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French teachers' president says province 'just looking for cuts'

Hard to see 'the light at the end of the tunnel,' says Rémi Sabourin

The president of the union representing 12,000 French-language public and Catholic teachers said the government is “just looking for cuts at the bottom line.”

“I have to say that the government does not really want to address issues that would make the system better,” said Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens (AEFO) provincial president Rémi Sabourin.

AEFO members across Ontario hit the picket lines Feb. 13 in a provincewide, one-day strike, including hundreds of teachers here in Greater Sudbury, who braved the weather on a bitterly cold day.

All four teachers' unions in the province are now engaging in rotating strikes, but this is the first for AEFO. The unions have been without a contract since August.

On Friday, Feb. 21, all four teachers' unions will strike together, meaning no school that day for all Ontario elementary and secondary students.

The unions say issues include class size increases and mandatory e-learning brought in by the province, special education funding, full-day kindergarten and addressing classroom violence.

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce maintains teachers are escalating strikes as a way to angle for higher salaries.

AEFO did actually return to the bargaining table with the province on Wednesday, but the union said there was little progress made and no new dates have been set.

Speaking to in a Tuesday phone interview before the latest attempt at bargaining, the AEFO's Sabourin said getting a deal would take “good faith bargaining on all sides.”

But he added it's kind of hard to see “the light at the end of the tunnel” right now.

He said AEFO members will be striking provincewide once a week.

Sabourin said he saw a survey recently that put Canada's education system as the best in the world.

“So how do we stay ahead of everybody?” he said. 

“Right now what we're hearing at the table is how can we cut here and there? … AEFO will never settle anything if we're not taking into account students' well-being and students' learning conditions.”

Education minister Lecce released a statement Feb. 12 in response to strike escalation by the four teachers' unions.

"Our focus is on keeping students in class, as they deserve better,” he said in the statement.

“That is why I am calling on the teachers' union leaders to accept private mediation today and end this needless escalation. 

“Parents are losing patience with the disruption in their lives, the inconsistency in their children's education, and the financial impact of scrambling for child care. 

“That is why we have offered financial assistance through the Support for Parents initiative, which has seen an immense uptake of more than 575,000 applications.

“While union leaders are organizing further disruption, our government remains focused on getting deals at the bargaining table through private mediation. 

“We've made very significant moves on our position, but union leadership hasn't moved on substantial items - like their already generous benefits packages and maintaining hiring based on seniority rather than on merit.

“Parents and students deserve no less."

-With files from Canadian Press