[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.