Doug Ford wants his Mike Harris moment. Teachers won’t give it to him. Taxpayers will pay for it

Posted on December 18, 2019 in Education Debates

Source: — Authors: – Politics/Political Opinion

Another week, another Wednesday walkout. With no end in sight despite a holiday respite.

Brace yourself for a major confrontation between teachers and Tories next year, threatening the school year. With repercussions every year after that for every student and parent and taxpayer in Ontario.

It didn’t have to end this way. But at the end of the day, it must be said that this government, more than any that came before it, boxed itself in from the beginning.

I’ve argued before that this is a perennial battle, no matter which party is in power at contract time — NDP, PC or Liberal. I’ve written before that some teachers’ unions were heavy-handed and heartless when punishing students by picketing schools or banning extracurricular sports and clubs in recent years — most recently in 2015.

But this is a squeeze play unlike any other, and it is too clever by half. Dreamed up by Doug Ford’s Tories when the premier imagined himself at the peak of his magical powers, it needlessly poked and provoked the teachers.

Now, the same premier who regularly derides elected union leaders as “thugs” and “bosses” has made them look like souls of sweet reason, thanks to his own skulduggery. And the Tories who once boasted of fiscal probity are sounding increasingly reckless and feckless as they flail against teachers for their supposedly scandalous demands that will somehow impoverish the provincial treasury.

For months, the Progressive Conservative government has scorned the teachers as ungrateful and greedy. Now, they are raising the rhetoric to fever pitch, fantasizing that they can replay the Mike Harris playbook from 1995, when another PC premier took teachers on.

But Ontarians have seen this scenario one time too many. Ford is in no position — politically or fiscally — to reprise the Harris role of pretend Robin Hood, purportedly taking from rich teachers to give to poor taxpayers.

Today, Ford’s popularity is in free fall; his first education minister, Lisa Thompson, was thrown under the bus; and her successor, Stephen Lecce, is the new fall guy. Call it the domino effect.

Thompson had proudly announced that average high school class sizes were jumping from 22 to 28, and loudly proclaimed this would make students more “resilient.” No matter that thousands of teaching jobs would be cut from the system, she argued that students would be enriched by four mandatory online courses — an untried experiment.

Lecce leapt to the rescue, dialing down the teacher-student ratios from 28 to 25, and cutting the online courses from four to two. Enraptured by his rhetoric, Ford fell in love with his new “all-star” minister, hailing his persuasive powers in public.

A 33-year-old rookie politician, Lecce got off to a strong start by undoing the damage Ford’s government had done. Then he wondered aloud why teachers weren’t thanking him for cutting those pre-emptive cuts and demanded they meet him halfway.

More recently, he has taken to taking teachers to task, accusing them of imperilling student need for their own greed. Lecce may be the fall guy, but he’s merely the frontman.

The politician pulling the strings here is the man who controls the purse strings behind the scenes on Ford’s behalf, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy. A little-known business executive who boasts of his Bay Street credentials while baying about a supposed Venezuelan or Greek-style bankruptcy crisis in Ontario, Bethlenfalvy is the driving force behind the contrived austerity emergency. Yes, the government inherited a major deficit last year, but only half as much as he first claimed ($7.4 billion, not $15 billion, and only after Bethlenfalvy ignored outside experts by pretending Ontario didn’t enjoy an $11 billion surplus in employee pension funds).

Under the pretext of an inflated deficit, Ford’s Tories pre-emptively imposed a legislated salary cap of one per cent on the public sector, just in time, coincidentally, for teacher negotiations. They did this knowing that the courts overruled such overreach when a Liberal government abrogated collective bargaining rights in 2012 (during a real fiscal emergency, unlike today’s imaginary crisis) leading to a legal settlement that cost taxpayers dearly.

Now, the major unions have announced a new legal filing based on those past court precedents. Against that backdrop — a government that booby traps the bargaining table with unwise cutbacks and unlawful tactics — Lecce is lambasting the teachers’ unions for not negotiating in good faith.

In fact, the teachers are asking only for an inflationary increase — below the 2.1 per cent average for collective agreements in the private sector. Lecce’s latest tactic is to lump together all costs for all teachers for years to come, producing a supposedly scary multi-billion-dollar number of questionable accuracy (just as the government did when bulking up the deficit last year, and cancelling the Hamilton LRT this week).

Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2019 at 8:13 pm and is filed under Education Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply