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A ship of fools runs Ontario’s school system

By Gerry Barker

From the GuelphSpeaks provincial files

Posted October 6, 2015

Thousands of Ontario parents, students and education workers are caught up in a maelstrom of pity, selfishness and pettiness. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Public Workers Union (CUPE) union enforced job action tactics that remain unresolved and unrepentant.

Both unions have been without contracts for a year.

The Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, describes the latest job action of allowing unlocked doors in Halton schools as “worrisome.” She went on to say that she was surprised that “this was a way (the union) has chosen as direction for disruption.”

Minister, this is what happens when there is a major breakdown in the collective bargaining process. Your staff has bungled any attempt to settle these job actions that only hurt the parents, and students in terms of their pre-high school preparation and the graduated learning process.

If, by some miracle, settlement is reached before October 19, federal election day, the theory that the unions are trying to embarrass the Ontario Liberal government, will be a mere footnote in history.

For the unions, this is a continuation of jacking up demands for more pay, better working conditions and contract benefits that go beyond the province’s ability to afford their demands.

The blame goes back a few years when the Liberals were running the government. Sandals and Premier Kathleen Wynne, who preceded her as Minister of Education, both arrived in the Legislature as former school trustees.

Paying off the teachers is the solution

You would think they would know a little bit about their chosen vocation, learned in the front lines of education. What they both have practised as overseers of the Ontario education system is to pay off the unions to keep the school doors open.

In 2013, Sandals rolled back the McGuinty clamp down of education worker’s contracts and paid some $463 million to mollify the unions and stop job action by the high school teachers.

This time, they settled with every teacher’s unions, giving a 2.5 per cent increase and more benefits. But the elementary teachers refused to accept the terms and have refused to perform basic work assignments including communication with the parents of their pupils.

Sandals declared that the increase in pay is “net zero.” In other words, the allocated budget would not increase because funds would be taken from other budget sources. Sandals did not identify those sources. All this was done despite the demand of the Premier that there wasn’t money to cover teacher’s demands for more money, smaller classes and benefits.

This was the financial chicanery reminiscent of the old baseball triple play, “ Tinker to Evers to Chance.” Keep the money moving around so nobody notices.

Here is what one Sachin Maharaj, Toronto teacher and PhD student at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE), described as the elementary teacher’s job:

“Outside the classroom, elementary teachers also have a range of other activities. This includes regularly communicating with parents, meeting with colleagues and administration, organizing school assemblies and events, planning field trips, maintaining up-to-date student records, as well as running student clubs and extracurricular activities.”

Oh, and the teachers also have to teach specific courses based on the ages of their students.

Getting 12 months pay for ten months work

But isn’t that what the job is all about? The elementary teachers have the responsibility to mould their young students’ attitudes, advance their learning abilities, and develop strong social skills. This is the prelude to being a responsible and successful member of society.

It all starts in kindergarten. Along the eight-year pathway to adulthood, the association of teachers and parents must be maintained and cooperative.

When the teacher’s unions strike, either part-time or out the door that trust disappears due to the teachers’ lack of responsibility that they stress on their students.

That’s what has happened in Ontario where the provincial education ministry charged with funding, maintaining and creating solutions, has abandoned the trust that the stakeholders believed they had.

The responsibility for this mess is shared both by government and union leadership.

The solution is growing among Ontarians that teachers are an essential service and should not be allowed to strike or conduct job action. The collective bargaining system does not work as the unions have timed their strikes to deeply affect the students as crucial times of the school year. Last spring was an example of work stoppages that affected students particularly those completing high school.

Threatening and using circumstances to force their demands on the backs of students and their parents is the lowest denominator ever reached by public service labour. The combination of a gutless provincial government and aggressive unions leaves only the innocent stakeholders at risk.

Indeed, a “ship of fools” has destroyed our trust.

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Guelph needs a city Auditor General to end the Farbridge multi-million dollar mistakes

Posted June 29, 2014

Ontario’s Ombudsman, Andre Marin, recently addressed a gathering of municipal finance officials in London, Ontario.

