Wednesday, January 30, 2013

So now they want peace

So now they want peace
by Andy Wilson, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

Leaders from the four education workers' unions met with Ontario's next premier, Kathleen Wynne, just yesterday. Right now the focus is not on restoring education workers' collective bargaining rights, but on finding a way to bring back "extra-curricular" activities to Ontario's public schools.

Extra-curriculars are pretty nice. Students get clubs and sports and enriching activities for free (or nearly free) and these activities can contribute to enhancing a student's experience. Everyone understands the value in these activities, so when they disappear, it's natural for all of us to feel a little distressed at children across the province losing something that's important to them.

So, let's get those activities back, right? Ok. Here's what you need to do: respect the collective bargaining process. It'd be really easy. Take the OECTA MOU and all the changes that have happened to it until now, include all the other unaffected provisions from the last collective agreement, and put it to a vote to the workers. This is what is supposed to be the legal process. Poof - the teacher's best argument ("We want our democratic rights!") would become moot.

Ok, so education workers vote on the working conditions that were already imposed on them. If they vote "yes," then we're done! Teachers, even those who voted against the contract, would respect the democratic vote and would feel comfortable demonstrating their good will by returning to extra-curricular activities. If they vote "no," - well, I'll admit, things get a bit more complicated, but hear me out.

So they vote no. That means they strike. Oh my gosh! A strike at the schools! Won't someone PLEASE think of the children?? Well, sure. But a strike isn't gonna cause anyone extreme or irreparable harm. I went through a two week withdrawal of services when I was in grade 11 and I turned out ok. And we have to remember that a full walkout is a very blunt weapon not to be used willy-nilly - OSSTF engaged in minor forms of strike action for most of December. My students didn't even notice.

But maybe it does come to a strike (or a lockout), and a full withdrawal of services. Let's say schools are closed for, say, three days. What would happen? Well, either people from all walks of like will start screaming at the gov't to end the crisis by giving into some demands, or people will scream at the unions to suck it up, take the contract strips, and get back to work. What's more likely, of course, is you'll get a mixture of both.

So the labour disruption drags on. Schools haven't been open for two weeks. Workers have been the focus of vicious attacks in the media, and they're out a paycheque (strike pay doesn't cover too much). If the strikers don't have the resolve to continue job action (if they don't think they're fight is worth it, or it becomes clear they don't have public support) then the union will be forced to go back to negotiations and agree to concessions. If the union doesn't, scabs will start going to work. The union would crumble - and the union won't ever let that happen.

Ok, so what if the workers DO keep up the job action? (because they think it's worth it, and the public is on their side). Well, then maybe the government is wrong, and they need to come back to negotiations and agree to settle their differences with the workers. I won't get into what that deal might look like (I've gone into that in previous posts anyways), but the point is, the government can find ways to make enough concessions to get the workers back to work if they have to.

The whole point is that, if education workers' collective bargaining rights were respected, we'd have a resolution to this conflict within a month. People won't stand for a strike or lockout to continue for more than a couple weeks. This isn't the NHL. Citizens won't stand for their children to be out of school for too long - and workers and employers will listen.

The only thing that will ensure disruption in Ontario's schools for years to come is the continual suspension of education workers' collective bargaining rights. Force them to work under an imposed contract, and you'll have disruptions like the loss of voluntary activities until a new contract is negotiated and voted upon. Respect workers' collective bargaining rights, and you'd have a solution inside of a month. It won't be easy as we deal with strikes and/or lockouts, but democracy isn't very easy either. And we don't suspend democracy every time we have a deficit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Response to Jerry Agar's “Teachers’ tantrum punishes kids”

“Teachers’ tantrum punishes kids”

Dear Mr Agar,

Your column cries out for response, reaction, and revision. Let’s start with your catchy title. It should not merely trot out tired old accusations, but should also include reference to at least one other side in this complex issue – how about “Government’s Rigid Intransigence Punishes Everyone”?

Your opening paragraph (which comes perilously close to being a run on sentence) presents the premise of a promise which was broken – by the teachers, of course, since no one else connected with this ongoing tragedy of errors ever ever does that sort of thing. We often attach another label to those who break promises: liars.

Then, having led your readers to make a connection between liar and teacher, you get to your real meaning (because, after all, when you look at this ongoing situation honestly, teachers have not lied at all – something which cannot be also said about some of the other parties involved): the sense of promise which usually accompanies the start of a school year.

Teachers made it very clear right from the beginning of the “negotiations”, when the government sent bankruptcy lawyers to present a set of absolute conditions, that despite this despotic and despicable governmental approach, their desire as well as their intention was to be in the classroom for the start of the school year. For that reason, strike related actions were cancelled well before school opening. Teachers made it clear that the threatened legislation was therefore not necessary, but that they could not and would not simply accept the elimination of collective bargaining.

