The Looming Reality of a Doug Ford PC Government and the Implications for Education
As the potential of a Doug Ford PC government is beginning to dawn on the progressive voters of Ontario there is still a sense of denial regarding the policies he is expected to follow, Naturally, Ford is promising “nobody will lose their job”. As doubtful as this is, even reducing the service levels of teachers and nurses for example, by attrition, - not relacing retirees for example, is profound. In healthcare we have absurd levels of hallway medicine now, under the Liberals. Our emergency room bottlenecks are beyond imagination with patients being treated in waiting room chairs. It is not a ‘bed shortage’. Their are hospital wards closed for lack of staff across the province. The Liberals have profoundly underfunded hospitals and the prospects for a Ford government are far worse. Ford says he will “end hallway medicine”. A claim that is in total contradiction to his few fiscal announcements.
As far as actual education goes, Ford will ‘review’ the sex ed portion of the health curriculum. This is to satisfy his Evangelical base and other religious extremists.This clueless ignoramus will “end Discovery math”. This educational philistine has no idea that Ontario is amongst the world leaders in math, science and reading according to PISA, as he demands we get ‘back to basics’.
There are 65 countries in OECD. There are 4 real countries ahead of Canada by insignificant scores, Japan, Korea,Switzerland and Estonia plus one cheater. PRC China entered only Shanghai, its most educated city and then excluded the bottom 27% of scores. There are 3 totally unrepresentative city states, Macau,Hong Kong (part of China) and Singapore. Canada’s math results should be considered outstanding. Have EQAO scores in Ontario dipped in recent years? Yes they have matching the increase in Ontario poverty under the Liberals. Poor kids are always the reason for low scores. More poor kids equal lower scores. Canada is number one in reading of real nations.
Ford promises to punish universities and colleges that exclude “controversial speakers”. What he means are far right speakers promoting, sexist, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic … points of view. OK, i hope he is prepared for the violent backlash this will provoke when the Pam Geller, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ben Shapiro types show up. He can wear this.
In education, the class sizes in junior and senior grades are being used to subsidize primary grades. Support staff are doing more with less every day. The schools are disintegrating before our very eyes from lack of maintenance and repair.
The Liberals claim the deficit is $6 billion due to some very creative accounting. The auditor general claims it is closer to $11 billion. Into this environment, Ford proposes abolishing the Carbon Tax, (actually a Cap and Trade system) at a cost of $2 billion to the treasury and he also proposes a 1% cut in the corporate tax rate costing the treasury another $1.5 billion dollars And a personal income tax cut that will cost $2 billion, thus shifting the Liberal $6-11 billion deficit depending on who you believe, to a $9.5-14.5 deficit. To further add to this ridiculous big lie Ford proposes that he will balance the budget. David Copperfield cannot make this budget elephant disappear without rivers of blood. Healthcare is almost 40% of the budget. Education K- Post secondary is 25% of the budget for a health and education share of 65% or ⅔ of government spending. The next biggest is social and children’s services at 11%. The education budget is 70% teachers and about 10% support staff. The healthcare budget is the same for nurses. Since the provincial government is not the direct employer of teachers, they cannot, by themselves, fire teachers and support staff. They can, nevertheless, a la Mike Harris, change the formula for funding schools, remove a billion or more and send the remainder to school boards who then do the dirty work of passing out pink slips, closing schools, deferring even more maintenance, you know the drill.
You will find conservatives everywhere who claim that these tax cuts are well worth it because it offers employers a stimulus and an incentive to invest in new plant and equipment, hire more workers and raise wages. The problem, however is that there is no control on business or even oversight. Trump and the GOP just gave business the biggest tax cut in living memory. What happened next was an orgy of stock buybacks, executive bonuses, dividends to stockholders, new executive compensation packages but little to nothing for the workers either in new well paid jobs or wages. A few companies, who had been set up in advance, offered one time bonus payments, not part of the ongoing payroll package. Peanuts.Such is the fool’s errand of cuts to corporate tax rates. Right wing GOP Senator Marco Rubio spoke out of turn on the tax cuts prompting some to wonder if he will wake up to a horses head in his bed.
If a government wants to play the muggs game of corporate welfare, at the very least, tie the cuts to 10 year job commitments. This is what happened to Trump’s tax cut and it is exactly what will happen to a Ford tax cut of a billion and a half.
What does this all mean? It means that Ford cannot cut carbon and corporate taxes, and balance the budget in Ontario without devastation to the health and education sector notwithstanding other vital sectors of the budget. Health and education is essentially what provinces do in Canada. Mike Harris cut 9000 nurses calling them ‘hula hoops’ He also cut $1 billion from education using his notorious funding formula. Why on Earth would we believe that Ford would be any different than Mike the Knife?
The Tories love to gaslight Ontarians, particularly working class voters, into believing that there is some massive wasteful bureaucracy that can be painlessly pruned yielding enough money to balance the budget, pay down the debt and improve services at the same time. The Ford brothers went after the “gravy train” at Toronto city hall to weed out the bloated bureaucracy. At the end of the process, they found one hapless worker who watered all of the plants at city hall. By the time she was finished it was time to start again. The position was eliminated and departments were required to water their own plants.
I like to ask Twitter Tories, who are convinced of a vast paper pushing bureaucracy if they have been to a Service Ontario office lately, the office that mainly handles drivers license and health cards. The lineup at any time of day snakes back on itself a few times before it flows out the door. At other facilities you take a number like the passport office. You usually arrive to take number 99 as the sign flashed #3. You can read Tolstoy’s War and Peace waiting for service. That is the vast bureaucracy the Tories speak of.
