Public Values

Teachers attacked by Liberals in BC and Ontario

Teacher leaders ought to focus on a new political plan.

Little: These McGuinty cuts are worse than anything contemplated by either Bob Rae or Mike Harris.by Doug Little

In both Ontario and BC, the Liberal Party has launched an all-out assault on organized teachers that will lead to serious political blowback on both parties. In Ontario, Liberal Premier David Peterson forced increases in teacher pension contributions and lost the next election to the NDP. Bob Rae attacked teachers and public servants with the Social Contract. He lost the next election, decisively proving there is no public thank you for these policies. Mike Harris (1995-2003) launched his assault on teachers and civil servants and managed two terms for the PCs but lost ground in 1999 and could not personally survive. He was forced to step down and pass his government to Ernie Eves who could not salvage a win in 2003.

The Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) has been successful since 2003 primarily by adding teachers, nurses and other public professionals and civil servants to the Liberal party universe at the expense mainly of the NDP. It seems Premier McGuinty is prepared to dynamite this relationship and does so at his peril. If he does not back down, almost immediately he will condemn the next OLP leader to a third-place finish at best. Since Ontario is the last real ridout of Liberalism in Canada, notwithstanding a sprinkle of Maritime seats, he could be in the process of signing the suicide note of the Liberal Party in Canada.

  "Ontario has a deficit because of the recession, not because of public spending."
In BC, a similar attack on the teachers and public education by WAC Bennett in 1972 ushered in the Dave Barrett NDP government. "Wacky"Bennett restricted local government's ability to raise taxes, attacked teacher tenure, put ceilings on arbitration awards and prompted a province-wide strike by BCTF in 1971. The angry teachers backed the NDP in the 1972 election and Bennett was swept out. The NDP is significantly ahead of the BC Liberals and their unpopular leader Christy Clark at the present time. The latest Robbins poll shows BCNDP 45 percent, BC Lib 29 percent, BC Conservatives 19 percent, and Green 7 percent. This latest move could doom the BC Liberals.

McGuinty is demanding changes to eliminate the teachers' sick leave accumulation for a gratuity. He is refusing to contribute the government's share of pension payments to force teachers to reduce benefits; he is demanding a two-year wage freeze, including a freeze of the teacher's grid where teachers get wage increments for the first ten years' service plus education and training improvements. These potential McGuinty cuts are far worse than anything contemplated or delivered by either Bob Rae or Mike Harris. Even Drummond argued against wage controls as counterproductive since they engender bitter feelings in the workplace and lead to inevitable "catch-up" demands later.

Ontario government demands

Somehow, McGuinty believes that the good will he has developed with teachers over the last eight years will see him through the next few years. He ought to ask Bob Rae how that works since they are in the same party now. He is dead wrong and will soon be listed with the other "teacher-bashing" politicians in recent Ontario history.

What should the Ontario teachers do?

The teachers will be tempted to go on an all-out strike if McGuinty persists. This would be very courageous, the teachers could pull it off for sure, but at the two-week mark, some teachers begin to weaken on the economic front. If job action is required, it ought to be in the form of a work-to-rule with no coverage for absent colleagues, a suspension of extra-curricular activities and no meetings with administration, combined with a political strategy. The political strategy is the key component. The three larger federations must hook up with OPSEU and CUPE to create a political war chest of staggering proportions to unleash soon, and particularly in the run-up to and during the next provincial election.

Teachers will soon be joined by nurses and other civil servants. It ought to be time to resurrect the Public Services Coalition that fought the Social Contract. The Working Families Coalition run by Marcel Weider and Pat Dillon ought to be told that the teachers, nurses and civil servants are out of their coalition due to its partisan Liberal ties and therefore its inability to turn on its heel and fight the Liberals. A new firm ought to be found to run relentless anti-Liberal ads on all topics between now and the next election, perhaps only two years away due to McGuinty's minority status. A new Working Families Alliance needs to be formed to hammer the Liberals now and during the next election. The three federations, often historic rivals, need to put aside petty differences and unite. All of the major federations have staff and elected officials with strong Liberal ties. Hopefully, they will see the futility of continuing to tout the OLP inside the federations and join the fight with gusto.

Discussions between teacher leaders at the provincial and local level ought to focus on a new political plan with the mission of destroying the OLP as a viable political entity. The fact that this will result in the short run with an Ontario PC government with an NDP opposition is irrelevant since the Liberal assault is worse than the Harris cutbacks.

Local Liberal MPPs need to be told by teacher locals that support for their re-election bid is terminated. An all-out lobby effort should be conducted with special emphasis on Liberal MPPs in marginal seats. The teachers (OSSTF is 30 percent support staff) will be supporting NDP candidates only and triaging their support to the most likely seats to swing. Teachers and other civil servants will no longer work to protect Liberals in vulnerable seats from possible losses to the PCs since they are now, in effect, one and the same.

What should the Ontario Liberals do?

First of all, abandon their assault on the teachers and other civil servants since it will result in the destruction of the OLP and perhaps the Liberal Party of Canada. They need to walk this thing back and consider taxes as the only way out of the jam they are in. The $16 billion dollar deficit is exactly the same size as totally unnecessary tax cuts handed out by the PC-Liberal governments since 1995. Ontario taxes are lower than all Great Lakes states, our natural competition. Ontario has a deficit because of the recession, not because of public spending.

Failure to heed this advice will lead directly to their political demise. McGuinty will take a position with a prominent Liberal law firm before the next election and Dwight Duncan will have a senior position with a bank or other financial house similar to Ernie Eves landing at Credit Suisse. The rest of the Liberals will be left to pick up the pieces.

The OLP needs to consider this information on revenue before their scorched Earth policy.

What should the Ontario NDP do?

The best old political advice when your enemy is self-destructing is to get out of the way. In the legislature, the NDP should constantly remind the government of the corporate tax issue and the tax room available with well-healed individuals. They can strongly suggest the death of the EQAO as a minimal peace offering to the teachers as well as the ending of the Ontario College of Teachers. On the political front, they can predict NDP growth so they need to continue ongoing work of securing strong candidates and building strong teams in ridings where they barely lost to Liberals in 2010. They need to be available to the teachers and nurses and civil servants. This is their greatest opportunity to rebuild bridges to these groups torched by Bob Rae twenty years ago.

What should BCTF do?

BCTF has their best opportunity in decades to rid itself of a quite conservative BC Liberal Party that ironically is bleeding support to a resurgent NDP on its left and a back-from-the-dead BC Conservative Party on the right. It goes without saying that the BCTF needs to secure commitments to reverse Liberal lunacy next year in return for all-out BCTF support for the BCNDP.

BCTF ought to continue their strong and very responsible resistance to the BC Liberal attempts to rig collective bargaining while at the same time keeping a lot of powder dry for a political struggle in the next election.

In BC and Ontario

In the long run, teachers know but need to remember that everything that can be won at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislature. The Liberals, fair weather friends in both provinces, have become the teachers' enemy once again. This will cost the Liberals dearly. The teachers will survive. The Liberals — not so much.

Doug Little is a former teacher and school board trustee. He has been an education writer for many years and runs his own publication, The Little Education Report.

Links and sources
  Liberals in Ontario and BC launch all out assaults on teachers

Posted: March 19, 2012

Categories:
  Politics
  Public services
  Education

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