Hot! Ontario teachers OK $60 fee to fight PCs’ Tim Hudak

NationalPost.com – news/Canada
Apr. 6, 2011.   Adrian Humphreys, National Post

An Ontario teachers union has approved charging its members an extra $3-million to fund a political action campaign aimed at keeping the Progressive Conservatives out of office in the fall provincial election.

The $60-per-member additional fee was passed by 67% of delegates at the Ontario Catholic Teachers Association’s annual general meeting last month in Toronto.

“Our goal is to elect an education-friendly legislature in order to protect the gains in education made over the past eight years,” says a letter from union president James Ryan sent to members.

The letter suggests the fund will not be agitating merely about policy. It says delegates left the meeting “acutely aware of how the election of a Conservative government under Tim Hudak would threaten the common good, particularly education.”

The fee will take effect July 1. All of the $60 will go to the teachers’ union’s campaign for the election on Oct. 6, when Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty will seek a third term. The local bargaining unit will get $12 of each payment to support local election-related activities.

With more than 45,000 members teaching all grades in publicly funded English Catholic schools in Ontario, the fee will generate close to $3-million for the election kitty, said Mr. Ryan.

“This will not be telling people which party to vote for. It will purely be looking at an issues-based campaign promoting the educational rights of children and of students and of having a good educational system,” said Mr. Ryan in an interview.

“I would love us to have a situation where we were remaining completely non-partisan … [but] we are very concerned about Mr. Hudak’s policies on education and in general on the funding of public services. They sound a lot to us like some of the messages that we’re hearing from some of the Tea Party governors in the United States.”

PC officials reacted angrily to the letter and the campaign fund. “The letter sent to [union members] contains lies and they are the same lies being spread by Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberal Party,” said Lisa MacLeod, a PC MPP seeking re-election.

“Spending $3-million to run attack ads against Conservative candidates, when we are not able to fund that same type of ad to combat them, is effectively doubling the Liberals’ advertising budget for the next election,” said Ms. MacLeod.

“Tim Hudak has been very clear: He would like to put more resources into the classroom. They act like we don’t have children ourselves in the education system. Of course we want to see education in this province excel and accelerate and be the best it can be.”

Mr. Ryan’s letter to union members says the fee stems from its policy campaign “Who Speaks for Children?” It suggests the campaign fund is also designed to retain the union’s position of influence.

“The Conservatives believe teacher unions have too much power with the McGuinty government and would move quickly to reduce that influence if elected on October 6.”

Mr. Ryan said Mr. Hudak was invited to address the meeting before the vote but he declined.

National Post

ahumphreys@nationalpost.com

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