Ontario Has Declared War on Public Education


Growing up in Ontario, Canada, I have many fond memories of great teachers. These are teachers that got paid from the public purse — and no one seemed to mind, because it was generally understood that education is a benefit to all. An uneducated population will make us less competitive globally.

For those of you that don’t follow Canadian politics, we got a new leader in Ontario in 2018. His name is Doug Ford, and his mission from the start has been to dumb down the population and turn it against our public institutions. It’s a tragedy to me that a Premier who originally won favour by promising cheap beer continues to get so much support from voters.

Anyways, Ford just got re-elected here by a landslide, which is confusing if not surprising. Even before the pandemic, he waged a wage war against public education teachers. Now he and his “Progressive Conservative” government have invoked the “notwithstanding clause” to bully education workers looking for a fair wage. Not only does this mean imposing a new contract on education workers without fair negotiation, but also fining striking education workers up to $4,000.

These are custodians, early childhood educators, teaching assistants, and office administration that make an average of $39,000 annually. Schools play a huge role in our children’s intellectual and social development, and we should be investing more in it, not tearing it down.

Meanwhile, the Ford regime is handing out $200 to every parent of an eligible student in the education system. They say this money is to help kids “catch up” with the learning they lost during online school (and don’t even get me started on that.)

Ontario’s education minister, Stephen Lecce, bragged on Twitter that 800,000 applications for “catch up payments” had been received by Oct. 25.

If we do a quick math calculation — 800,000 x $200 — that’s $160 million. That could surely give the education workers a fair deal, not to mention this government is sitting on a $2.1 billion surplus. This shows the Province has more than enough money to satisfy the union’s requests, but won’t on its own misguided principles.

Unhealthy decisions

It’s no surprise to me this same Ontario government has made cuts to public healthcare funding, and has hinted at plans to privatize services.

Ontario’s healthcare system is already strained, and it will likely only get worse. The government has also passed Bill 124, which limits wage increases for public sector employees including healthcare workers. (This bill is being challenged in court.) It already enacted a law to make it more difficult to sue government.

It’s clear this Ford administration is anti-union — at least unions comprised of mostly women. Bill 124 — which is spun as the “Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act”, doesn’t include limits on police spending.

It seems to me the plan is to weaken both the public education and healthcare system to the point of collapse, which will make working parents angry. But instead of directing their anger to where it should go — those at the top pulling the strings — they will blame unions for being “greedy.”

Please, spare us that crap. These education workers are not asking for luxury accommodations — just a living wage. Many of the education workers demanding a raise have said they cannot keep up with the basic cost of living.

This latest $200 bribe from the government will barely cover my phone bill, never mind a private tutor. But this government knows many of us parents of school-aged kids are hurting for cash, and will see their offering as a windfall as credit card debt hits a record high.

A growing gap

There’s a pattern here: while tightening spending in schools and hospitals, Ford is also ignoring calls to increase measly payments though the Ontario Disability Support Program, while potentially weakening tenant protections around renovictions in a proposed housing act.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the Ford government was trying to drive a bigger wedge between the haves and the have-nots in this province, something conservatives have accused the “liberal elite” of doing in the past.

The “have-not” group is much more likely to be the working class Ford claims to represent — those working hard to barely make ends meet, with kids in a public school, relying on publicly-funded healthcare.

This is not about party politics to me. This is about basic decency, and denying a low-paid but valuable public employee a raise is not decent. This is also about logic — more people slipping through the cracks means more reliance on social supports (assuming they haven’t all been cut.)

This is also dangerous for all public unions if the government is able to strong-arm workers by using a measure that was never intended for contract negotiations. It will set a precedent that will be hard to come back from. (By the way, this is not the first time this Ontario government has used the notwithstanding clause to get its way.)

For its part, the union representing the education workers (CUPE) says it plans to go ahead with a strike, despite the government trying to make it illegal. It should be interesting to see how it plays out, and all Ontarians should be taking notice. In fact, all of North America should be.

This post was previously published on medium.com.


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