The government chose to ignore this and to move ahead with its threatening agenda. By prematurely committing funding only at the levels consistent with a bill that had not even been passed yet (arrogance, under the banner of sound financial planning - something which the McGuinty government does not have any moral basis to claim), the provincial Liberals laid the groundwork for a major confrontation with OSSTF and ETFO.

This government was determined to bully instead of bargain. Perhaps there was a slight miscalculation concerning the resolve of the teachers, especially in light of the ease with which OECTA not only caved in to provincial pressure but also denied its own members the opportunity to ratify or reject.

The weight of this column’s righteous indignation is staggering. For some reason, teachers are deemed to be “teaching character” only if and when they submit. The argument to support the concept of lawfully standing up for beliefs as a means to oppose a bill so likely to be struck down that its very authors intend to repeal it as also a lesson in character is just as compelling.
And that is what the teachers are doing: opposing legally. The OLRB deemed the planned day of political protest to be strike action (in a ridiculously swift determination) – therefore, it was cancelled. Teachers are being admonished to pursue the legal option only. Many don’t have the 4 or so years such a legal process could take.

The actions of the teachers are in keeping with their legal job descriptions. If certain columnists don’t like that, their next column could be dedicated to suggesting that these laws be changed. Oh, wait a minute, no need: Mr Hudak is already talking up that angle.

Legislating job descriptions to include extra curricular activities will do serious damage to what has been such a wonderful part of the high school experience for so many years. The suggestion to pay teachers extra for extras will open up a can of worms which will make Pandora’s box look like an X-box.

Without a doubt, the withdrawing of extra curricular activities was a decision that was not taken easily, quickly, or lightly. There really were not a lot of other choices. Response options were very limited in the face of governmental intransigence.

Students’ responses have been wide and varied. Of course many of them are angry. And given the restrictions upon teachers regarding discussing the issue in the classroom, it is not surprising that some students feel teachers are taking it out on them. It is at this point that responsible journalists could contribute to the solution rather than fan the flames of the problem by producing fairer and more balanced articles.

Because to suggest that teachers are “mad at the world” is just plain silly. Teachers came to what was supposed to be a bargaining table with ideas and suggestions and options and a willingness to take up to a four year wage freeze. They were frozen alright – right out of the collective bargaining process. Facing a wage cut and slashed benefits, along with the loss of the right to collectively bargain, just does not qualify as being miffed at not getting “100% of what they wanted”.

Regarding the “reports that the teachers who are going back…are being shunned… by other teachers”, the truth is that “there are reports” about a lot of things. Negative press is sexier than the boring old positive stuff. There could just as easily be reference made to “reports” about the large number of teachers who are upset about the unfortunate need at this time to maintain the withdrawl of extra curricular activities. Obviously the reference to “too many teachers” is a tacit recognition of the fact that it is indeed the majority who are standing up to the government and behind the unions’ positions.

And calling teachers a “gaggle of greedy grasping wage earners” is somewhat like referring to certain SUN columnists as a den of dreary duplicitous word mongers.

Jeff Kanter
Secondary teacher

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Open letter to fellow teachers

Sometimes I find it hard to tell people what I think, especially if the discussion isn't a comfortable one. Using an open letter maybe isn’t as good as multiple face-to-face conversations, but writing does have its merits. There are two things I want to talk about: voluntary participation in the grade eight parent night, and the rally outside of the Liberal leadership convention in Toronto yesterday.

So first is the grade eight parent night. For those teachers, and especially department heads, who chose not to volunteer their time for what is obviously not a required part of the job: THANK YOU. It really means a lot to me that you chose to stand in solidarity with your fellow teachers and send a signal to everyone that you will not back down when our collective bargaining rights are suspended. I know you care about your programs and would rather participate in the information evening and connect with parents, and I know it wasn’t easy to resist pressure from administration to be there. Thank you for not breaking solidarity. For those teachers who did attend the grade 8 night: I don’t understand what you were thinking. I don’t think that participation is a necessary part of the job, and I think that breaking solidarity with your colleagues is short-sighted, selfish, and counter-productive. Sure, it feels good to sell our programs to parents and help administration put on a good show, and it’s easier to cave in to pressure from your boss than to resist, but what’s more important is taking a stand in solidarity with your colleagues. On the other hand, please don’t take my criticism too harshly. I will continue to support all members even if they break solidarity, and I’m more interested in building future solidarity than dwelling on past disagreements. I want to work together, rather than start to let disagreements divide our membership - but I can’t help but speak up when something is bothering me.

Next is the rally at the Liberal leadership convention in Toronto on January 26th. To those who gave up an entire Saturday to go to Toronto and back to participate in a massive protest in support of collective bargaining rights: THANK YOU! I can’t describe the feeling I had when I was surrounded by over 30,000 people demonstrating for workers’ rights. To those who didn’t come: why didn’t you? We had a great time! It was fun! Sure, we sat on a bus twice as long as we spent in Toronto demonstrating, but we had a good time! I got to meet a lot of people, have a lot of laughs, and I spent a few hours on a wonderful winter day in a park in downtown Toronto surrounded by union supporters (and, I even managed to mark a bunch of exams on the bus!). It was awesome. I know it’s hard to give up a weekend day during exams, and I know we all have reasons not to go, but I really missed many of my colleagues. I wish you were there on the bus with me. Like the last paragraph, I don’t want people to feel that I’m upset with them for not coming - sure I’m a bit disappointed, but I really just want to let you know that you were missed. It would have been better if you could have found the time to demonstrate with us.

