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EDITORIAL: Fictions, falsehoods and a crisis in leadership (Feb. 2020)

February 27th, 2020 · No Comments

On February 21, members of all four Ontario Teacher’s Unions walked off the job leaving 2 million students out of school and leaving parents scrambling for childcare. Meanwhile, the Ontario government has been trying to sell citizens a story about striking teachers: that they are fat cats led by union boss “thugs” looking to gouge us of tax dollars. The premier likes to paint himself as a hero out to save us all, rescuing the province in a time of crisis, but the only crisis the electorate can buy into at this point is a crisis in leadership – his leadership.

It’s been more than two decades since all four teachers’ unions have walked off the job in Ontario. You can bet that the inconvenience this caused had the Premier certain he was headed for a win with frustrated parents. The polls tell a different story: even in conservative ridings, people support the teachers by a measure of two-to-one.

Ontario teachers have been without a contract since August 31 and months of negotiations have brought few dividends. The battle with the teachers sees no end in sight and the government has long since passed that point on the highway where there are face-saving exits. Ford either has to cave to the union’s position or seek to legislate them back only to be overruled later by the courts. The teachers, of course, could accept the government’s proposal to increase class sizes, force students into multiple on-line courses, reduce the amount of support workers in schools, and get a wage increase of a meagre one per cent. But why would they? Unions can smell blood, and the public can smell it, too.

The government recently enacted legislation capping public sector wage increases to one per cent. Ford proves yet again he is the most myopic premier in recent memory. The courts have ruled you can’t meaningfully have collective bargaining, a charter right, if you pre-set the outcomes. 

Let’s put aside the long-term economic benefits of a robust and inclusive public education system and suppose for a moment these cuts to education are absolutely necessary to keep Ontario afloat. If austerity is the only path forward, why is Ford spending a half a billion dollars to cancel green energy projects, spending one billion to cancel the Beer Store contract so we can have beer in corner stores, fighting a losing battle with Ottawa over a carbon tax, giving OPP officers a 2.1 per cent wage increase, and trying to take over Toronto’s TTC subway? (Oh wait he walked back that last one as long as Toronto built new lines to his design – starting from scratch.) 

Though the government is facing opposition in almost every corner, including in ridings held by their own MPPs, it is enjoying strong support from one sector – fake parents. A series of pro-government newspaper ads ran recently in various national dailies which echo the government’s language and accuse the unions of using the students as “pawns.” The group that placed the ads as “Vaughan Working Familes” appears to be backed by Conservative insiders and large donors. The opposition NDP have called for a probe due to the ad campaign being a potential violation of the Election Finances Act prohibiting the government from acting “in collusion” with third-party supporters for advertising. 

The government has lost credibility, and is bleeding support. According to a recent CTV news poll 59 per cent of parents in PC-held ridings think the government is doing a poor job and it can’t even buy that support without getting caught. It’s time for Ford to go; the flying monkeys in his cabinet would be  thrilled.

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