March 28, 2013 - Vol. 2 No.
Continued Opposition to Anti-Social
Oppose Attempts to Criminalize Teachers
All Those Who Fight for the Affirmation
of the Rights of All
Rally for Rights and
Democracy to oppose attacks on teachers, education workers and others,
where 30,000 rallied in Toronto, January 26, 2013.
• Oppose Attempts to Criminalize Teachers and
All Those Who Fight for the Affirmation of the Rights of All
- Enver Villamizar
• Calls for Government to Dictate Voluntary
Activities - Laura Chesnik
Fight of Teachers and
Education Workers to Affirm Their Rights
• Government Announces Cuts to School Board
• Elementary Teachers' Union Suspends Advice on
Extra-Curricular Activities - Mira Katz
Health Care and Social
Programs Are a Right!
• 20,000 Niagara Residents Petition
Legislature to Stop Hospital Closing
• Anti-Poverty Organizations Oppose Austerity
- Pritilata Waddedar
Continued Opposition to Anti-Social
Oppose Attempts to Criminalize Teachers
All Those Who Fight for the Affirmation
of the Rights of All
Thousands of teachers and
education workers and their supporters rally
outside opening night of the Liberal Leadership Convention on January
One of the things that has characterized the way the
government has dealt with the opposition of teachers and education
workers to its phony austerity agenda is to blame them for the problems
caused by government bullying and dictate. Despite calling itself
"new," the Wynne government has continued the practice of trying to
and education workers, especially elementary teachers lately, as
intransigent or self-serving, often painting them as deliberately
harming their students' interests.
Education Minister Liz Sandals engaged in a deliberate
attempt to hide that it is her government which is the bully and using
students as pawns. She speculated that more and more teachers would be
resuming extracurricular activities after the March break,
claiming teachers themselves have been signalling this to her. The Toronto Star on March 18 quoted her
saying, "I'm not making any predictions on what the timelines will be
for [the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario] to lift their ban,
but what I do think is that as you talk to teachers, there is an
increasing number who understand that they also have a
relationship with students and parents, which is also fragile, and that
they also need to repair that relationship for the health of the school
-- because, ultimately, it's the school climate that matters."
This attempt to make the voluntary withdrawal of
volunteer services the issue shows the weakness of the government's
position. The direction in which the government is taking the education
system is a matter which concerns the very soul of our society. Its
failure to provide adequate funding so that the younger
generation can grow up healthy in body and mind is the issue, not the
teachers' voluntary withdrawal of volunteer services. It does not
behove those who call themselves Ministers of Education to cast
aspersions on teachers and education workers who are one of society's
most precious resources.
Students and parents have
stood firmly behind teachers and education workers on every occasion.
This is the case despite the disgraceful attempts of the government to
incite students and their parents against teachers and education
workers in order to blackmail them into accepting the theft of billions
to pay the rich and privatize education.
What kind of government deliberately tries to incite the
youth and society against the teachers and education workers? If there
was anything new about this government it would at least begin by
apologizing for its disgraceful conduct towards the province's teachers
and education workers and take concrete measures
to make amends by affirming their rights, rather than carrying on as if
nothing happened. Unless the violation of teachers' and education
workers' rights is addressed, the Minister's concerns about "the health
of the school" and "the school climate" is eyewash and her actions will
continue to exacerbate the crisis in
the school system.
It seems that for this government, the violation of
rights with Bill 115 never happened. All those whose rights the
government trampled should just let bygones be bygones so the "new"
government can get on with implementing the austerity agenda of the
rich, without workers' rights getting in the way.
The problem is that teachers and education workers are
not the bogeymen the government has made them out to be. They are
carrying out their responsibilities as educators while at the same time
firmly defending the gains they have made in defending their rights.
Congratulations to our teachers and education
workers and their leadership!