That’s all I have to say for today! For those of you who went to the grade eight night, and/or decided to stay home instead of come out to protest with your fellow workers, I really hope you think about what effect your decisions have on the rest of us. It’s hard to keep up the fight for our rights when so many of us seem to want to do little more than sit on the sidelines. I need your support to continue to fight for our right to a negotiated contract, and I ask that you think hard about your decisions in the future.

In solidarity,

Andy Wilson.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sun's Future Less Than Sunny - For Teachers

This letter by Jeff Kanter, a secondary teacher in Ottawa, is a response to an Ottawa Sun editorial, dated January 22nd.

Here we go…another OTTAWA SUN editorial that screams out for response. And that is exactly the kind of reaction one is inclined to make after reading articles, columns, and editorials which appear in this publication.

The Jan 23 HUDAK SCHOOLS HIS OPPONENTS one is a hoot. In addition to having one of those oh so cutesy titles (for another example of that kind of trite bon mot, see title above), its main argument seems to be that the Progressive Conservatives are the only ones capable of ‘taking on’ the teachers’ unions.

The Liberals, it seems, will be ‘sucking up’ to the teacher unions because they will be so desperate to make up with these mean evil wicked rotten nasty union folks once a new leader is chosen. The editorial goes on to describe the past several months as a “lovers’ quarrel” (half right, except that only one of the two sides got screwed) and summarizes thusly: “…which imposed contracts, froze salaries and reduced some benefits.” Interesting choice of words. How about ‘which arbitrarily and summarily imposed working conditions (since, to my knowledge, nothing got signed, it cannot be called a contract), forced wage CUTS onto the teachers in the form of unpaid days, and SLASHED benefits’??

Our intrepid SUN editor is essentially claiming that only Mr Hudak’s party will raise itself above the groveling Liberals and NDP, who will both be trying to attract teacher support (insert: election funding). Given recent events, I am really really really trying to imagine what the new provincial Liberal leader could possibly say that would have any positive impact whatsoever on any teacher, other than he/she is going to actually repeal Bill 115 (not the phony grandstanding ploy being presently touted by Ms Broten and Mr McGuinty - you remember him, he used to have a role in the government?) and reinstate genuine collective bargaining; that sort of thing would actually grab the attention of just about every teacher here in the public sector of the province.

He goes on to claim that the Progressive Conservatives are advocating making report card writing and parent-teacher interviews mandatory. Honestly, dude, I cannot think of too many actual teachers who would actually have an actual problem with this. Ideally, it should not have to be legislated; traditionally, it has never gotten to the point where this has been an issue. It is only because of the present government’s unyielding irresponsible approach that what was always freely offered (ie the time for both of those practices) has had to be reconsidered.

But the real issue is, of course, those pesky extra curricular activities. These are completely voluntary; these countless hours, far and away much more time-consuming than report cards or interviews are available to students because of the fundamental good will and interest and commitment of teachers. Up until now, we have managed to avoid the trap of the American system, which has a complex and inconsistent method of compensation for teachers who provide these services.

Giving principals the power to reward teachers who do more in their schools has merit; unfortunately, it also establishes a framework in which to open up a potentially nasty can of worms, in which principals are then encouraged to pressure their teachers to take on all sorts of extras, something which younger teachers might obviously find difficult to refuse.

But I also state here and now that, as a teacher who has dedicated thousands of hours to extra curricular activities, I would never anticipate or expect extra compensation in exchange for this. In fact, I am uncomfortable with the idea. My motivation has always been desire. If any governing body were to suddenly and peremptorily decide that I HAD to do these activities, then it would become a very different matter.

The editorial inevitably returns to the big bad mean old teachers’ unions and especially their nasty rotten scoundrel leaders, who are being taken to task for basically doing their jobs. Union leaders are chosen by union members and are charged with the responsibility of advocating on their behalf. When governments (and their lackeys) enact horrific legislation that attempts to cripple what would otherwise be standard union actions along with eliminating the democratic rights of those unions’ members, there is going to be consequence.

The accusation that unions were going to fine members for non compliance with toeing the line is a murky issue, especially since that practice has not been strictly (or even loosely) applied. Leaders of organizations need SOME recourse to sanction recalcitrant members of their brother/sister hood. Why, it could even be suggested that political leaders have all sorts of little tricks and pressures to aim at individuals within their ranks who do not always toe the party line. And to suggest that the name and shame tactic is going to destroy the career of a teacher who is only “refusing to use his or her students as pawns in a labour dispute” is a moronic oversimplification, but that is an argument for another day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Optimistic Prediction

An Optimistic Prediction
by Andy Wilson, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

I don't usually offer optimistic predictions, but I think I'll try.

