The Ontario governments commitment to austerity in its budget promises balanced books by 2018, but no sector is going to escape the effect of $17 billion in spending cuts.
Education is an area where the key policies of the Liberal government are being maintained. They have reiterated their commitment to caps on class sizes and Ontario is on track to complete full-day kindergarten by their September 2014 target.
However, the budget does encourage the closing of ‘underutilized’ schools and the merging of schools where possible. When funds are limited there are always going to be losers and for the vital education programs to be maintained means that this time the target for cuts is teacher compensation.
The real loser here will be teachers, who, like other public-sector workers, are being asked to agree to a two-year wage freeze. As well, the government wants a freeze on banked sick days and, effective this September, the elimination of all accumulated “non vested” sick days.
This is unlikely to be popular with teachers or their unions. Premier Dalton McGuinty has said that need to make concession to protect the progress already made under the current plan, which includes 10,000 new teaching jobs created during his government.
While teaching jobs appear to be protected, some other education jobs will likely be lost. The budget aims to slash some of the “curriculum and teaching specialist” positions created since 2002, to $91.1-million over three years. Meanwhile, school and board amalgamations – delayed until 2013 but expected to save more than $70-million once complete – may make some administrative positions redundant.
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association has already accused the government of an unbalanced approach in seeking an unfair proportion of concessions from teachers in the province. OECTA President Kevin O’Dwyer has said that while they are willing to do their part during tough times they feel like they’ve become a target.
It is unclear whether the government will need to compromise to pass the budget:
Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan decried what he called a “lack of vision” in the budget.
Ryan warned that too many cuts will in fact pose a drag on the economy.
“Ontarians never gave McGuinty a mandate to cut jobs and undermine the social safety net,” he said. “Thankfully, we have a minority government that requires compromise for the budget to pass.”