MRC as he is becoming known, published this article below, earlier. Although the scoop is gone sung to the tune of The Thrill is Gone by BB King, I still think My take may enforce MRC’s thesis - beware of picking fights with the teachers and education workers. A little history lesson next from a former history teacher and occasional professor, if you will indulge.
My active political involvement dates back to the Bill Davis Tory Regime although the course I taught as a sessional for York U was billed as “The Politics of Ontario Education
1945 to 2003.
Teachers became unionized in Ontario in the wake of the labour upheavals at the end of WW1 as returning soldiers who had been shot at for four years for Canada, faced unemployment. This tends to irritate, to say the least. The time was memorialized by the great Winnipeg General Strike but similar labour-farmer revolts convulsed Canada, Europe and the USA.
Teachers really gained statutory union membership during the latter part of WW2. Tory premier George Drew, after a critical by-election loss to OSSTF teacher Joe Noseworthy CCF in South York, noticed that teachers had moved heavily to the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation - CCF the forerunner of the NDP. Teachers, it was well known, were the backbone of Noseworthy’s campaign.
Drew called the teacher leaders in and asked what was driving them in the CCF direction. The teachers wanted statutory membership (membership by law) meaning if you work in a public, public catholic or public French school you were automatically a member of the union. Drew came around but felt one big union would be too powerful so he legislated them into five different unions splitting them elementary, secondary, male, female, catholic, French. Two have subsequently been allowed to merge creating ETFO, alongside OSSTF, OECTA and AEFO.
This situation largely persisted during the Leslie Frost, John Robarts, ongoing Tory dynasty but one issue eluded the teachers federations AKA the unions. They did not have the right to strike and as a result they believed themselves to be underpaid. They dealt with this by collecting mass resignations when bargaining reached an impasse but all and sundry believed the situation to be unsatisfactory. Your scribe signed his first contract to teach for $7400 in 1974.
The Bill Davis Regime 1971-1985
In retrospect, Bill Davis was generally good for education overall. He created TVO, OISE and the Community College system, but the most critical issue was the right to strike. Since teachers did not have the right to strike, they had gone to their backup tactic. Teachers contracts only allow them to resign in the spring for September or December effective January. When teachers fell behind, the unions collected mass resignation letters effective mid year. You can hardly forbid resignation. A provincial appointed committee studied the issue 1970-72, the Reville Committee, and they recommended compulsory arbitration. With inflation running high teachers submitted mass resignations for 1973. Education minister Tom Wells 'nullified’ the resignations and attempted to force the teachers into arbitration. A massive teacher rally Dec 18 1973 (your scribe was there) filled Maple Leaf Gardens and then marched to Queen’s Park. In the Christmas spirit they sang “No Wells No Wells”. This was followed up with a one day strike at which point Davis threw in the towel and granted The Teachers and School Boards Collective Bargaining Act - Bill 100, the right to strike for teachers had come to Ontario.
Davis had one more act in his play. As he exited the scene, fearful that catholics were both growing and abandoning the Tories in large numbers, Davis granted catholic education an extension on its full funding from K-10 up to K-13 at which point OSSTF exploded in anger that has never subsided, and OECTA raised Davis to sainthood.
Frank Millar, Defeat, the Peterson-Rae Accord.
In 1985, Millar, the new PC leader called an election, lost 18 seats and the popular vote but clung to a 52-48 lead over David Peterson’s Liberals. The NDP under Bob Rae, however, had 25 seats and the balance of power. Peterson and Rae drew up a legislative accord and pushed Miller out with a no confidence vote, making Peterson the premier. The Accord continued the catholic grade 11-13 funding model.
David Peterson 1987-1990.