Here's what could happen regarding education workers in Ontario:

First, the Liberals choose a new leader, and Ontario gets a Premier again. One of the first things the new Premier does is rescind the imposed working conditions implemented through Bill 115. Next, school boards and unions return to free collective bargaining based on the August 2012 contracts. The government can increase funding to the boards a bit, since the deficit came in $3 billion less than forecast. Teachers immediately resume extra-curriculars and education workers' unions can plan on taking no strike action for the rest of the school year. Teachers can get back to working under their last negotiated agreement, and the negotiators can get to work. They'll have plenty of time to find a deal by the end of the year, and if not, then a strike or lockout will loom over the  summer - providing even more pressure to find a deal.
Win, win, win, win - right? The Liberals get to mend fences with education workers and get schools back on track, education workers get their collective bargaining rights back, students get back their extra-curricular activities, and parents can stop worrying so much about chaos in Ontario's schools.

Again, maybe I'm a bit optimistic, but I suppose it could happen.


by Jeff Kanter, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

I have just read a letter to the editor in today’s OTTAWA SUN (just to clarify, while it is not my policy to support idiots, it is still instructive to know where they stand). In this one, the writer (or as I suspect in this case, the printer) hurled out the old accusation: teachers are underworked whiners with an almost non - existent work day.

It is really difficult to resist the urge to reply in kind, but, with tongue loosely planted in cheek, I will attempt to avoid sinking to his level. It is even more challenging to totally ignore the inevitable editorial addition to this bottom feeder’s assertions, in which the erstwhile SUN staffer so assiduously pointed out that the teachers are not done complaining yet.

I would like to invite this individual to sit down with me for a frank and earnest exchange of views on the present situation involving the teachers and their struggles with the provincial politburo, I mean, government. He could bring a dictionary as long as I am allowed a few bodyguards.

But it seems to me, that for this dude, there is no need for a crisis in education for him to gleefully join in the chorus of those who feel the need to trash teachers. I have to wonder which of his teachers either made him stand in the corner (for bullying perhaps?) or disciplined him when he wasn’t paying attention (often perhaps?) or just got on his nerves (“annoying” has become the new catchword for just about everything that is negative in any way). Of course, he may have arrived at these conclusions all on his own.

It is tempting to wonder what this fellow does for a living, but, truth told, I don’t really care. Given that teacher trashers are from a wide variety of backgrounds and perform a range of functions on the job chart, one can only conclude that the only real requirement to join this classless anti-class club is a strong sense of closed mindedness. Low tolerance is an asset, but not a necessity.

He has every right to his opinion – and full respect for having it – no matter how wrong and stupid it may be.

Silence is often interpreted as assent; therefore, I must reply to this guy. Do I care if HE ever reads this? Nope. He is not the person whom I hope to reach because he appears beyond that pale; but if one other person, perhaps a reader of his published perspective, can be prevailed upon to wade through all THIS, and at least admit to the possibility of another point of view that has some truth or logic, then our work here today will have been not for naught.

Teachers are appropriately paid for what they do. Their benefits are appropriate, too. They did not establish the framework / hours of instruction for the school day. They established unions lawfully and peacefully and have been bargaining collectively and somewhat more successfully, it would seem, than the NHL players association of late. But that is all peripheral.

Teachers may teach short hours but they work long hours. A class is somewhat like dealing with 25 + demanding clients all at the same time in the same place. And to dismiss preparation and parental contact and marking and participation in extra curricular outright is an outrageous miscomprehension of teaching. And yes, there ARE those teachers who have figured out how to work the gig to their advantage, but that is true of any workplace. However, in my experience (almost 40 years in two cities and 7 schools) those folks are the exception while the vast majority of my colleagues are exceptional in terms of their dedication, their hard work, their integrity, their commitment, and their work ethic.

The actual time spent in actively teaching classes is INDEED the smallest part of the day for many teachers. Our educational Einsteinian evaluator must think that at the moment the actual class ends, the teacher is finished working. Sadly, nothing, I am afraid, would convince him otherwise. Only first hand experience, actually seeing what it is like to teach, would have any impact. Anyone who has ever taught is now free to giggle at the image of this gentleman trying to keep up with any teacher from K-12.

Better get after all those professional athletes, then. After all, using our friend’s convoluted thought processes, the hockey player whose actual time on ice might be ten minutes per game and who might play three games in a week is therefore earning around half a million bucks for, what, half an hour of actual work for the entire week!

Others have spent much time and energy listing the many things that make teaching such a challenging and time consuming profession. The message to our friend here today is come see for himself what a teacher really and actually does over the course of a day or two hundred. For that matter, would that he could also see for himself what many teachers do on their weekends, their evenings, and what is left of their evenings after their play rehearsals or coaching gigs or club activities. The number who do use time in the summer for upgrading teaching credentials is impressive. If some do travel or just relax during that time, they have surely earned either.

