More than 400 OSSTF/FEESO leaders and activists came together in Toronto in mid-August for Leadership 2018, the Federation’s annual summer training conference. Organized by OSSTF/FEESO Vice-Presidents Rob Gascho and Cindy Dubué, the summer conference brings delegates up to date on current issues affecting the education workplace, and provides tools and information to help local leaders effectively represent members and advocate on their behalf.
The conference opened with a preliminary day of training for first-year Bargaining Unit presidents, followed by two days of workshops for all delegates and a half-day plenary session to wrap things up on the morning of August 18.
In his opening address to the conference, President Harvey Bischof talked about the Federation’s priorities for the coming year, but paid particular attention to the potential challenges OSSTF/FEESO could be facing in the wake of the provincial election last June.
Bischof noted that although the Ford government was barely two months into its mandate, its initial actions revealed a “de facto anti-knowledge agenda” driven by ideology rather than evidence-based decision making. He cited the government’s cancelation of the basic income pilot project before any data had been collected as an “outright rejection of information because it might conflict with ideological positions,” and he said that the government’s decision to revert to a 20-year-old Health and Physical Education curriculum “jeopardizes students’ health and well-being while pandering to a certain kind of extreme intolerance, consequences be damned.” Bischof vowed that OSSTF/FEESO will “work with whomever we can to oppose this backward, dangerous, divisive initiative.”
Bischof also pointed to the government’s cancellation of consultations on the inclusion of Indigenous content across the curriculum, as well as the removal of $100 million earmarked for physical plant improvements to schools—money that disappeared as a result of Ontario’s withdrawal from the Western Climate Initiative cap-and-trade system—as two more examples of troubling omens from the new government.
Notwithstanding these serious concerns, Bischof reiterated the Federation’s willingness to work with the government on matters of mutual concern. “We are,” said Bischof, “entirely willing to establish a meaningful dialogue through which to advocate for the interests of OSSTF/FEESO members and the interests of publicly-funded education. But we will be absolutely firm and resolute in the defence of those interests should the government move in any direction that poses a threat.”
Leadership 2018 also featured a keynote address by Dr. Stan Kutcher of Dalhousie University’s Department of Psychiatry, who spoke about the importance of mental health literacy. During the final plenary session on the last half-day of the conference, a panel of former MPPs discussed Ontario’s new political landscape.