* Signs off on deals reached by two big school boards
* Latest progress in talks with provincial unions
* Province reached agreement with doctors last week
By Claire Sibonney
TORONTO, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Ontario’s government said on Tuesday it has approved tentative deals between two major school boards and their teachers that freeze wages, the second major labor agreement between the province and its workers in the past week.
The deals are part of a broader push by ruling Liberals to curb the budget deficit of Canada’s most populous province by capping the pay of doctors, teachers and civil servants.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who announced last month that he would resign once the Liberals elect a new leader in January, said he hoped the deals will serve as a template for other school boards.
The announcement comes on the heels of another critical settlement with the province’s doctors last week designed to freeze wages.
Education Minister Laurel Broten said the agreements between unionized teachers and Ontario’s Upper Grand District School Board and York Region District School Board meet the province’s “fiscal parameters.”
In their March budget, the Liberals pledged to reduce the province’s budget deficit - now projected at C$14.4 billion ($14.43 billion) for the current fiscal year - partly by providing no money for wage increases.
The government said such measures will save C$6 billion over three years.
The Liberal government further angered public sector unions by passing a law that freezes wages, cuts sick days and limits their right to strike. The legislation has set the bargaining deadline for Dec. 31.
The agreements on Tuesday followed months of contentious negotiations, which saw many teachers withdraw from voluntary activities, and still need to be ratified by the local unions.
The government had already approved an agreement with Catholic teachers and is still reviewing several other tentative labor deals.
Ontario’s teachers are among the highest paid in Canada, a country where educators rank as some of the best compensated in the world.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the top salary for Canadian elementary teachers is$54,978, which stands only behind Austria, Germany, Ireland, South Korea and Luxembourg.
Credit rating agencies have repeatedly warned Ontario that tackling its deficit will require tough austerity measures.
Canada’s provincial governments, which administer most of the country’s health and education spending, have met fierce opposition in recent years as they’ve moved to control their budget deficits through cuts to services.
Healthcare and education make up about 70 percent of Ontario’s spending on programs, with wages and fees accounting for more than half of the expenses.