Teachers, whose work is important but not valued by some in government and the public, are now being faced with draconian attacks on basic democratic rights.

Buddy, and the faceless editorial staff member who added that silly rejoinder after the letter: teachers are not only going to continue opposing illegal legislation and unprecedented attacks on our profession, for what it could mean to many others if they do not, that is exactly what they should be doing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

March for Change on Saturday January 26!

[This link is re-published as suggested from]
[The full version is available here:]

March for Change on Saturday January 26!
(Brad Marsh)
The government’s best kept secrets are starting to be told.  The unravelling of our once
decent and socially responsible society is firmly underway.  Many examples are
provided below to illustrate how our education system, monetary policies, health care
system, the environment and manufacturing infrastructure are all under attack from
bankers and corporations by using our own elected representatives.

The ultimate insult to every Canadian in this truly unprecedented attack on the
education sector is the temporary suspension of the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms.   Benjamin Franklin was clearly warning us: those that can give up liberty for
a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.  Government malfeasance
accurately describes this intrusion on the Charter.  McGuinty and Broten try and make it
sound justifiable, but don’t be fooled.  Canadians need to remember that the Charter is
the glue that holds us together and the platform on which our democracy rests.  Without
it we are lost.  The Canadians who wrote it and fought for it are beseeching us now to
protect it!

I hear people say, “Things aren’t that bad”.  This view is understandable only in the
context of mainstream media.  We must start looking outside our major news channels
to find more of the truth.  Dictatorships are controlled by force and democracies are
controlled by media.1 Make no mistake, media has the bulk of people on the planet so
distracted, the oligarchs are running wild.  In Ontario, our only chance to regain a
legitimate democracy is to inform the public about the facts.  Democracy only works
when people make decisions based on all of the information available and not just
preselected snippets on the six o’clock news.

Listed below are facts and sources that I hope will begin to spark a paradigm shift in
your understanding of the malevolent forces that are shaping our country.  People are
beginning to see through the often rosy and biased picture painted in the media.  We
are experiencing the lower standards of living, decreasing maternity leaves, low wage
jobs and an increase in poverty and sickness.  On a larger scale the financial crises,
war mongering and environmental devastation need to cease.  Change must start now
because the ruling elite rarely stop and don’t care much about human hardship.  We’ll
have to fight them together and probably with dissent.  And they’re coming after the
pensions too – nothing is safe.  Eventually they will come for it all, and it’s probably
closer than you think.

I urge you to fight with everything you’ve got to help rid ourselves of this tyrannical profit
over people regime(s) before we lose a lot more than we already have.

All Canadian citizens should be marching against this government from Allan
Gardens on Saturday January 26 @ 12:00 PM to the Liberal Leadership
Convention.  Don’t miss it for anything!


A simple solution, if Dalton would only listen.

[Jeff Kanter is a secondary teacher in Ottawa. This letter, dated January 18th, is reprinted here with permission.]

If things continue on their present course, Dalton McGuinty’s legacy will indeed be
linked with public education – as the man who initiated and then presided over its

For despite resigning months ago, suspending the legislation, and then virtually
disappearing from meaningful participation in the province’s management, Mr
McGuinty is still ultimately responsible for it until such time as his successor is

He could and should show some responsibility by recognizing that the present
situation is unacceptable. The continuing existence of Bill 115 is transforming
an already negative scenario into a toxic one, from which public education may
not survive. There is an unending cycle of charge and countercharge between the
province and the teachers – at this point, since the OLRB ruled against the idea of a
one day political protest, demonstrations are taking place after school hours. There
is a continuing stream of incendiary commentary in the media to accompany that
reportage of events.

And this is about to get much uglier.

The government strategy is apparently to assume the existence of and then
encourage/ exploit cracks in union solidarity, in the hopes that teachers’ resolve will
erode to the point where the teachers will merely surrender ( after all, this approach
seemed to have success with OECTA).

For the sake of present and future students, this must not be allowed to occur.
Teachers are now being manipulated in this conflict. Many of the boards, previously
at odds with the province over 115, are now starting to turn on the teachers. The
hope is that teacher will turn against teacher. If this strategy ends up actually
working, then there will be no failure like success (apologies to Bob Dylan) –
the province will have ‘won’, the teachers will have ‘lost’, but the real losers will
be students. This is no threat – this is reality: there is much risk in creating a
profession of people who are dispirited, divided, and depressed.

The province caused and created the crisis. Even candidates after Mr McGuinty’s
job have publicly confirmed that it could / should have been handled differently.
This has created a real opportunity to create a framework for working towards a
solution. But for some reason, the government seems intent on ignoring this chance
and increasing its crisis.

All it needs to do is indicate that this “lightning rod” legislation, to use Minister
Broten’s own phrase, is counterproductive and rescind its recent implementation
– just put a “pause” on it with the understanding that Mr McGuinty’s successor

will return to the bargaining table with the genuine intention to negotiate instead
of impose. This will establish an atmosphere in which the process to repair the
extensive damage already done can begin. Within this structure, it can be suggested
that extra curricular activities could most likely resume immediately. The promise
to avoid arbitrary imposition of working conditions without collective bargaining
will ensure that these activities remain – because there is a lot of work to do to
counter all these months without them.