After the Accord was exhausted, Peterson called a new election and won a huge majority, based on the popularity of the agreement. Many thought a new dynasty had arrived but the government was almost immediately in trouble. A series of scandals, the famous Patti Starr scandal and “fridgegate” created a bad smell. Like many governments, Peterson got the idiotic brain fart that the teachers were not paying a high enough percentage of their pension. If they did, the government could shift money elsewhere and avoid a tax increase. A deficit loomed and everybody could feel it. Peterson was having a Liberal policy convention in Hamilton and the teachers’ federations organized a massive demo in Hamilton to show their anger. At Copps Coliseum Bob Rae made a stem winding speech and received a huge standing ovation. As it died down he prophetically quipped, “ah yes but will you love me tomorrow”. Peterson made a second fatal mistake. He called a quick election three years into his mandate which seemed incredibly manipulative to the electorate. Teachers protested at every Liberal event as did environmentalists. With only two weeks to go the poles shifted heavily against Peterson, but with a very unpopular Tory Mulroney a the federal level, Ontarians were in no mood to reward the Tories just yet. The result shocked the province, a huge majority for Rae and an NDP government.
The Miracle turns to Disaster - Bob Rae NDP Government 1990-1995.
In a matter of five years, Bob Rae managed to throw away a miracle progressive win that the CCF-NDP had been dreaming of for almost 60 years. In fairness he was dealing with a deep recession and burdened with many expectations but like Kennedy assasination, or 9/11 I knew exactly where I was when he abandoned public auto insurance, the centerpiece of his election campaign. I had a feeling in my gut that said, “he's finished as of today, the betrayal was just too deep. I quit the NDP that day and didn't rejoin until Jack Layton asked me to renew in 2002.
It got worse, the late Tony Silipo as Minister of Education, tried to bring in a progressive, program based on equity. He was replaced, The Royal Commission on Learning was established which set the stage for an entire series of neoliberal reactionary policies including a College of Teachers, a regime of useless reactionary standardized testing are only the worst. An utter disaster ensued but we are not finished.
In 1993 Rae unleashed the Social Contract, basically time off in lieu of wages, in the public sector, Rae totally misjudged the reaction of, for our purposes the teachers plus the broader public sector who turned on him with a vengeance. Who in politics, doesn't understand that when you launch an attack on the very core of your base, you are a dead premier walking? The NDP limped into 1995, and dropped from 74
seats to 17, from 37% of the vote to 20%.
Such is the price of launching an assault on teachers and the public sector.
The Mike Harris Disaster 1995-2003
Mike Harris was elected on his Common Sense Revolution and set to work almost immediately. By 1997 he brought forward the notorious Bill 160, with a new funding formula for education designed, according to the eventual Rozanski Report, to extract $1 billion from the K-12 education budget, prep time for high school teachers was cut in half. This promoted teachers to go out on a “Political Protest” which amounted to an eventual two week wildcat strike.
Teachers were already participating in Days of Action, General Strikes on a city by city basis, 11 cities in all.
Harris also amalgamated the school boards and took over full control of education funding in an upload download scheme.
Parents joined teachers fighting back with a Green Ribbon Campaign. Harris put the education system into chaos and eventually paid a steep price.
Harris managed to survive the 1999 election but lost 23 seats. The NDP lost 8 seats, still fighting the Bob Rae curse, and only the McGuinty Liberals gained 5 in a smaller legislature. This allowed McGuinty to fight again in 2003.
During the 1999-2003 term, Harris’ slash and burn approach caught up to him and his polls sagged to the point that he had to retire in 2002, and Ernie Eves took over as Tory leader.
Teachers unions contributed heavily to a Group known as the Working Families Coalition which targeted the Tories with effective ads under the heading “Not his time Ernie, not this time.'' Yours truly was assigned to work for a Liberal in Scarborough Southwest.
Eves and the Tories lost to McGuinty in 2003, not solely because of the teachers although they played a critical role. Other unions like OPSEU and CUPE also contributed heavily along with many other groups. Attacks on the public sector, 20% of all workers once again leads to defeat. The Tories survived two terms wounded in 1999, put out of their misery in 2003.
