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March 28, 2013 - Vol. 2 No. 29

Continued Opposition to Anti-Social Offensive

Oppose Attempts to Criminalize Teachers and
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.

Continued Opposition to Anti-Social Offensive
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 Funding
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 Offensive

Oppose Attempts to Criminalize Teachers and
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 25, Toronto.

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 present teachers 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 from education 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!

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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 school day."

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.

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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 mechanisms 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 education positions.

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Elementary Teachers' Union Suspends Advice on
Extra-Curricular Activities

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 imposed terms.

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 media blackout.

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Health Care and Social Programs Are a Right!

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 petition 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 new 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 to continue?"

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 Minister.

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.

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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 Families for Ontario's 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.

Campaign Demands

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 Standards Act; complete committed investment of $10 million for inspectors.

Implement health and dental benefits for low-wage workers.

Raise social assistance rates, starting with a $100 increase for single people on Ontario Works and fully index to inflation.

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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