The Boards of Education, having been reduced to near irrelevancy (at least in the
crucial area of establishing contracts with their own employees), could also take
a lesson from the unions and make a stronger attempt to stand up for themselves.
Now is not the time to turn on teachers with subtle and no so subtle threats in an
attempt to counter what they perceive as threats being made by union leaders.

Union leaders, right to act like parents of bullied children, should not be criticized
for telling those in their responsibility to stand up to the bullying behaviour of
this government. Nevertheless, they also need to be sensitive to the reality of the
possibility of division within the teacher ranks and must plan accordingly. Strong
responses are critical but they must be clearly communicated to members and to the
media. Above all, the teachers’ unions need to ensure that such strong responses
must be carefully evaluated and tempered so that they do not spin out of control, as
we have clearly seen in the Idle No More fiasco.

Teachers need to remain unified and recognize that the government is playing a
waiting game, hoping for small cracks to turn into major fissures. The upcoming
Liberal leadership convention does provide a glimmer of hope.

Parents are angry and they should be. Their children’s teachers have been put into a
corner from which their only recourse was an extreme step. Teachers stopped their
voluntary activities only when there was no other real option. There is a clear and
simple way for them to be reinstated. Parents can loudly and clearly communicate
this sentiment to MPPs.

Students are also encouraged to know the facts; their teachers want a return to
business as usual. Teachers are very sensitive to the fact that students are presently
suffering under the presently existing circumstances. They can add their not
inconsiderable collective voice in expressing outrage that the very kind of rights
that are celebrated in their social science classes as existing in this country are being
denied to their instructors.

Response to Ottawa Sun Editorial

[Jeff Kanter is a secondary teacher in Ottawa. His response, dated January 16th, to an Ottawa Sun editorial, is reprinted here with permission.]

Suggesting that teachers should reinstate extra curricular activities until the new
provincial Liberal leader has been determined is a not so subtle attempt at putting
the entire responsibility for the present messy situation right on the shoulders of
the teachers. Let us recall that it was the government’s insistence, first to pass the
bill in September and then to not budge on its Dec 31 “deadline” (in itself somewhat
ridiculous) that created the crisis.

The government had the perfect opportunity to create a framework for finding a
solution and simply chose to be aggressive instead of intelligent. After Mr McGuinty
announced his retirement and suspended the legislature, the government could
have simply acknowledged that, given the reality of the new premier having to deal
with the situation, the wisest course would be to delay the often repeated threat to
implement the more odious clauses of Bill 115. That very well could have resulted
in a reinstatement of extra curricular activities.

These activities are a huge part of the school year. The decision to take a pause from
them was not taken lightly. Similarly, the decision to reinstate has to be treated
in the same way. It is not fair to students to bring them back only to have to take
them away again – which is exactly what happened when an agreement was reached
between OCDSB and OSSTF. Because of Bill 115, this deal had to be approved by Ms
Broten. Her office attempted to do an ‘end run’ by giving approval – with certain
changes. This rather transparent non-approval resulted in the agreement being
scrapped by the union. The after school programs which had been re-established as
soon as it appeared as if a deal had been reached had to be terminated again. That
almost made it worse.

It was apparently too much to expect the minority Liberal government which had
been propped up by the anti-teacher Conservatives to give EVERYONE (themselves
included) a break. Such a missed opportunity. Continuing to put/keep the teachers
in a corner where they have few options other than to withhold extra curriculars is

This school year, at least on the public front, has indeed already been severely
damaged by the conflict between the province and the teachers. The separate
school system is not experiencing this because their union caved in and accepted a
deal, which was never ratified by its membership.

The initiative was taken by the government in its Bill 115, passed ostensibly to avoid
an interruption at the start of the school year (an interruption which had already
been ruled out by OSSTF and ETFO over the summer); so should the government
continue to take the lead by delaying Bill 115 until a new premier is determined.

The moment that the government commits to a return to fair and appropriate
negotiations with the teachers will be the moment that extra curricular activities
will be reinstated – with far less chance of their having to be cancelled once again.
And having been recently burned once already, teachers wish to avoid an on again,
off again scenario.

If anyone needs to ask themselves a question, it is members of the provincial
government, who should wonder how their leaders’ words and actions can possibly
be helpful in getting this situation resolved.

Blame the Gov't for Chaos in Schools

[Jeff Kanter is a secondary teacher in Ottawa. His letter to colleagues, dated January 15th, is reprinted here with permission]

Dalton McGuinty was recently quoted as saying: “…my sense is that most teachers
want to be in the classroom and they want to be participating in extra curricular
activities”. What a challenge it is not to respond with a resounding “YA THINK?” and
what a classic illustration of politically motivated, disingenuous bafflespeak.