He pointed out that 92 per cent of the 444 Ontario municipalities have no oversight of their finances and operations. In fact, only Ottawa, Toronto, Oshawa and Sudbury have Auditor Generals (A/G) overseeing their operations. Sudbury and Oshawa are on the verge of dumping their A/G’s because they delivered negative reports to the councils.

Yep, if you don’t like the message, just shoot the messenger.

The city will reply that Deloitte and Touche, a major independent audit and accounting firm, review city finances annually. Note the word “review”. Deloitte does not do an in-depth audit but employs parameters set by contract with the city.

An Auditor General, they’re not.

In Guelph, the council hired an internal auditor to dig into operations and she came up with a doozie reporting in 2013 city staff overtime costs were $5,067,000. It was twice that in 2012. Her investigations are only the tip of the iceberg that can sink the good ship SS Guelph.

Fortunately for citizens she’s still around. But her job is limited and controlled by senior staff. What is really needed is an Auditor General who has authority to oversee all city finances and operations without political interference.

The Auditor Generals, in the aforementioned cities, are appointed for five years. In the case of Sudbury the A/G appears to be surviving day-to-day. Oshawa renewed its A/G for only two years. This is against the provincial legislation that set up the municipal A/G system, requiring a five-year term of office.

Now along comes the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.  That organization, composed of elected officials from Ontario’s municipalities, is dead against the addition of Auditor Generals poking into their municipal operations.

Why is that? Both the federal government and most provinces have Auditor Generals overseeing their operations and finances. You don’t have to go very far to discover the need of such an independent officer in the City of Guelph.

In fact, last October, the citizen activist group, GrassRoots Guelph, delivered a four-page petition to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing that detailed several instances of questionable financial mismanagement and operations.

The petition was signed by 162 taxpayers when the Revised Statutes of Ontario Act only required 50 signatures. Ministry officials later confirmed that the petition figures were accurate. Yet the Minister at the time, Linda Jeffery, rejected an audit of the city’s finances and operations with no explanation.

Shortly after, she left office to run for mayor of Brampton.

The Chief Administrative Officer of Guelph’s public servants called the citizen’s petition “a waste of time.” Minister Jeffery’s letter contained no such reference. So no matter what we complain about in Guelph, the majority of elected officials doesn’t care what citizens think or know about their governance of our city. On top of that, the senior executive directors of the Guelph staff share the same views as their political masters. It is apparaent that much of the staff has been politicized through threat of job loss and other intimidation.

What’s that old expression: “Go along to get along?”

It appears the deck is stacked against the citizens living in Ontario’s municipalities. This AMO entitlement attitude is endemic of the disdain for those who once elected them.

So far in this nomination period every member of council who supported Mayor Farbridge, has declared their candidacy, plus two former Farbridge councillors. As a public service, here are their names: Karen Farbridge; W2 – Ian Findlay; W3 – Maggie Laidlaw and June Hoffland; W4 – Mike Salisbury; W5 – Leanne Piper, Lise Burcher, Cathy Downer; W6 – Todd Dennis and Karl Wettstein.

There is only one-way citizens can protect themselves against these uncaring and arrogant politicians and that’s to defeat them October 27.

GRG is dedicated to informing voters of how their city and treasure have been abused by these councillors. Also, to encourage candidates for council who are motivated to return our city to fiscal responsibility, common sense and restoration of the public trust.

The 2014 election will either result in more of the same from the Farbridge administration or an election of a majority of council who will bring fresh ideas, energy and business to the city. Mostly, they will restore the public trust that has been sneered at by those in the administration. Overseers who feel they are entitled to treat the citizens as pawns in their grandiose schemes to change our city.

Step one is to hire an Auditor General for Guelph to level the playing field.

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Liz Sandals, tell us it’s not true

Posted June 19, 2012

I was sent an email the other day about a Toronto doctor saying the McGuinty budget includes a dangerous provision. It is one that forces anyone 75 and older to submit to Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan (OHIP) “public ethics committees” before being treated.