The McGuinty-Wynne Liberal Regime 2003-2018
The Liberals were well aware that teachers had contributed heavily to their 2003 victory, both financially and in person power. The problem in politics is that memories and gratitude fade. Much like Hollywood, you are as good as your last movie
A 600 delegate OSSTF convention, the beating heart of the union, is composed almost half and half by NDP and Liberals activists, with a sprinkle of farther left and green types. To keep their own people sweet, OSSTF in recent years has adopted a strategic voting approach to provincial elections. Of course since 2003, this has meant supporting more Liberal incumbents and second place candidates than NDPers. ETFO is about the same. OECTA has a reputation of being a little closer to the Liberals but often with prominent NDP leaders.
After a good relationship had developed with McGuinty, who billed himself as the “Education Premier”, the eventual stab in the back came in 2012. McGuinty had worked himself into a $14-15 billion deficit due to the 2007-8 recession and its hangover. The issue came to a head in August-September 2012, when McGuinty demanded teacher accept a two year wage freeze or he would legislate it with a no strike contract. His own lawyers told him the teachers would go to the Supreme Court and win. Education Minister Laurel Broten became a lightning rod for the policy and it ended the career of a possible future leader.
Even Liberal economic advisors told McGuinty, you don’t slay deficits during a recession.
McGuinty tabled Bill 115 to end the strike, impose a contract and eliminated the banking of sick days, an unbelievably stupid move.
Shortly after McGuinty resigned, more to do with a gas plant fiasco, he admitted that to Steve Paikin, that he went too far but always with the caveat that he needed to explain it more. Sigh. No premier, you just don’t do it period.
Kathleen Wynne, long a teacher favourite, became premier and people expected more from this former activist trustee. Sadly it was not to be. By 2015 Kathleen Wynne was presiding over her own negotiation and chaos followed.
The federations used rotations strikes but focussed on three boards. After 6 weeks, in May 2015, Wynne brought the hammer down and ended the strike effectively ending the Liberal relationship with the teachers unions.
In 2018 in the provincial election, Doug Ford went from 27 seats to 76, Andrea Horwath went from 18-40 seats, abd Liberals dropped from 55 seats to 7. The PCs had risen 7% from 33-40%, the NDP had risen 11% from 22- 33% The Liberals fell from 38-19%, such is the fate of parties who abandon their constituency.
The federations had virtually abandoned the Liberals and placed all their chips on the NDP, now the official opposition. .
The Ford Scorched Earth Government 2018-2019.
So now we are up to date and one more government has learned nothing from the past. Ford has, at least in the beginning, totally misinterpreted his mandate, believing Ontarians had voted for some kind of Common Sense Revolution Part Deux. The NDP actually got most of the falling Liberal vote but the Tories got enough to prevail. The election was a repudiation of the Wynne Liberals but it was not a mandate for Tory base politics. NDP + LIB + Green = 60% to PC 40%.
Ford himself plus “Ford Nation” is skewed to the far right of the Tories and the incredibly rapid fall from grace is a testament to that. Quito Maggi of Mainstreet Research noted “he had never seen such a rapid decline of popularity of a new premier”. Ford is now regularly listed as the most unpopular or second most unpopular premier in Canada. He was already in freefall before he hit teacher negotiations. An attack on the funding of autistic children established Ford as unspeakably cruel. His initial demand that ON high schools go from average class sizes of 22-28 students per class, and his wildly unpopular demand that students take 4 compulsory e-learning classes enraged both teachers and parents. Polls instantly turned against Ford and his incompetant Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
A massive consultation of parents by the government was undertaken but the government refused to release the results. A leak finally showed 70% of parents opposed the increased class sizes. Polling by the school boards association OPSBA from Nanos showed 61% of Ontarians prioritized the class size over 25% who preferred deficit reduction. The numbers for the government are far below the assumed Tory base of 30-33%. Ford’s personal approval rating was a dumpster fire at 24%.