The DUH factor is almost too glaring to even rate comment. Of course teachers
want to be in the classroom (where they have been, almost without exception, since
this whole mess was foisted upon them) and of course they want to be doing the
extras (the withdrawl of which is pretty much the only viable option for them at
this point). Stating what is so obvious, then, becomes a tactic – an attempt to drive
a wedge into the teachers’ ranks. What teachers WANT, Mr McGuinty, is a return
to fair and unimpeded negotiations with their actual employers – the Boards of

The premier really should review his own math sense as well - if he thinks that
the confidential balloting results of approximately 10% who do not necessarily
support strike action is a huge majority. Headlines dutifully proclaiming the so
called ‘education premier’ attempting to teach the teachers a lesson perhaps should
be rewritten with the suggestion that Mr McGuinty might want to re enroll in the
very system he is presently attacking in order to get a more accurate sense of the
real numbers.

And of course, every time the premier speaks, we are faced with the incessant
droning of up – piper Lisa MacLeod, certainly one not to miss a chance of being
quoted somewhere. Her automatic opposition to whatever the premier would
say, while a reflection of the job description of the Opposition, is both a painfully
transparent ploy to pave a path for her own potential political future and, more
importantly, a counterproductive contribution to the situation. Would that she
could contribute something towards a solution (other than trotting out Conservative

Fast-forward to more recent events.

The dust from the most recent dust-up between the province and its teachers (the
day of protest, aborted because of a 4 am OLRB decision) has sort of settled. All
of the various interested parties – students, parents, board trustees, government
representatives, journalists, columnists, editors, talk show hosts, and teachers are
preparing for whatever comes next.

Last minute tactics on the part of the unions and the government resulted in board
officials having to make very last minute adjustments to schools’ operations for

that day and the general consensus was that it was pretty chaotic. Naturally,
that resulted in angry parents who were significantly inconvenienced (including

Teachers do sympathize with those parents (indeed, many teachers were
themselves among those thus inconvenienced). At the same time, it is hoped that
parents of school age kids can take a minute or two to look beyond the problems
associated with school closures and make an effort to see why teachers are so
incensed with bill 115 – despite the minister’s “offer” to repeal it in the near future.

That is not easy to do. Parents who have to scramble to make all sorts of last minute
adjustments while facing unanticipated financial burdens have much right to be
much upset. What teachers could claim, though, is that sounds very much like what
they themselves have been doing lo these many months and certainly what they face
as the effects of bill 115 are more fully realized in the months ahead.

It is also not easy to do because it is just not easy to do. Actually listening to the
other side is a rare talent. And it does not necessarily mean giving up one’s own
beliefs or ideas – just listen to what the other guy’s story is all about. People tend to
cling to a view once they have formed it – often in spite of overwhelming evidence
that that particular view may be flawed or erroneous.

The accepted premise has to be to recognize that the present scenario in education
in Ontario is pretty grim, with no immediate easy solution. To those who snarl that
teachers are overpaid crybaby whiners who have it so much better than everyone
else in the work force need only look as far as the recently resolved NHL lockout:
call the players whatever you wish (or the owners, for that matter); the two sides
still had to hammer out a framework for an agreement, and they did just that,
through continuous though often on and off talks/discussions. To simply label the
players as this or that did not alter the fact that the owners had to keep talking with
them. Of course, it could be suggested that the entire NHL crisis could have easily
been avoided by simply having all the teams moved to Ontario and then just have
their working conditions imposed!

And that points out one of the major sticking points in the present education crisis
– the government never intended to talk or negotiate with the teachers. At the
initial meetings, terms were presented in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion. And when
teachers’ unions balked, the government made the ridiculous claim that it was the
teachers holding up the talks. The only thing the teachers were guilty of was not
being willing to meekly accept harsh and unrealistic terms.

Bill 115, therefore, is a major sticking point, for which the offer to repeal (once all its
terms become entrenched) is not a realistic basis for solution.

Union leaders have pretty much been demonized by the province’s spokespeople, as
well as by the media. They are trying to represent hundreds of thousands of people

– not an easy assignment. Given the sheer size and numbers of OSSTF and ETFO,
it has to be recognized that the overall level of support from membership has been
nothing less than exceptional. There will always be vocal opposition (assent is often
much more silent). Who has never occasionally thought a decision made by a parent
or a boss or a group leader has been plain wrong? and then grumbled about it?

Employees try to get the best deal from their employer. The employee generally
operates from the naturally logical assumption that the employer has the means/
resources to pay the agreed upon wage. And when offered a salary, what employee
would respond by suggesting that, gee, maybe the company might not be in good
financial shape in three years so why don’t I ask for a reduction in the salary being
offered? Why would union leaders, who represent the teachers / employees in this,
do any differently?

And now, the employee is being told that everything has changed and that
compensation is being slashed. Employees do occasionally have to face challenging
times. Remember that the opportunity for them to enter into a dialogue with the
employer to figure out the most efficient way to achieve solutions is one of the many
positive accomplishments of unions over the years. Otherwise, the employee has
the first, last, and only say in all aspects connected with the workplace.