Calls for Government to Dictate Voluntary Activities
A March 3 opinion piece in the Toronto Star by
Martin Regg Cohn openly called for the government to criminalize
teachers' withdrawal of extra-curricular activities as a form of
protest. The article accused "public school teachers [of allowing]
their union to bamboozle (if not bully) them into an
organized protest -- a union-directed withdrawal of services during the
The anti-worker article went on to rail against
elementary teachers who "can't be counted on to come through for kids"
and the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) for "sticking
it to kids," and "giving students the back of its hand." The hidden
agenda of this scurrilous attack on teachers was revealed
at the end in a call for voluntary extra-curricular activities to be
mandated as part of their duties, something the PCs have been pushing
for in order to try and further bully teachers into submission and
achieve turning our teachers and educators into a slave labour force.
If the Ontario Labour Relations Board did not
rule extra-curricular activities should be included as part of
teachers' duties, the writer said (referring to a complaint by two
school boards against ETFO for "counselling an illegal strike" which
the Labour Board has yet to rule on), it would create an opening for
Premier Wynne to "undo her mistake" of "taking out language
requiring teachers to perform 'co-instructional tasks' related to their
jobs" from the Education Act
in 2009 when she was Education Minister.
This call to mandate what teachers and education workers
must do on their own time is an attack on their profession and the
entire structure of society. It is an attempt to use the power of the
state to eliminate any ability for teachers and education workers to
legally resist dictate, as well as an attempt
to make acceptable anti-worker arrangements which infringe on
the basic rights of workers and their dignity. It must be opposed.
Fight of Teachers and Education Workers
to Affirm Their Rights
Government Announces Cuts to School Board Funding
The front lines of the
austerity agenda in education are being shifted by the government to
the school board level in the form of the implementation of cuts to
school board funding. On March 27 the Minister of Education released
the annual Grants for Student Needs which contain provincial funding
for local school boards. Turning truth on its head, the government
presented the cuts it is making to school board funding as "investing
in a bright future for children and youth."
This "investment" includes overall cuts to operating
funds which the boards will no doubt be forced to impose on their
communities under threat of provincial takeover should they refuse.
This however is presented as a mechanism to "invest" in full-day
kindergarten. This is a deliberate attempt to make it appear
as if the cuts are a trade-off to support kindergarten. This hides the
fact that all-day kindergarten has been underfunded from the beginning
and now funds are being cut from other areas to make up for the funding
required to actually provide all-day kindergarten as promised by the
Liberals. Funding for salaries is
also being cut by 1.5 per cent which will take the form of the three
unpaid days imposed on teachers, principals and vice-principals.
One of the most anti-social measures is that school
boards will receive less funding for students who take more than 34
high school credits unless they are eligible for full funding based on
special education or other specific program parameters. This
anti-social measure is presented as a mechanism to "encourage"
students to graduate in four years, but will likely pressure school
boards to treat students coming back for more credits as "a problem"
rather than something that contributes to their education.
This new measure is being implemented to eliminate the
social responsibility of the society to provide education to the youth
by targeting for underfunding, and eventually no funding, those youth
who come back for further education after four years. This is over and
above the removal of Grade 13 in the 1990s
by the Harris government that already eliminated a whole year of
secondary education to facilitate taking money out of education to pay
the debt and deficit. Most criminal is that this is being done not to
assist the youth attain a bright future, but to hand over public monies
to the moneylenders who are demanding
their "needs" be placed first.
Cuts Already Being Implemented
Already the cuts imposed this year based on last year's
funding are leading to layoffs and cuts to education. On March 6 the
Toronto District School Board voted to eliminate 248 secondary school
positions. In December the TDSB was forced, with the threat of
provincial takeover looming, to accept a "special assistance team" from
the provincial government to ensure that they implement recommendations
made by PricewaterhouseCoopers that include closing up to 15 schools
and laying off more than 700 employees to deal with the Board's
deficit. The cuts approved on
March 6 affect mainly high schools, including roughly 115 full-time
teaching positions and some 133 secondary school staff positions --
including librarian, principal, guidance counsellor and special
Elementary Teachers' Union Suspends Advice on
On March 26, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of
Ontario (ETFO) notified its members that it was
suspending its advice to them to pause their participation in
voluntary/extra-curricular activities as a way to say No! to the
government's unprecedented imposition of contracts on all
teachers and education workers who had not "voluntarily" agreed to the
In ETFO's latest bulletin to members, Federation
President Sam Hammond stated: "ETFO and the government have been
involved in meaningful discussions since February, talks are
continuing, and we are now confident that the government has
demonstrated a commitment to dealing with concrete items of importance
to our members."
