Today is the day that support staff in Ontario's schools begin work to rule. Doug Ford's mouth always gets him in trouble. Martin Regg Cohn writes that, if Doug Ford were smart, he would have learned a lesson from past school strikes:
School strikes are the perennial conflict that bedevils premiers, as Ford’s predecessors can attest. We have seen this movie before, no matter the party in power.
Bob Rae’s NDP launched the prequel in the early 90s; Mike Harris and his Tories headlined the main event later that decade; Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals produced their own unhappy sequel in 2012.
Ahead of this year’s contract negotiations, the Tories have set the stage for confrontation:
The government announced a one per cent cap on all public sector pay raises; raised the student-teacher classroom ratio from 22 to 28 (an increase of 27 per cent in average class sizes over the next four years); and mandated four online courses for each high school student ⸺ an adventure in e-learning unmatched (and untested) across the continent.
The PCs argue that higher teacher-student ratios will be painless for union members, thanks to the magic of attrition. But that is small consolation for students left behind after those retired teachers are long gone.
For Ford, all of this has always been about numbers, not students. And Ford's numbers were wrong:
The stated reason for the higher class sizes, when announced earlier this year, was Ford’s claim that the budget deficit was out of control — after supposedly soaring to $15 billion for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Last month, the Tories acknowledged that the true deficit number was closer to $7.4 billion after all ⸺ less than half of the initial projection that served as the pretext for education cuts.
That inflated deficit scenario was also the impetus for a salary freeze of one per cent to be applied to all public servants. It is a recipe for unfairness that will only stoke confrontation.
All of this incompetence has led the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation -- of which I was a member -- to make their bargaining position public:
The OSSTF wants a return to last year’s class ratios; a pause on the unprecedented e-learning plan; and a cost-of-living increase tied to inflation, without any other salary hike.
Given the fact that there is no research to support Ford's e-learning plan, that seems like a pretty reasonable offer. But one wonders if Ford is smart enough to take it.
Image: The Toronto Star