When Ontario’s Bill 115 was first proposed, and then made law, I was perplexed. Are these the kinds of lessons that we should be teaching our children?
Preparing students for active participation in a democratic society is part and parcel of the work educators perform every day. When I was young, teachers taught me what it means to be a good citizen: respect others, stand up for what is right, and play fair. Today my son, in senior kindergarten, learns these same lessons.
But for some reason, Premier Dalton McGuinty seems to be having trouble remembering these lessons.
Now, full disclosure: I am the daughter of two teachers. I grew up watching my mom cut out designs for her bulletin boards, and sat on the sidelines as my father coached football. But you don’t need to be the related to teachers to understand that Bill 115 is fundamentally wrong, and harmful to the democratic process.
Bill 115, passed by the Ontario Liberal Government with the support of the Progressive Conservatives, not only takes away the right of most of Ontario’s teachers and support staff to negotiate their wages and working conditions, but it takes away their right to strike in protest of those imposed wages and conditions.
Bill 115 undemocratically cuts teachers’ salaries, reduces their number of sick days, and voids accumulated sick leave. The bill also allows the Ontario Cabinet to extend the agreements; Bill 115 can be unilaterally extended without any debate or votes in the legislature. All told, it’s a raw deal for teachers who, it must be noted, haven’t actually gone on strike.
There is little or no evidence to support the government’s claim that this attack on teachers is necessary to bring public sector salaries in line with the private sector. Recent negotiated settlements have actually been lower, on average, than in the private sector – where wage increases match inflation.
Why is the Ontario government running roughshod over the democratic collective bargaining process? Not to mention alienating teachers of all political stripes across the province. Especially when the government’s own expert admits that a two-year wage freeze just kicks the can down the road without actually providing solutions.
What’s more, Ontario’s high school students have stood alongside their teachers in opposition and have called Bill 115 “undemocratic and unconstitutional.” The students get it – why can’t Dalton McGuinty?
Instead of playing fair and standing up for what is right, the Ontario government is now pinning the blame for Ontario’s deficit on teachers. And other Ontario public sector workers are now being warned that they might face the same fate.
So while McGuinty claims Bill 115 is about “Putting Students First” what he really is doing is teaching this generation of Ontario students that democratic rights and guarantees under the Charter can be brushed aside for the sake of political expediency.
Perhaps Premier McGuinty needs to get back to school himself and learn the lessons that my teachers taught me: respect others, stand up for what is right, and play fair.
Kathleen Monk is the Executive Director of the Broadbent Institute.
Photo credit: Federico Carvajal