Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday November 13, 2019
There’s still time to avoid school strikes in Ontario
On the surface, there isn’t much reason for optimism in the ongoing labour standoff between Ontario’s government and educators.
The unions are uniformly unhappy with progress made to date in negotiations. Most have already held strike votes and received strong mandates, and those that have not will soon.
The government insists it is being reasonable and remains ready to negotiate and reach agreements.
In other words, contract talks are proceeding as they tend to – slowly, painfully and stressfully.
But looking a little deeper yields some reason for optimism.
First, there is the government’s newly announced desire to govern reasonably as opposed to with a draconian heavy hand.
After a disastrous first year, Doug Ford has become the least popular populist in Canada.
All sources agree – he doesn’t like that.
He doesn’t want his government to be or be seen to be ideologically extreme. He wants to fulfil his agenda but not like a bull in a china shop. He’s seen how well that worked his first year as premier.
While it’s true that Ontarians take a dim view of school strikes, it’s also true the blame for them is typically apportioned to both sides.
In fact, given the unpopularity of many Ford initiatives so far, there’s a good chance he and his government will be blamed more than teacher unions if we do end up with one or more strikes.
If he’s bothered by how unpopular he is now, just wait until school strikes are factored in.
No doubt, as is the case with most labour negotiations, there are a host of issues on the table. But most are probably not strike-worthy.
Typically, only a couple of issues are worth taking that big step to the last resort.
In this case, one is class size. On this, the government should yield.
It has already agreed to reduce its target of 28 students per average class to 25, compared to the current 22.5.
But that offer contained a poison pill that would have required unions to sign off all control on class size caps and trust the government to do the right thing.
That’s not going to happen, nor should it.
The class size issue has nothing to do with educational outcomes and everything to do with saving money.
The larger average size will eliminate 10,000 teaching jobs. It will do nothing for students and families.
According to last week’s financial statement, the provincial deficit is about half of what Ford previously claimed it was.
That, plus higher than expected revenues, should allow the government to back away from this particular savings scheme.
Then there’s money, of course.
The province wants to cap all public-sector wage increases at one per cent. Teacher unions want two per cent. Inflation is running just under two per cent.
A full percentage point below the rate of inflation is not reasonable and won’t fly with most public sector unions as it amounts to a pay cut.
The government has already signalled that its one-per-cent cap is an aspiration not a hard deal breaker.
There should be room here for a compromise that can avoid a strike, and all the negative fallout that entails. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)