Hammond added that an all-member vote will be conducted
upon conclusion of any agreement reached with the government. "ETFO is
a democratic organization and, ultimately, it is the membership that
will determine whether an agreement is acceptable," said Hammond.
The original advice to push the pause button on
voluntary and extra-curricular activities came on September 11, 2012,
the day the McGuinty Liberals and Hudak PCs united to pass the infamous
Bill 115, giving the Minister of Education unprecedented arbitrary
powers over the working lives of all of Ontario's teachers
and education workers. At that time, ETFO opposed the passage of the
legislation as a violation of the basic collective bargaining rights of
its members and all workers in the sector. ETFO gave the following
advice to its members at that time: "Members are asked to think long
and hard about what voluntary activities
you will do in the coming year. You should not feel that you have to
volunteer your time. You already work hard every day in your classrooms
providing a world-class education for the students you teach. When it
comes to voluntary activities members may want to just take a pause."
On January 4, in response to the McGuinty government
using the powers it gave itself in Bill 115 to impose contracts, ETFO
advised its members to continue the pause and "to focus only on the
direct instruction of students and ensure student safety. It has always
been the position of the Federation that participation
in extracurricular and other non-instructional activities is voluntary.
There are times when it is both appropriate and necessary to withdraw
from voluntary activities. We believe that these are such times."
On February 28, shortly after the selection of Kathleen
Wynne as the new Premier of Ontario and in the midst of discussions it
was having with representatives of the government, ETFO re-affirmed
this advice. At that time ETFO characterized the discussions as
positive, but recommended that members continue
"the pause" on voluntary/extra-curricular activities until the union
saw "concrete actions."
In response to the March 26 announcement made by ETFO,
Premier Kathleen Wynne released a statement expressing her pleasure
with the suspension of the advice to members. She made sure however to
reiterate that for the government's part any agreement "needs to be
addressed within Ontario's existing fiscal
framework" -- which in essence means without reversing the theft of
billions from education to pay the rich and privatize education. She
had weasel words about her government's commitment to fairness which is
like saying, "We have no choice but to cut off your limbs, but we are
being gentle. Trust us." It is the wolf dressed
up as Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother, nothing more.
"Of course, we have been clear that this issue needs to
be addressed within Ontario's existing fiscal framework. But I am
confident that our government's commitment to fairness, consistency and
respect in our conversations with ETFO and all our partners will
continue to result in real work being done for the
people of Ontario," the Premier's statement concluded.
Both ETFO and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers'
Federation continue talks with the government, which are subject to a
Health Care and Social Programs Are a
20,000 Niagara Residents Petition Legislature to
Stop Hospital Closing
On March 21, a petition with 20,000 signatures of
Niagara region residents opposing the Liberal government's
reorganization of hospitals and health care in their region was
presented at the Ontario Legislature. People from the region filled the
public gallery of the Legislature during the presentation of the
by the NDP MPP for Welland, Cindy Forrester.
The petition expresses the concerns of people in Niagara
about hospital closures in their region and the move of services to a
mega hospital in St. Catharines. It asks the government to reverse its
decision to close the Welland Hospital. These concerns and demands have
been expressed repeatedly by people
of Niagara in sustained actions over several years against closings
of their hospitals. In recent months people have been participating in
town hall meetings, demonstrations and the popular petition campaign.
On the floor of the
Legislature, Forrester asked Health Minister Deb Matthews to account
for the government's decision to ignore the community's concerns: "The
Welland hospital is essential to the well-being of my community and our
community, but we're watching as it is being dismantled. That's exactly
what happened in Port Colborne and Fort Erie in past years. Is the
minister planning to stand by, remain silent and allow this dismantling
In answering, Minister Matthews was forced to recognize
the powerful show of opposition to her government's reorganization of
hospitals in the Niagara region. "Welcome to the Legislature, people
from Welland. I look forward to meeting with you after question period.
