The Ford Attack on Education in Ontario Has Begun: Devastation -Worse than Expected.
Rumours of class size questions in “push polls” being conducted in Ontario suddenly materialized in an announcement by Education Minister Lisa Thompson at the Ontario Science center, March 15th where the staggering figures reverberated through the education system that secondary school class sizes would be shifting from an average size of 22 to an average of 28. Cuts were also made at the elementary grade 4-8 level. The TDSB estimates this will remove 800 of the present 5000 teacher positions from Toronto secondary ranks this will mean 4000 for OSSTF across Ontario plus many more in the catholic and French system.
The push polls had offered subjects a choice of grade levels where class sizes would be increased. There was no status quo or improvement option, just where cuts would be most palatable. The government has yet to decide if professional teachers will deliver the JK program. Many expected an attack on collective bargaining, wages, benefits. This may yet materialize. The BC precedent where the Supreme Court informed the BC government that they must negotiate class size and composition with BCTF may offer some hope, but Fords willingness to use the notwithstanding clause also hangs over the debate.
I have lived long enough to have cut my political educational teeth on campaigns to “Save us from Davis” who would be seen as a pinko by today’s Tory standards. Mike
Harris cut a billion out of education prompting mass demonstrations, and “Days of Action” .
Teachers are all wearing black now in schools to show their outrage which is all well and good. I builds solidarity.
The question remains. Exactly what strategy will cause the Ford government to reconsider their direction in the short run and defeat them in the next election?
At the end of the day, their are only two strategies worth more than a two minute discussion.
Syndicalism and teacher unions
The first strategy comes from long traditions of syndicalism in teacher unions, which, these days include thousands of support staff. In fact a “protest” in the form of a strike was employed against Harris during his regime. The unions could ‘hit the bricks’ and close the schools down.Harvey Bischof, president of OSSTF has put the government on notice that there will be labour disruptions this fall as contracts come due August 31st. Short of this they could close extra curricular activities, on-calls, meetings, parent nights rotating strikes, which are slow motion strikes. The government is not without tools in these cases. Back to work orders, injunctions, jailing leaders, stiff fines, again the notwithstanding hammer looms.
A Political Response.
There is really nothing Ford can do if the unions and allied groups flood the airwaves with TV or radio ads denouncing the cuts. It is too far from an election to fall under those restrictions. The problem with ads is they are expensive and much of it falls on opposition areas or safe PC seats. The Tories anticipate large demos and marches and have already discounted in in their strategy.
What makes far more sense is to go after the PC MPPs in marginal or swing districts. This will put the fear of God in them that they won’t be around after the next election. This will cause Tories to mitigate their attacks, (if anything will) and sets those seats up for defeat next time. It signals to the Tories that the opposition is sophisticated and knows exactly how to fight. This can be done with canvassing, leaflet distribution or other ways that isolates the weak, marginal MPP from the larger group in safe seats. They will begin to panic, take their concerns to caucus, cabinet, and the PC party.
They may choose to respond in kind but any escalation of this unpopular decision plays into the resistance hands, not the Tories. As experts in “framing’ issues like George Lakoff point out, when you are on a weak argument, don't respond by reinforcing the debate, change the channel.
A political response in the spring puts the Tories on notice that the fight will be political not just syndicalist. It wins public support for the ‘resistance’ ; it preconditions the public for fall labour disruptions and it begins the long term struggle for 2022.
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.