Doubling Down on the Dishonesty
John Snobelen might best be remembered as the Minister of Education in the Mike Harris government who was caught on video discussing the merits of "creating a crisis" in Ontario education to provide cover for implementing his own agenda. If he had thought to take out a patent on the idea, Laurel Broten would now owe him royalties.
Current contracts between Ontario school boards and teachers' unions expire on Aug. 31st. If no new contracts are in place at that time, there are wage increases built in to existing agreements that kick in starting Sept. 1st. But if the collective bargaining process were allowed to play out, any new agreements reached would be retroactive to Sept. 1st. In the long run there is no penalty to be paid for allowing that collective bargaining process to proceed assuming both sides ultimately strike a deal. There has been no threat on the part of teachers' unions to go out on strike or to endanger the beginning of the school year. In fact union representatives have been positively eager to assure everyone that their members look forward to greeting students on the first day of school.
The Liberals poisoned the normal bargaining process from the beginning by announcing non-negotiable demands to the media first and, in the same breath, threatening to impose their demands through legislation before any negotiations had even begun. It had the desired effect: teachers were visibly angry and some of their reps walked away from meetings with the province. Of course, teachers ultimately negotiate with the school boards rather than directly with the province anyway but this provided McGuinty and Broten with something they could use to play to the media and claim that it was the teachers who were refusing to bargain.
When the government finally did decide to get the school boards involved, that was for the benefit of the media as well. Well into this month, with many people on holidays, Broten suddenly threw it back in the laps of the local boards who were told they had damn well better conclude agreements by Aug. 31st or there would be hell to pay. Predictably, reactions from the boards ranged from disbelief to confusion to anger, with a number indicating publicly that there was simply no way to meet the deadline. And really, for the reasons outlined above, no rush.
And that brings us to today's announcement: the Liberals have drafted legislation that would...
...require the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and other education worker unions to agree to “substantially similar’ terms in a wage freeze deal already signed by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association and smaller unions, including one representing Franco-Ontarian teachers.
The "wage freeze deal" mentioned isn't really a deal. It's a Memorandum of Understanding that is supposed to provide a basis for the negotiations between the unions who signed it and the school boards they actually work for. Some of those school boards have indicated they have their own problems with parts of the MOU but that doesn't seem to concern the Ontario government. McGuinty and Broten got substantially what they wanted from one of the larger unions and seem to think that's all they need. They appear to have no more interest in the opinions of school trustees than they have in the opinions of the teachers. They want the MOU implemented and they want it forced on the rest of the unions -- and the school boards -- who had no part in drafting it.
The whole point of this charade has been to short-circuit the normal process of negotiation and force the agreement the McGuinty government wants down everyone else's throat. And to look good to the voters in the process. The only people who have talked about a threat to the beginning of the school year are McGuinty and Broten. The concern about millions of dollars being lost if negotiations aren't rushed to a conclusion is entirely fabricated for the reason outlined above. The crisis is artificial and it's been created as cover for the threat to impose the government's terms if the teachers and boards refuse to accept them willingly.
So the provincial Liberals now join the federal Conservatives in actively undermining the process of collective bargaining and using the force -- or the threat -- of legislation to do it. If they get away with it here, I would expect to see more of it.
In the right light, Dalton McGuinty bears a greater resemblance to Stephen Harper all the time. It's eerie.