By Kevin Werner
METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
Hamilton Liberal cabinet minister Ted McMeekin is expecting his party will change how it governs, including its relationship with public school teachers, after the Liberal leadership contest picks a new premier this weekend.
“This is what the leadership (race) is about,” said McMeekin, during an interview at his New Year’s Levée Jan. 19 in Ancaster’s old Town Hall.
Liberals are gathering in Toronto Jan. 25 to 26 to select a replacement for Premier Dalton McGuinty who is stepping down after taking the party leadership in 1996.
The prospect for a new beginning is also one of the reasons McMeekin is backing Don Valley West MPP Kathleen Wynne, who he says can resolve the difficult issues that are consuming the party, especially the broken relationship with public school teachers.
“She has a reputation for bringing people together, for being collaborative,” he said.
Wynne has proposed to replace the centralized bargaining process with teachers to allow more input from local school boards. The other front runner, former Windsor MPP Sandra Pupatello has also extended an olive branch to teachers, while Gerard Kennedy would tear up the contracts imposed by Bill 115.
The Liberals were scheduled to eliminate the legislation Jan. 23, with Education Minister Laurel Broten saying it has served its purpose.
McMeekin said the Liberals are not picking on teachers, but have asked all public servants to accept a two-year wage freeze, and cuts to some benefits to help the government solve its $14.4-billion deficit problem, and cut the over 8 per cent unemployment rate in the province.
He said the Liberals could have decided to eliminate full-day kindergarten, a program the party rolled out over the last few years, fire 10,000 teachers and another 13,400 education support workers, and end the tuition grants for families.
“We chose as a government not to do that, to protect our gains,” he said.
Over the last few weeks McMeekin has been a target of teachers’ protest, particularly at his constituency office in Waterdown. He and his staff had some indication teachers would be protesting outside his levée event, where he was presenting Jubilee medals to among other people, former Hamilton mayor Bob Wade, and volunteer Roy Sheldrick. But the teachers did not show up for the afternoon event, which was attended by about 70 people, including Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson, Flamborough councillor Robert Pasuta, and Mayor Bob Bratina, who played his saxophone for the gathering.
“I have invited leaders from various union groups to my office to come in and talk to me about their concerns,” he said. “So far, they have been outside my office.”
McMeekin praised the teachers for assisting the Liberals over the years in creating what he said is the best education system in the world.
“They have earned the money they have been paid,” he said. “I don’t begrudge them any of that. But the government needs everybody to take a two-year pause so we can get on top of the overall fiscal situation.”