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December 18, 2012
TORONTO, ON, Dec. 18, 2012/ Troy Media/ – It’s a sad but fitting end to the Premiership of Dalton McGuinty. Ontario’s self-styled ‘Education Premier’ and his party are now positively hated by both their ‘partners’ in education: the teachers’ unions and the school boards.
That the teachers’ unions are up in arms is hardly surprising. While everyone knew that this contract cycle was going to be an austere experience, there was an expectation that the much bandied-about term ‘partner’ meant exactly that: adults talking with adults, discussing options, with an eye on the needs of the province but also looking for ways that each could come away a winner.
Instead, McGuinty kicked off labour ‘negotiations’ through a YouTube video. He then followed that up with a meeting between the teachers’ union representatives and hired guns from a downtown Toronto law firm, the lawyers involved speaking for the government. According to an interview conducted on TV Ontario’s The Agenda, the lawyers’ expertise was stated as being in ‘bankruptcy’.
The actual employers, the school boards, were not in the room. Neither did the Ministry of Education speak to the issues. It’s also reported that when the teachers’ union representatives began to explore ideas, the lawyers terminated the meeting with prejudice, indicating that no negotiation to ever take place.
Last summer McGuinty made much of the English Catholic teachers’ union and the French unions reaching agreement with his government. He continues to make that claim, despite the fact that no school board has actually concluded an agreement.
The school boards are the employers of record: they, and the relevant union local, are the only bodies which can actually bring a contract into effect. Queens Park is merely the provider of money.
By the late summer, McGuinty recalled the legislature early to ‘rush through’ Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, ostensibly to forestall job action by the teachers. Despite the support of the Progressive Conservatives in passing the bill, McGuinty held it up until after the September 6 by-elections so that his party could campaign and try to win an extra seat (converting his minority into a bare majority) by campaigning against what the teachers might do.
That strategy failed, and Bill 115 was passed, two weeks after the legislature returned.
Both the school boards and the teachers’ unions are now increasingly frustrated with the Liberal government and Dalton McGuinty – the school boards because they are cut out of the process, despite being the employer, and the teachers’ unions, because no negotiations are occurring.
There has been a steady withdrawal of extra services by teachers, slowly choking off extracurricular activities, referral letters, special study halls and help sessions, and administrative work within the schools.
One may well wonder at the wisdom of having public sector unions: Unlike the private sector, where the general public can seek an alternative when a company they do business with is crippled or shut down by an impasse between management and workers, the public has no recourse or alternatives available to them either when governments get cozy with the unions and roll over for them (the McGuinty record from 2003 to 2011) or decide to impose intransigence and refuse to negotiate fairly (the record for 2012) leading to job actions.
The McGuinty government could have simply told the school boards ‘here is the money that will be available, here is the maximum deferred compensation and liabilities you can take on as a result of this contract (thus covering pay band adjustments, pension obligations and sick day benefits, amongst others)’ and left the boards to negotiate other terms in exchange for staying on those budgeted values. It didn’t.
It could have passed legislation making itelf into the legal employer and negotiated on a province-wide basis (as is done, for instance, in British Columbia). It didn’t.
Instead it tried a little public sleight-of-hand, maintaining the existing supposedly community-sensitive system of local boards while trying to impose every line item of an agreement from the centre. The one and only board with a negotiated collective agreement approved by both parties, the Upper Grand School Board, is never mentioned. Neither is the fact that the Catholic and French boards have yet to agree to contracts with their unions, despite the unions’ acceptance of the government’s terms.
The most militant union, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, began rotating one-day strikes this month ahead of the implementation of the ‘no strike’ clauses of Bill 115 on December 31. Special services have been steadily withdrawn from high schools by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. As a result, students are now out in the streets as well – the very collateral damage Bill 115 was to forestall.
Throughout it all, the leadership race to replace McGuinty has taken on far more important than good public governance in Ontario.
As an object lesson in how to overstep your authority and bounds, and in undemocratic behaviour, the actions of the McGuinty regime has taught Ontario’s children a lesson they won’t soon forget.
Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Bruce Stewart is a management consultant located in Toronto.
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