Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wynne win or Wynne lose?

"Wynne win or Wynne lose?" by Jeff Kanter

Interesting how, in some of her opening remarks about the mess in education she
inherited from her predecessor (and helped to create by supporting Bill 115),
Kathleen Wynne immediately made reference to the need to get extra curriculars
happening again – as if THAT is the whole problem.

Because the problem is not extra curricular activities. There are those in the media
and in the government who are content to encourage the implication that, all of a
sudden, those mean evil wicked rotten nasty lousy greedy union leaders told their
likewise members to, without provocation, withdraw voluntary activities.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is about what the government did to create a scenario in which the only
available option for teachers was to “take a pause” from the thousands of hours of
such endeavors.

Therefore, when Ms Wynne speaks about dealing with the extra curricular issue,
she also ought to be making reference to the Bill which created it (a bill which she
supported). She cannot speak of extra curricular activities in a vacuum.

It is difficult to imagine a return to the provision of all those activities and programs
merely because the new premier wants them to resume. We have to remember, and
actually believe, that the teachers want them to resume as well.

She cannot simply request that teachers resume these without some kind of
indication that there will be a change. We are not talking about the kind of “caving
in to union/teacher demands” about which some consistently alarmist journalists
constantly carp.

The new premier is in a position to begin the process of repairing relations with a
profession which, regardless of one’s personal beliefs about its members, is such
an important one. To continue with the previous McGuinty approach would be
unthinkable. To suggest that huge raises are now in the works for teachers is just
plain stupidity. There has to be some kind of compromise available between those
two extremes. Compromises are reached by discussion and negotiation – not by
governmental imposition.

The idea that teachers can be rewarded for providing extra curricular activities
is merely an extension of the theory that any problem can be solved by throwing
money at it (and yes, even non financial rewards have been suggested). It will not
work. The ones who provide the best out of class experiences do this because
they want to – not for financial or any other sort of reward. To replace that time
honoured system by a potentially mercenary one, in which teachers who are

attracted by extra payments or fewer duties take over will surely reduce the quality
of those activities.

To even hint at making these programs a part of the job description shows an
alarming but not surprising lack of comprehension for the dynamics which go on in
schools each and every day. Attempting to solve the problem in this way will kill the
very program itself. It might have the potential of political expedience, but it also
has the inevitable futility of failure.

Politicians, with the echo of support from among the many experts from the media,
want this issue to go away. They want not only to get teachers back into their after
school work, but also to ensure that this ugly confrontation will never occur again.
Why not just legislate that the Leafs must win the Stanley Cup?

The only real solution lies with negotiation and discussion and compromise: that
is, collective bargaining. That is what the teachers have been calling for since this
whole mess began several months ago. Real collective bargaining does not mean
not recognizing the reality of the financial crisis in this province. The teachers are
aware of that. On the other hand, real collective bargaining does not mean being
treated the way they were by a government that seemed to want to make them into
a scapegoat for all financial woes – many of which were created by governmental
mismanagement in the first place.

That means taking some courageous steps. The government will have to figure
out what to do with Bill 115, the legislation that will not go away simply because
the McGuinty / Broten combo repealed it. This means accepting the potential step
of actually rescinding it. That, of course, will necessitate determining what kind
of status will exist while real collective bargaining resumes (ie what conditions
of work exist?). Teachers must be prepared to resume extra curricular activities
– recognizing that it would be pretty difficult to explain taking them away once
again…all of which puts a lot of pressure on both sides to get a deal done.

A wage freeze is one thing; a pay cut is something else. While one is acceptable, the
other poses problems: something for the negotiators to discuss. Harsh reductions
in benefits (particularly in a culture in which others not within the provincial
purview are getting raises) are a sticky issue: again, something for the discussers to

Empowering the government to disempower the unions from disciplinary measures
(which must be logical and reasonable) is at odds with the entire management/
labour continuum. The same union which provides so much support to a member in
need must also be able to deal with a member who does not adhere (a system which
political parties seem to embrace and practice).

Above all, all concerned must be more concerned with the passage of time. The
existing situation must be put clearly on the path to resolution now. It cannot be
allowed to carry over to the next school year.

Jeff Kanter is a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

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