The Liberals are dying on the vine. The best that can be reasonably seen at this point is that the NDP gets to 30% and can win 40 seats, the staggering punch drunk Liberals can hold on to 23 seats and and patch together a minority government. We cannot be sure under these circumstances, that the Liberals would not support a Tory minority on the grounds that they can mitigate the damage.
The Red State Teacher Revolt and Implications for Canada.
Many thought it could never happen but the public school teachers in American Red GOP states finally blew up and began using one of the the oldest weapons in the Labour arsenal, the General Strike.
First a little background for Canadians not used to American politics. In the USA the Republican (conservative) Party uses the colour Red while the Democratic (nominally centrist to liberal) Party uses the colour Blue. States always won by the Republicans are known as Red States. As a general rule they are in the old south, the prairie and the mountain states but include Indiana, and often New Hampshire. The Democratic states or Blue states, are on both coasts plus the rust belt. Trump won by cracking the ‘Blue Wall’ of industrial rust belt states. States that swing between the parties are known as Purple states, Colorado and Nevada for example.
In recent decades, many Republican states have become known as Right-to-Work (RTW) states, generally meaning that there is no such thing as compulsory union membership. To further punish workers, and in our case teachers, most have laws forbidding strikes. The fascinating thing is that the teacher revolt is not coming from the highly unionized coastal and industrial states but from these ‘Red’ Republican, RTW conservative states. Many have not had a raise in 20 years. One Arizona teacher posted her pay stub on Facebook, showing her weekly wage at $320. Most teachers have a second gig waiting on tables or driving for Uber to survive.
Many Red states are under the influence of the billionaire Koch brothers organization, Americans for Prosperity, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a billionaire sponsored legal organization that literally writes model legislation from the perspective of far right billionaires. It then leans on GOP state legislatures to enact them word for word, fill in name of state here___________.
In order to receive Republican nominations in many Red states, candidates need to take a pledge ‘never’ to raise taxes.
Many Red states have adopted positions that super majorities of up to 75% of state house electors are needed to raise taxes, but taxes can be lowered with a simple majority. Recently, Red state GOP majorities have begun to attack teachers’ pensions which almost alone has pushed teachers into the streets, especially in Kentucky. This is awkward for conservative GOP legislators as teachers and their constituents demand more money for schools while big money donors are still seeking bigger tax cuts.
The same anti tax mentality in these states, attempts to shift graduated income taxes over to unpopular sales taxes so they fall on regular folks without regards to income. The Red states took instant advantage of the 2007-8 financial crisis to slash funding for education but have never restored the funding as the economy improved. This is the classic ‘Disaster Capitalism’ Naomi Klein describes in her book of the same name.
Notwithstanding the illegality of teacher strikes in most GOP RTW states, teachers are using General Strike tactics because they have the legislators over a barrel. The teacher shortage is so severe that what can legislators do, fire them all? There are thousands of unfilled positions. In many Red states there are Blue Democratic states just across a local border that pay much higher wages and also have teacher shortages. This process is hollowing out Red state schools. Thousands more positions are filled with unqualified teachers. Eight percent leave teaching every year. Firing these teachers for striking simply means no school indefinitely. In Texas, the penalty for striking teachers is to have their teaching certificate revoked. The strike has not yet spread to Texas but many believe it may. A Titanic struggle is about to hit North Carolina as we read this.
A handy guide to the Red state teacher revolt.
Across the Red state areas, local Democratic activists are making common cause with the teachers and support staff and as a result, winning special elections, which we call by-elections. Ironically, Facebook has been a prime organizing tool for fed up pedagogues.
Nationally regarded teacher educator, Linda Darling Hammond notes the strikes are about more than wages. The buildings are falling apart, the textbooks are 15 years old, the class sizes are huge, many school districts function on a 4 day week to save bussing money and the dropouts are in the school to prison pipeline. Hammond says the root of the problem is poverty and America needs another War on Poverty.
Teachers blame the GOP economic model. Americans have the peculiar situation where increasingly the voter base of the conservative, business, right wing party is poor people and the middle class votes Democrat. We all know America has 50 states but only 4 Red states are in the top 25 by average income, Alaska, Wyoming, Georgia and Texas.
What does the American Red state teacher revolt have to teach Canadian teachers and progressives in general? It should be obvious to most that teachers who vote for the conservative parties in their jurisdictions are voting for their own executioner but many Ontario teachers will walk out the door June 7th and vote for Doug Ford notwithstanding the recent experiences with Mike Harris. I’m sure many supported the BC Liberals and some will vote United Conservative in AB next year. Teachers unions and other public sector unions must be far more explicit with advice on who to vote for and why and not live in fear of their own members.
Teachers cannot wait for this situation to get so bad before organizing and fighting back.The General Strike is always the nuclear weapon of labour relations but it does not hurt to remind employers that you know how to use it. Object lesson - Kathleen Wynne in Ontario was too quick to order striking teachers and college profs back to work.These wounds accumulate until you are driven from office.
The American Red state teachers now have the full support of their working class constituents. This bond is critical. Strike action only takes you so far and is never sustainable. The teachers and support staff need to break the hold of these Red state GOP conservatives and their big money sponsors. That takes ongoing, concerted political work. Many teachers in Red states are religious, even Evangelical. They also like to hunt so they like their guns. Many white teachers still harbour some white supremacist views or come from families who do. They end up politically as economic radicals but social conservatives. This is on the wain but still potent. The GOP preys on these ties to maintain control. Our Canadian situation is not so extreme except in certain communities.
At the end of the day, teachers and support staff in both countries must realize that we are all participants in a class war being waged from above. We have powerful enemies with big money and influence but we are also very powerful by using both our economic power through the strike and our political power through our numbers and education to fight for the world we want to live in.
We need to open our eyes. Even in Canada, we are in a slow motion sometimes imperceptible, class war that will certainly not end in our grandchildren’s lifetime.
The best defence is a powerful offence.