But wait. This particular employer has just reduced and removed and eliminated
all manner of compensation and benefits from our erstwhile employee, but
over in another store which the same employer controls, some of the workers
are getting, wait for it, bonuses. Our employee, with justification, is angry. Mr
McGuinty’s recent support for over $20 million for these bonuses is unacceptable
and unsupportable. Out of the other other side of his mouth, he is demanding that
teachers absorb huge contractual losses. What happened to the province’s dire
financial straits when THAT raise was given the premier’s okey-dokey?

What teachers want is the continuation of the right to collectively bargain –
something which Bill 115 eliminates. What teachers want is a return to the
standard practice of negotiation with the province to address all the concerns.

The supreme irony here is that teachers were ready for business as usual for the
Sept 2012 start of the school year. The government brought its hard line approach
to the “bargaining” table and threatened legislation as a means, it claimed, of
avoiding disruptions. Instead of ensuring a smooth school opening (which clearly
would have taken place without the threats and without 115), the only thing this
government achieved was creating the most uncertain unsettled school school year
in a long long time.

A Teacher's Response to Bill 115

[Jaden Lairson is a secondary teacher in Ottawa. His letter, dated January 10th, to colleagues is reprinted here with permission]

Dear Colleagues,

The Minister of Education recently stated: “the Bill has worked well and
served its purposes.” I can’t believe that this is passing for legitimate
government reasoning, it reminds me of quotes from the Ministry of Truth in 1984
or things that used to come out of John Snobelen’s office when he was Minister
of Education in the Harris government. This Bill has been and continues to be a
disaster for public education, civil society, and labour rights. Right to work
legislation can not be far behind if left unchecked.
The Bill has forced all of us as educators to make some incredible
decisions, decisions that go against the very core of why we decided to become
teachers. Like most of you I believe that a full service, well funded public
education system is the backbone of a democratic functioning civil society.
Participating in a system that values every individual, provides the highest quality
education possible, and challenges young people to grow not just intellectually,
but also encourages them to be engaged active citizens that participate in
Canadian society. I believe that extra-curricular activities are an important
element of education and have over the last 10 years devoted untold hours to
that belief that engaging students outside of the classroom is key element of
education that builds better a better society.
Bill 115 has had a devastating impact on me personally and quite frankly
makes me question my decision to become a teacher, because we have a
government that clearly does not value education. They have used the most
basic and fundamental right of education as a crass political tool. However my
convictions have not changed. I became a public school teacher by choice
because I felt it was the best way I could affect positive change in my society.
Without the right to collectively bargain we will very quickly become a second
rate profession, which consequently will lead to a second rate system. A system
quite frankly I do not want to be a part of. The choice for our society to make is
do we want a system like Georgia or a system like Finland. Our profession and
our system is worth fighting for with everything we have, using every tool we
have. This fight will force us to make some difficult decisions and it will come
with personal sacrifice. It is a fight that is worth it. At this difficult time, more
than ever, we have to remain united and remain strong. We all have to
remember why we became teachers. We all have to dig deep and ask ourselves
what type of society do we want to live. A society that values the principals of
egalitarianism, hard-work, acceptance, respect, and empathy is a society worth
fighting for.

We Must Still Resist

[Greg Fraser is a teacher at a secondary school in Ottawa. His letter to colleagues, dated January 8th, is reprinted here with permission]

Good afternoon colleagues,

Bill 115 has been used to impose contracts on us that are substantively similar to the OECTA agreement.  This process has been undemocratic and draconian and in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 
How do you feel about the fact that a handful of Catholic union leaders in cooperation with the Liberal and Conservative parties forced a contract on YOU without any free negotiation?  How do feel about the fact that said contract prevents YOU from taking any strike action against it?  How do feel about the fact that this contract includes a pay cut, sick leave cut, and benefits cut?  How do you feel about the fact that further cuts in future contracts are a real possibility and that the process we’ve endured since September could be the new model for dictating YOUR working conditions and compensation package?

Bill 115 will be an absolute victory for the Ontario government and a precedent-setting model for future contracts and governments if we allow it.  We’ve been threatened by governments of all stripes in both the recent and not-so-recent past and each time we’ve stood together and rebuffed those threats to our Constitutional rights and negotiating freedoms.  I still refuse to facilitate the erosion of democracy and the rule of law by returning to “business as usual”.  I still refuse to acquiesce to having no free voice in the determination of the value of my services.  One of the remaining effective forms of protest left to us is the continued suspension of our volunteer activities.  I will return to offering my valuable volunteer time, expertise, and energy to the betterment of my students once my rights have been reinstated and I have a freely negotiated contract.

The government’s actions under Bill 115 should strike at the very core of your beliefs with respect to democracy, citizenship, and education.  I urge you to reflect on these things and continue to resist that which is wrong, unjust, and unreasonable.

G. Fraser