The current round of school board sector central bargaining between OSSTF/FEESO, the provincial government and the trustee associations that purport to represent school boards is about much, much more than compensation and working conditions.
Seven months ago, on March 15, the Ford government declared war on public education in Ontario when the former Minister of Education announced a plan to slash one quarter of Ontario’s high school teachers and the classes they teach. Additionally, they put forward a half-baked plan to institute mandatory e-learning for Ontario high school students.
Since that time we have seen the emergence of two very disparate visions for publicly-funded education in the province. On the one hand we have a government that treats public education as little more than a set of costs to be contained. In stark contrast, OSSTF/FEESO and other education sector unions recognize the inherent value of education, both as a public good and an
OSSTF/FEESO understands, in fact, that Ontario’s public education system, widely recognized as among the finest in the world, is perhaps the province’s most important investment. We understand the significance of the system’s long tradition of providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to find success and contribute in a meaningful way to the social and economic life of the province. We also recognize that, as the Conference Board of Canada reported in June, every dollar invested in public education generates $1.30 in economic growth in the province. That same Conference Board report pointed out that the higher graduation rates that would come with increased investment would pay even greater dividends over time in the form of reduced costs for health care, for the criminal justice system, and for social assistance.
Under the Ford government, however, the public education system is in peril. The government’s plan to ultimately remove more than 10,000 teachers from the system, not to mention thousands of support staff positions, represents the greatest threat to public education in Ontario in a generation.
It should be lost on no one that the government’s actions, including the introduction of legislation that inappropriately interferes with the scope of bargaining, have been undertaken unilaterally without any consultation with OSSTF/FEESO or any other union. That alone makes a mockery of the government’s claim that it is engaging in “good faith bargaining.” The Ford government began stacking the deck long before negotiations even began.
In the face of Doug Ford’s efforts to undermine Ontario’s public education system, OSSTF/FEESO will work tenaciously to defend that system and protect the interests of the students who rely on it. We have a century-long tradition of doing just that, and we will spare no effort until the current threat has passed.