I think it's important that members of
communities are engaged in health care decisions," Matthews said.
This was lip service to engaging communities in health
care decisions, people said. They decried how Matthews turned truth on
its head with this sleight-of-hand typical of deceptive
politics. She did this by portraying the 20,000 residents who signed
the petition as an "advocacy group" which represents
a special interest. As if their aim does not coincide with
the public interest, she expressly claimed the government's decision
does represent the public interest in the health care system. "I
welcome the advocacy of groups such as are represented today. However,
it is important that we continue to improve health care services in
Niagara," the Minister said.
In the end, Matthews refused to reverse the decision on
the closing of the Welland hospital, just as she has refused to
consider the views of the people of the region on hospital closures or
any part of the government's reorganization of health services in the
region. The Liberals are pushing on with a pre-determined
agenda for imposing austerity and privatization on the health care
system no matter what the communities, health care workers or anyone
else thinks about it.
Matthews' attempt to dismiss these 20,000 people opposed
to the closure of the Welland hospital as an "advocacy group" pushing
private interests simply does not wash because it is the government
which is serving private interests. The Ontario Health Coalition
Niagara, which is holding governments to account
for this privatization, is an advocacy organization which has played an
important role in enabling the people of the region to express their
organized opposition to the government agenda to smash public health
care. Their work has led to Welland City Council joining the campaign
to oppose the closure of the Welland
hospital through the petition. The campaign is a broad reflection of
the community's demands and, while a whole community could be wrong,
why does the Minister not argue why it is wrong instead of using her
power to push through her agenda?
It is a sham that a petition with the support of 20,000
residents is dismissed by the government as a misguided action, while
the anti-social recommendations of bankers such as Don Drummond to
restructure and privatize public services are taken as gospel. This
government represents a privileged minority whose
private interests are served by austerity and privatization in health
care. This is made clear when one participates in actions such as
taking the petition to the Legislature and seeing the condescension of
The government's arrogant dismissal of the widespread
opposition to its phony austerity agenda in health care as expressed in
its paternalistic dismissal of the the petition of the Niagara
residents demonstrates the need to go further in renewing Ontario
politics. How can the right to health care or any other right
be defended by the majority when the privileged minority with political
power is able to impose its will as the law of the land?
To stop the privileged minority with political power
from trampling on the right to health care and other rights, the
majority must find a way to have an effective say in political affairs
so the popular will becomes the law of the land, not the demands of the
private monopolies. The struggle for a say on how social
programs such as health care are organized and delivered is a fight for
renewal of the archaic political arrangements in Canada so that rights
are provided with a guarantee.
Anti-Poverty Organizations Oppose Austerity
In preparation for the upcoming budget, the ruling
Liberals are advertising themselves as the party of "fairness." A
recent report by an anti-poverty advocacy coalition reveals the
anti-social effects of Budget 2012 on the most vulnerable in Ontario
and shows the content of this "fairness." The report was
issued on February 28 by the anti-poverty advocacy coalition Ontario
Campaign 2000. The report, Strengthening
Future, is the 2012 version of a report
on child and family poverty in Ontario published annually by the
anti-poverty organization in advance of the Ontario spring budget.
It highlights the harm done to families of workers
earning low wages and to families relying on social assistance by the
government's 2012 budget. "...Decisions driven by austerity in the 2012
Ontario budget made survival even more difficult for the over 383,000
children living in poverty with their families,"
said the report. The 2012 budget, "...[w]ill widen the already
staggering income gap dividing children growing up in low income
families and children from wealthier families. The most recent data
shows that, on average, Ontario's highest income earners make 12.5
times more than the lowest."
The Ontario Campaign 2000 report is especially critical
of the government decision to postpone increases in the Ontario Child
Benefit (OCB) originally scheduled to come into effect this year. OCB
is paid on a graduated scale based on family income to low income
families with children. It is part of the legislated
mandate of the Ontario government to decrease the number of families
living in poverty by 25 per cent as compared to 2006 levels by 2013.
