have to put pressure on the government to come to the bargaining table with a plan to reach a fair agreement,” OECTA president Liz Stuart said in a statement.
“Catholic teachers are strongly united in this fight – when presented with the issues at the bargaining table, OECTA members gave an overwhelming 97.1 per cent mandate to take strike action if necessary.”
ETFO would not provide a response to Ford’s remarks and AEFO did not respond to Global News’ request for comment by the time of publication.
—With files from the Canadian Press