Posted Mat 31, 2015
In June of 2014, jubilant Liberals re-elected Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Guelph MPP, Liz Sandals was re-elected with a 10,000 majority.
That was then and this is now.
In the 2014 Liberal campaign the education portfolio was treated as peace with the teachers and a bright future of primary and secondary education in Ontario. Left out of that amorous attachment to Ms. Sandals and Premier Wynne, was the $480 million settlement made in 2013 with Ontario’s teachers. It was a back door attempt to rollback the former Liberal administration’s attempts to curtail the exponential growth of teacher costs in the province.
Former Premier, Dalton McGuinty, had tried to stem the explosive growth of the cost of education in Ontario.
Looking back, you will recall the teacher’s work to rule campaign in the fall of 2012. They refused to conduct extra-curricular activities. These included athletic coaching, drama and music events and a number of student activities that were a normal part of the pupil’s high school experience.
It didn’t matter to the teacher’s unions. They did not want the party to be over.
And quite a party it has been for the past several years. Teacher salaries and benefits increased dramatically as they played one school board against another to boost personal incomes through a slanted collective bargaining system. It’s called whipsawing.
With 170 school boards in Ontario, it’s not difficult to understand how this negotiating tactic worked. For example, board A would settle with its teachers for a 4 per cent increase over two years. Board B would use that settlement to demand the same or more during its negotiation.
The 2013 $480 million payoff to create teacher peace was ignored in the 2014 campaign. As it turned out neither were a number of other problems sandbagged by the Liberals during the 2014 campaign, including solving a $12 billion deficit and spending $1.2 billion to tear down two partially finished natural gas generating plants in Mississauga and Oakville. This issue remains a subject of an OPP criminal investigation.
This year, Education Minister Liz Sandals sat back and witnessed 70,000 high school students fail to be educated because teachers went on strike April 20. Five weeks later, the Ontario Labour Relations Board as being illegal has finally determined the high school teacher’s strike of three major school boards.
Of the 70,000 stranded students, an estimated 17,000 were in their final year of high school. They are the most vulnerable as losing up to five weeks of instruction could result in having to repeat grade 12.
As a member of Cabinet, did Sandals fail to stress that her responsibility was to ensure that the education of all students was the key responsibility of her portfolio?
Instead she waffled, used bureaucratic jargon and sidestepped the issue to give reasons why she couldn’t do her job: It is to ensure the children of Ontario are being educated. Not sometime, to accommodate labour relations, but all the time.
Sandals became a polarized, political ostrich with her head buried in the sand.
The Guelph Mercury recently published a gushy editorial praising Sandals about her stand on the proposed sex-education curriculum. As a deputy minister in the Ministry of Education, the man who was in charge of writing that new curriculum was just sentenced to four years in jail for making and transmitting images of child pornography.
How could Sandals not be aware of this when she announced the changes in the sex education curriculum that set off a firestorm of public criticism?
The newspaper editorial ignored the fact that 70,000 Ontario high school students were without teachers. It ignored Sandals fumbling attempts to handle the on-going dysfunctional Toronto and District School Board and its spending crises.
Monday’s belated vote to force the teachers back to work, consent in the legislature was not unanimous as the NDP voted against the bill. The next day, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, said the three teacher strikes were illegal and ordered the classrooms to be open Wednesday.
If this is the high-water mark of Liz Sandal’s career, will she be known as the Minister who couldn’t keep the teachers on the job?
This is only the beginning of teacher union distrust of the Liberal administration. Already the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation is threatening to hold a province-wide strike in September. She had better fasten her seatbelt, as there is more turmoil to come when the elementary teachers start their quest for a new contract.
The underlying problem is the Liberal government’s misguided attempt to change the way teacher’s labour contracts are negotiated. Relying on a committee of alleged independent folks, called the Education Relations Commission, who deliberated for ten days before stating the students’ school year was in jeopardy, was not a good move.
The other horse in the race was the Ontario Labour Relations Board that decided Tuesday that the teacher’s strikes at three jurisdictions was illegal.
The root of this cock-up was the Wynne government’s strategy to allow the local boards to only negotiate local issues but not curriculum, wages and benefits. Those areas are negotiated by the provincial government (the Ministry of Education led by Sandals). Between the Ministry, Education Relations Commission and the Labour Ministry, you can understand why 70,000 students were stranded in a power battle with three different government agencies and their teachers.
And this dispute is a long, long way from being settled by the tandem team of Wynne and Sandals.
This time there is no $500,000 available to pay the teachers to go away.
The teachers to lower the number of students in each high school class must share the blame for these strikes with their stringent demand. Can you believe they stranded all those kids over this issue?
The real victims are the students who have no say, no political power, and are the largest group of stakeholders not even at the table.