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Opening Shots Fired in Ford Government War on Public Education

The opening shots of WW2 were fired by the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein  against the Polish garrison at Westerplatte, guarding the port of Danzig (Gdansk).


The opening shots of the Ford government's war on public

education began with a letter from the Ministry of Education warning boards not to make hiring decisions until the government’s spring budget is released, hinting

at a hiring freeze, probably in the form of a cut to the teacher portion of grants for student needs, GSNs, to the school boards.


Some might say sex ed, ending free tuition for lower income kids and converting grants to loans, the attack on autistic children, the $1B cut in grants already announced to boards, were all indications the war on quality education was already on, but the Ford government philistines were only really gearing up.


Let's try to look at the situation from the Tory government scorched Earth, skewed perspective. The Tories want to reduce a so called $14B deficit, (many question the actual size of the deficit). Although they have a point, they have nevertheless, deliberately cut themselves off from using revenue enhancement to reduce the deficit. They have already eschewed $2.7B with the cancellation of cap & trade and a further $308 M in scheduled tax increases. They also reversed tax changes from the previous government which had created two new tax brackets for high income earners, thus giving a tax break to the richest Ontarians. What is clear is that the Ford government has no plans to increase revenue to balance the budget. This leaves only cuts or as the Tories call them “efficiencies”.

In Ontario, the Health budget, roughly $61B, is 38.7% of provincial expenditures. The Education budget K-12 is $29B or 18.3% of the budget. Add post secondary at $11.8B or or 7.4% and you are at 26% just for education. In total, Health + Education are at 64.4% of expenditures. For comparison, Social Services are 11.3%, and the entire administration of justice budget is 3.2%.


The conclusion if you will, is that Health and Education are what provinces actually do. The rest is miniscule by comparison. If a government is absolutely determined to shrink $14B deficit, and refuses to make increased revenue part of the equation, then huge cuts to Health and Education are to only way to pull it off.


Let's concentrate on education. Education remains a labour intensive activity. Seventy five percent of the school board budget goes to teacher salaries, and higher when benefits and pension contribution is factored in. A government absolutely determined to use cuts to health and education to lower its budget deficit leaves itself no option but to attack teachers and nurses, and to a lesser extent, doctors and support staff in both areas.


There are two ways to attack teacher compensation. The first is to control teacher’s income, which does not bode well for the upcoming round of collective bargaining, and the second is to reduce the cohort of teachers overall. It would seem that the government's first attack is class sizes at the primary level and the use of professional teachers below the kindergarten level in other words, the second option, fewer teachers.It is unlikely to be the last attack.


Two new significant barriers  come to mind involving the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC} and the Ontario Superior Court. The first is regarding the right to strike in the education system. McGuintys Liberal government lost in the Supremes 2012 when it suspended the right to strike and imposed contracts on teachers with Bill 115. A remedy had to be negotiated.


The Courts, particularly the SCC, have a disposition that the governments must have made a good faith attempt to negotiate and as such, short term, back to work orders and imposed contracts are probably not legitimate.


The Ontario government seems to believe that legislated class size caps particularly in primary grades can be re-legislated to higher levels. On the surface that seems to be their right but the Ontario government needs to be cognizant of the BC precedent. The BC Liberal government removed the right of its teachers to negotiate class size and composition and after a 20 year struggle through three court levels all the way to the SCC,

the BCTF won a significant victory nullifying the right of the government to remove the right to negotiate class size and composition. There would seem to be no barrier to Ontario's ETFO announcing that it intends to negotiate class sizes if and when the government changes the class size legislation. For what possible reason could these negotiations be legal in BC but not legal in Ontario? The Tories would be on very thin legal ice to expect a different result from the same Supreme Court.


Circumscribed by these court rulings, the Tories have a narrow legal path to walk and they offer a huge political gift to teachers’ unions and the opposition parties who will be on the side of the angels arguing for smaller classes over a mean spirited, heartless  Tory party who wants small children to pay the price for cruel Tory austerity.


What to do about it?


Let’s be frank about the Ford governments attack on education. This is class warfare from above. The only strategy with any hope of success in meeting this irresistible force is not the immovable object but an irresistible force moving in the opposite direction. In the vernacular, the best defence is a good offence. The forces of resistance, must dump the puck back over the blueline and make sure the game is played at the Tory end of the rink.


There are 17 vulnerable seats that the Tories won by small margins in the 2018 election. These seats are the key in two critical scenarios. The first is the campaign to get the Tories to back off the cuts to education. The second is to defeat the Tories in 2022. First things first - It is critical to assign the blame for potential cuts, not only around the necks of the premier and minister of education. It is critical to assign the blame to individual Tory MPPs in their home ridings, with a special emphasis on the 17 ridings where the Tories won by the slimmest margins. They are the most likely MPPs to feel the heat now and the most likely to lose in 2022.


It is a total waste of time and energy to campaign in either the ridings of opposition MPPs or the ridings of Tories in safe seats. We must scare the bejesus out of vulnerable Tory MPPs. They will pressure the Tory caucus who in turn will pressure the cabinet and the premier. Please see the last issue of this report for details. The sooner the campaign begins, the better.


PS: For our sisters and brothers in Alberta who have a provincial election soon, Ford promised Ontario teachers and nurses would not be included in hiring freezes. Do you really trust his doppleganger Jason Kenney not to slash and burn your education and health systems? Please don’t be naive.

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There would be no problem with an initial delivery in spring 2019, a second card as issues develop in fall 2019 and a year by year continuation including election year. Some groups may want to canvas with the card while others may just want to stuff mailboxes. The short term and eventual long term objective is to make the Tories pay an extremely high political price for their cuts and interference with education. The ultimate price will be paid in the next general election.

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