If true, “da preem” can start planning his retirement.

appears ludicrous that our aging population would be forced to submit to some nameless committee that meets twice a week in order to receive OHIP benefits. Imagine a senior whose physician has ordered a series of tests, presenting his or her medical treatment requirement to a group of stony-faced bureaucrats.

The stress alone would shorten their life span.

But wait? Supposing this report is untrue. Supposing the doctor, who claims it to be true, is an agent provocateur of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA).  You will recall there is a pitched battle going on between the Provincial Health Ministry and the doctors.

A lot of propaganda has been exchanged between the parties. Separating the truth from the hyperbole remains a daunting task for the taxpayers who pay the bills.

The language of the bureaucracy defeats understanding the aspects of the squabble. The result is it spreads confusion and misunderstanding together creating distrust on the part of Ontario’s health services consumers.

This is unlike any trade union dispute.

The protagonists are highly trained professionals who are also highly paid for their services.

That’s as it should be because everyone in the country is entitled to healthcare. So states the Canada Health Act that has been around for almost 50 years. The result is that Canadians are collectively among the healthiest in the world.

So why are consumers entitled to health treatments being threatened with drastic measures that go beyond reasonable rationing of those services?

Most consumer/patients are tolerant of wait times and minor inconveniences.

Some abuse the system through over-use of emergency services for treatment of minor ailments.

But subjecting seniors, almost 30 per cent of the population of Ontario, to have treatment approved by so-called ethics committees, is not only an affront to seniors but also a breach of the Canada Health Act.

Ontario’s doctors are quasi civil servants. They are paid from the public pot and the McGuinty government in the past nine years has been generous in dealing with the doctors.

But like many Ontarians who are feeling the effects of reduced pay and benefits due to the economic conditions, the provincial government has to tighten its belt. The budget document reflects that necessary reduction in spending.

The argument may be made that the McGuinty government has mismanaged the province’s economy in such a way that revenues are not meeting expenditures.

Nine years in power can create a malaise, a softening of resolve. This minority government is tired and overdue for a change.

Meanwhile the doctors should get back to the table and bargain in good faith. The government should look for other avenues to reduce or cut costs in order to maintain our cherished public health system.

 

 

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MPP Liz Sandals went missing when Guelph bid for a separate public health unit

Judge David Price almost closed the door on the city’s attempt to halt spending $12 million for the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit’s new headquarters.

Mayor Karen Farbridge stoutly rejected the unilateral decision by the public health board to spend $17 million on its new headquarters and a satellite branch in Orangeville.  Guelph must pay 70 per cent of the unit’s capital costs.

Despite differences with Mayor Farbridge, I’m with her all the way on this one.

As usual, the judiciary followed the law to the letter. The joker is the law was changed in 2001 denying any member of a municipal consortium involved in a Public Health Unit to leave without permission of the province.

Guelph’s motion was to allow the city to opt out of the WDG unit and establish its own public health unit. Judge Price denied this. While he was sympathetic that the city was being forced to pay $12 million, he was unmoved. He suggested the Health Unit board should have approached city council to discuss their plans, something that did not occur.

Liz Sandals was aware of this yet failed to defend her hometown interests because, we presume, she was involved in getting re-elected. One can surmise two things: Either Sandals has little respect at Queen’s Park or she was afraid she might lose the election.

It is mindful of Brian Mulroney challenging Prime Minister John Turner over approving the patronage appointments made by Pierre Trudeau in the dying days of his tenure: “Mr. Turner you had a choice.”

Liz Sandals had a choice to support the city’s position or protect her legislature seat. Now we know what choice she made.

Mayor Farbridge says the city will request the province to appoint an assessor to review the proposal. Ruefully she admits that this request was made early in the process and it was refused.

This represents a huge blow to city finances as it does not have $12 million lying around.

Chances of this being overturned are next to nil.

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