While there has been a lot of political turmoil all over the place, many in Canada haven’t been able to help but pay attention to what’s been happening on Ontario between the Ford Conservative government and the education sector. We’ve seen the Ford Team trying to pick a fight with teachers, trying to make them the enemy in contract negotiations that have gone nowhere as Ontario’s teachers in all four teachers unions fight against Conservative cuts to the system, to protect all-day Kindergarten and to stop the Conservatives from forcing mandatory E-learning courses in high school, an experiment which failed miserably in places like Alabama, Arkansas and Michigan.
For those paying attention, those are three of the worst performing jurisdictions in North America when it comes to education, which makes any ideas of following their example quite lacking. According to recent media reports, a recent study in Michigan revealed “Grade 9 and 10 students had the lowest pass rates in online courses, which led to reports that “virtual school” is a “failed experiment.”” A failed experiment sounds like the exact kind of thing that Mr. Ford loves.
Needless to say, the back and forth of this negotiation hasn’t really moved far. All unions have continually offered to meet but Education Minister Stephen Lecce and his crew have not made themselves available on that. While the teachers have wanted to talk about workplace conditions, Lecce has been jumping in front of every camera he can find trying to paint the teachers as greedy bugger who only want more pay. Given that the teachers have made it clear that salaries haven’t been raised once during negotiations and are not their concern, Lecce continues on this track.
As you can imagine, given the publics general disapproving view of the Ford Government and the complete lack of trust that people have in them, these attempts by Lecce and Ford to smear teachers have failed so far. But regardless of what they are facing when they get to the table, the teachers keep coming back to the table. And in the past 24 hours a couple of stories have come out that are linked when it comes to this dispute, both of which make the Ford Government look very bad. Let’s start with the first piece on negotiation with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario:
Get a load of this folks; the ETFO and the Ford government were close to a deal when the province’s negotiators suddenly tabled new proposals at the last minute, killing the whole thing. Lecce says this was totally reasonable before returning to his old tropes about salary demands. In reply to that, ETFO President Sam Hammond pointed out that “salary was not discussed at the table “for one minute over those three days.”” They didn’t talk salary at all, point blank, period. And yet they were right on the goal line of getting a deal done until the Ford government seems to have blown things up.
What in the heck are the Ford Conservatives trying to do here? It sure doesn’t sound like they’re trying to get a deal and it sounds like Minister Lecce has a lot to answer for there. But another story came out today, one that is another black eye for this Conservative government in Ontario. This story is one that looks bad all by its lonesome but looks even worse when you put it alongside what’s happening with the province’s teachers. What is that story? Well check this out:
Wow folks, that’s bad, bad, bad. The Ford Conservatives keep saying that Ontario is poor, that we’re broke and that’s why Ontario’s teachers must be run into the ground during negotiations. They say that’s why there must be cuts across the board. And yet, at that same time, Ford’s Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy’s government-funded office “recently prepared a “social media advertising campaign” to increase the minister’s followers and likes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, by targeting the followers of “conservative and conservative-leaning accounts.”” According to CTV in Toronto, the plan in question “was prepared on official Treasury Board Secretariat letterhead and aimed to provide “confidential advice to the minister” about paying to increase his social media presence.” And then to put the cherry on this crap sundae, we learned that “staff emailed the document to Bethlenfalvy’s riding association in Pickering-Uxbridge for approval and payment using donations made to the PC party.”
For those that don’t know what the job of the Treasury Secretary is in a Cabinet, Bethlenfalvy’s job is to spend money. Other ministries make requests, the Finance Minister makes the budget and Bethlenfalvy’s job is to cut the cheques and make sure everyone gets paid. So this is the guy who’s being told not to spend money on teachers, on students, on classrooms and on a quality education, but instead is using his office staff to run partisan errands and boost his Twitter followers in the Conservatives social media universe. That’s an amazingly bad look and gives a glimpse into where his and his party’s priorities seem to be.
In the end, I’ve been convinced since the last budget that the Ford Conservatives had no interest in negotiating with teachers, in good faith or not, and was more interested in having strikes across the province and using “back to work” legislation. They went into the old Harris/Eves playbook. They hoped to demonize teachers and use them as scapegoats in an attempt to balance the budget on the backs of students. But that simply hasn’t worked this time because the vast majority of parents are backing the teachers and after the cuts that Ford’s team made a year ago, those same parents simply don’t believe or trust the Ford team. And then to top it all off, in a time when Ford is crying poor and trying to make teachers look greedy, it turns out his Treasury Board President is now being alleged to have used his office resources to boost his own personal, partisan benefits, all in coordination with this riding association to boot. Yep, that looks bad but that’s what we’ve gotten in spades from the Ford Conservatives.
Will they actually learn from any of this, go back to the table and negotiate in good faith with teachers? Don’t call me optimistic but if they were serious about solving the real problems that teachers and the school system are facing, that’s exactly what Lecce and Ford would do. The fact that they left the table so close to a deal and continued to try to demonize teachers says that they aren’t serious about them. They are serious about scoring political points at the expense of teachers and students, and as the Treasury Board President seems to have shown us, they are also ensuring the get the “likes” and “retweets” for it, if even they have to pay for them.