When Ontario teachers and education workers walk off the job Feb. 21, they’ll hit the bricks with a lot of public support.
Since contract talks began, Minister Stephen Lecce and Premier Doug Ford have tried hard to divide workers from their unions and unions from the parents, guardians, and grandparents who care about what happens in our schools. But instead of sowing division, Lecce and Ford have created a unified opposition—one that agrees on both issues and strategy.
The result? In these negotiations, education unions have become the de facto bargaining agent for the majority.
Recent opinion polls suggest that when it comes to schools, Ontarians back the unions’ priorities, not the government’s. Most people don’t support larger class sizes. They don’t want mandatory e-learning in high school. They don’t see an upside to cutting special education and mental health supports.
A poll published in the Ford-friendly Toronto Sun found 63 per cent agreeing that the current dispute is about education quality issues, not teacher pay. In that same poll, respondents said teachers, not the government, were acting in the best interests of students—by a five-to-two margin.
That’s a convincing score in any sport.
Last year, our Premier “for the people” was roundly booed at the parade to celebrate the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship. He was clearly stung by the rough reception, and for an obvious reason: if Raptors fans aren’t “the people,” then who is?
The same could be said of parents, who come in all political leanings. Parents know that losing 10,000 teachers won’t help their kids, and “only” losing 6,000, as Minister Lecce has proposed, won’t help either.
The Ford government is underestimating the bond between parents and schools. Parents pour a tremendous amount of energy into schools, running parent councils, volunteering for field trips, organizing fundraisers, and advocating for their children.
They do this because they care. They do this because they want their kids to grow and develop and be all they can be. They do this because everything about the future is uncertain, and there is no better way to prepare tomorrow’s adults for that uncertainty than a great education.
Given the evident impasse at all the bargaining tables, it’s time for the Ford government to try something new—something that will end the strikes and keep public education strong.
It’s time to cancel the cuts.
Politically, this will be a huge climbdown, it’s true. But this government has changed course before, and when it does, it’s always for the same reason: “We’re a government that listens,” to quote the Premier.
If that’s true, why not listen now? Why not do what parents want?
Randy Robinson is the Ontario Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Follow him at @Randyfrobinson.