The OCB has been frozen since 2009 at $1,100 per child
per year for families receiving the maximum benefit and there have been
no increases for inflation. The OCB was scheduled to be increased to
$1,310 maximum by 2013. Last year's budget eliminated the scheduled
increase for 2012 and raised the benefit
by only $110 effective July 2013. As a result of the austerity budget,
the $1,300 benefit level will not be reached now until 2014.
The report was also critical of the government's
decision to cut benefits received by families receiving social
assistance: "The 2012 budget made negative reforms to vital benefits
for social assistance recipients who are precariously housed or who
have health-related expenses. Funding for discretionary health benefits
[special diet benefits] was capped, while the Community Start Up and
Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) was eliminated."
Since the Liberal government has been in power, except
for two small raises, social assistance rates have been frozen at the
level set by the Harris government. With inflation taken into account,
assistance rates are 31 per cent lower under the supposedly "fair and
balanced" Liberals than under the Harris Conservatives.
The report calls the 1 per cent increase to social assistance rates in
2012 inadequate and says, "Increasing the shamefully low social
assistance rates of Ontario's 892,099 recipients is long overdue as
current rates do not even cover [the 2012 increase in] food, housing
and clothing costs."
Other issues raised in the report as underlying the
increase in poverty include the continuing lack of jobs for Ontario
workers, with a 7.9 per cent unemployment rate in 2012. The burden of
this problem falls especially on youth, immigrants and others entering
a labour market which is not expanding nearly enough
to provide jobs for all the people entering the labour force. The
report points to the 16.9 per cent youth unemployment rate in Ontario
for 2012, more than double the general unemployment rate. First Nations
people and national minority people also face high unemployment rates,
especially the youth. Ineligibility
for Employment Insurance when laid off, the prevalence of low-paid and
precarious work, labour staffing agencies, lack of labour code
enforcement and lack of affordable child care are all factors
contributing to the rise in poverty.
The Ontario Poverty 2000 Campaign is a coalition of
social service professionals, health professionals and social policy
researchers, headed by Family Services Toronto, a leading social
service organization in Toronto. It is supported by Ontario teachers'
and educational workers' unions and the Registered Nurses
Association of Ontario. The condemning report by the professionals
working in the social services sector is another indication of the
isolation of the Liberals among all sections of the working people and
of the Liberals' deepening crisis of legitimacy.
Below are the main demands of the Ontario Poverty 2000
Campaign. The full report can be found at the Campaign's website: www.campaign2000.ca.
Raise Ontario Child Benefit, social assistance rates and
minimum wage in Budget 2013 and index all three to inflation.
Increase minimum wage to $14/hour in 2013 and fully
index it to inflation.
Enforce the Employment
Act; complete committed investment of $10 million for
Implement health and dental benefits for low-wage
Raise social assistance rates, starting with a $100
increase for single people on Ontario Works and fully index to
Transform social assistance so it lifts people out of
poverty; allow people to keep more savings and assets, earned income
and child support.
Ensure high quality training programs to support the
move from welfare and lay off to work.
Address workplace discrimination: Implement Employment
Equity program; ensure pay equity.
Invest in homelessness prevention, fund municipalities
to meet community needs and provide support in the absence of the
Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit.
Implement increase to Ontario Child Benefit to the
maximum $1310/child/year in July 2013, fully indexed to inflation.
Provide resources to prevent further closure of child
care centres in Ontario; index provincial funding for child care to
inflation. Commit to developing policies and a new funding model to
support a universal system of high quality, affordable child care.
Provide a monthly Housing Benefit to low-income tenants
to reduce high rent costs.
Bring aging social housing stock up to standard, build
more affordable and supportive housing.
Strengthen tenant protection legislation.
Freeze university tuition rates; increase grants for all
students from low-income families (including part-time and mature
students). Allow public sector employers to benefit from the
apprenticeship tax credit.
Press federal government on access to Employment
Insurance, affordable housing and child care.
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