It seems the Ford government has had a rethink over their recent break and they have decided not to pick any new fights. Unfortunately, they are in the middle of this one.
The government has lowered their class size increases from 28-25 and e-courses from 4-2 but this is still unacceptable to OSSTF, ETFO is already on a work to rule strike and OECTA is soon to join the other two.
So what do we have here? One more government party has decided to attack the education system to try to extract $1 billion to put on their deficit, or tax cuts and in the process written their own suicide note.
The same classic question Steva Paikin asked me on The Agenda, permeates Ontario politics. “But you guys (teachers unions) fight everybody regardless of party.” The answer is “yes because every government, of every party, at some point, declares war on the teachers.” From the teacher POV “we are simply defending ourselves.''
The wars between the teachers and the Ontario government date back to WW2 and involve almost every premier and, in my thesis, they have almost the same causes and the same results. Some of it is purely ideological, Tories despise the public sector and unions. Teachers’ unions are beyond the pale to Tories and much of their base. But how does that explain, Peterson, Rae, and Wynne? The easy catch all on the left is that the whole pack are neoliberals including Rae and this is not wrong but here is how I believe it plays out in real time.
All governments scrutinize the Ontario budget carefully looking for ways to realign it more in their ideological POV. The constitution assigns health and education to the provinces. The breakdown is as follows
Ontario Parties Slow to Learn, a War with The Teachers Usually Means a Quick Trip Back to Opposition Benches.
As this article was in development, I was, to an extent, scooped by Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star who I have gotten to know through a couple of mutual
appearances on Steve Paikin's show The Agenda. Many of you know I was once an education writer freelancing for NOW Magazine in Toronto. The voice of my former editor at NOW Ellie Kirzner, still echoes in my head, “Doug, NOW thrives on scoops and in-depth features. If the Star has in on Tuesday, we don't want to publish it on Thursday”.
As they look into health, they notice it is mainly nurses due to their numbers, not doctors. As they look at K12 education they notice it is 70% thereabouts teachers.
Reactionaries like Tories soon realize they cannot give the tax cuts they want without raising taxes, increasing the deficit/ debt, or cutting teachers and or nurses. They often choose the former to finance their tax cuts and initiate a war with teachers and their allies.
Even moderate progressives like Rae and Wynne professed to be, want the savings from education to finance welfare, transit, or other nice things. If asked, the teachers or nurses say fo-get-about-it. Increase revenues or shut the front door if the discussion is public, a bit bluer behind closed doors. The hits come in many forms.
David Peterson (higher pension contributions by teachers), Bob Rae, (social contract), Mike Harris (new funding formula, less prep time,) Dalton McGuinty, (imposed collective agreement with two year wage freeze) Kathleen Wynne (back to work order), Doug Ford, (1% cap on wages, class size increases, compulsory e-learning).
The general figure is $1 billion. Governments assume a $28 billion ed system is as good as a $29 billion system. They could not be more wrong.
Teachers have two weapons with which to fight back. One the Brits likes to call ‘industrial action’ , strikes of various forms. The second is just as important. The political weapon is still potent notwithstanding new election finance rules. Teachers unions coordinate between the three larger federations, triage the swing seats and target them heavily in elections. They bomb the airwaves up to the writ drop, and marshall teachers to work in campaigns. The teachers all have multi million dollar “reserve funds” or strike funds. For perspective OSSTF is around $72 million, OECTA probably the same size, ETFO likely double.
It is hard to predict the outcome of the current war between teachers (and ed workers) vs the province. I would simply direct The Ford Tories to one rather consistent political fact.
David Peterson, Bob Rae, Mike Harris, Ernie Eves, Dalton McGuinty, and Kathleen Wynne are no longer premier and only Wynne still has a seat in the legislature, for how long we don't know. The unions are still here, still influential.
Doug Ford might want to call them up and discuss the wisdom of a protracted fight with Ontario’s teachers and ed workers.