Dec 032012
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Leaderless Liberals stuck with results of contract-breaking Bill 115.

by Ish Theilheimer

Public school teachers and education workers in Ontario are headed for an explosive showdown with the provincial government, talking strike for the first time since the Mike Harris 1990s. The Liberal government, or at least what's left of it, is talking tough — despite having built its image on suppport for public education and teachers. Are you confused yet? You're not alone.

It's worth reviewing the steps that got us here:

  1. The Liberals won a majority in last year's election by promising no tax increases — despite a $16 billion deficit.
  2. The government subsequently declared it would defeat the deficit by cutting services and public-sector salaries, staring with  teachers' contracts.
  3. Although the teachers' unions did not dispute the idea of a salary freeze, they were upset with the government's inflexibility on a range of other other contract demands. These included cuts to sick days and benefits, and freezing the salary grid.
  4. Faced with the teachers' resistance, the government passed "Bill 115," which gives the it power to break teacher contracts and impose its original demands.
  5. His would-be successors are running around distancing themselves as much as possible from Bill 115 — even though attacking your own party is a risky game for a leadership candidate.

  6. The situation currently is that, although the Catholic teachers' union OECTA has accepted the government demands, many Catholic school boards have not. Three high school teachers' unions negotiated local agreements, but two of these were rejected by the unions' own members. And the one that union members did pass, is being challenged. The members' outrage is startling, considering that Ontario high school teachers are not normally very political creatures.
  7. Elementary teachers have voted for one-day strike action and have quit voluntary activities like Christmas concerts. Normally, these folks are even less political than high school teachers. They're mad.

The government is in a real bind. Premier Dalton McGuinty is still Premier, but the Legislature is prorogued until he has a successor, who will be soon thereafter lose a non-confidence vote, triggering a provincial election. His would-be successors are running around distancing themselves as much as possible from Bill 115 — even though attacking your own party is a risky game for a leadership candidate.

No one wants a strike. If the Liberals could find a way to bend, there are solutions.

The Liberal government knows it has lost rural Ontario and the North. It has to keep urban Ontario. It can't do this, though, by being more anti-public-sector-worker than the Conservatives — that approach flopped in Kitchener-Waterloo — and it can't undo its own law, even if it wants to, which it may not.

Undoing the law seems like a logical step, since many of the Liberals' best activists are teachers and education supporters. The Liberals badly need a way out of this box, but something — either their own law, or internal dissension, or both — is making it look like they need Houdini to escape this one.

Meanwhile, as Thomas Walkom has aptly pointed out in the Toronto Star the teachers have no reason not to strike. Conversely, if they don't strike, they could lose a lot, both for themselves and for employees everywhere.

As Walkom explains, accepting the terms dictated by Bill 115 could kill the unions' chances of challenging the law in court. The issue is that, if Bill 115 goes ahead, it establishes a precedent of breaking public service contracts whenever and however a government wants. If governments can do this, on the grounds they can't afford the old contract, other employers will too. All workers will feel the draft, in or outside Ontario.

A lot rides on the outcome. If the government can't handle the file, voters might elect the NDP to do the job instead, but polls at this point suggest a Conservative government is more likely. And despite Conservative leader Tim Hudak's track record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, he might get lucky this time. For Hudak, getting lucky could mean a Tea Party-style bulldozer flattening the rights and protections workers have won through decades of struggle.

So teachers, angry as they are with the Liberals, have a lot to lose too.

No one wants a strike. If the Liberals could find a way to bend, there are solutions. Many teachers, for instance, might accept unpaid days off, if offered. The secondary teachers have offered to take the costs of benefits programs off provincial books. A solution requires a government that is ready to do more than mumble about past mistakes. Unfortunately, since the Premier abdicated and his post became a political prize, the government appears paralyzed.

Perhaps Saint Nick will bring school kids and their parents, not to mention teachers and the government, some relief from the current impasse. Maybe a Channukah miracle will occur and common sense will break out at Queen's Park. Unfortunately, due to political intransigence, it looks like all anyone will get is a lump of coal.

About Ish Theilheimer

Ish Theilheimer is founder and president of Straight Goods News and has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine,, since September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.


© Copyright 2012 Ish Theilheimer, All rights Reserved. Written For:

  One Response to “Ontario teachers poised to strike”

  1. Great article. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully the government will hold out against these baseless demands by the union. 

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