Paradigm shift needed by B.C. & Ont. teachers’ unions

Money does not grow on trees. Yet, even as the Globe and Mail headline shouts: “Ontario set to get tough with teachers,” those of us who know better yawn. We have seen this movie far too many times before — the belief that any thought of restraint is an insult to teachers.

Unfortunately, they have learned that lesson by always getting their way. Actually, I know of no time in the forty years I have been involved in, or connected to, public school education when salaries have not increased — even if only marginally. It’s always been upward, never a salary and benefits freeze.  

Ontario Government and Teachers’ Unions

One thing is for sure, Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Education Premier, and his Liberal Government cannot seem to say no to teachers’ unions. Actually, when I come to think of it, they can’t say no to any public sector union. Remember, while communicating wage restraint in public during the spring of 2011, they also signed a secret document giving the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) a wage increase.

And so, as Cary’s Mills’ states in her Globe column: “Meanwhile, the union for public secondary school teachers held a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the government’s offer, which it denounced as “unacceptable” and “an unprecedented attack on members’ rights.”

The Province of Ontario is broke and yet the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) refer to their offer as an attack on members’ rights. Hello? The current mess the Ontario Liberal Government finds itself in has attacked all our rights, our taxpayers’ rights. So, let’s just skip the political hypocrisy — given that the teachers’ unions spent millions of dollars on advertising to get the McGuinty caucus re-elected in October, 2011. Meaning, they as good as own him now.

BC Government and Teachers’ Unions

In British Columbia (BC), the conflict seems to be a bit different. For a year now, the BC Liberal Government has declined to restore rights taken out of a previous collective agreement (even though they were ordered to do so by the BC Supreme Court). Plus, the BC Government wants to make teaching an essential service — meaning they want to take away the right to strike.

Wow! So, there seems to be some backbone there.  Now, guess how the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) responded? As Wendy Stueck writes, also in the Globe and Mail, they will begin a teacher’s strike on Monday.

How can there be a paradigm shift?

What I am going to suggest is a paradigm shift — a shift in the way teachers’ unions look at demands — in terms of what is possible. Yet, that kind of shift, in BC at this point, is only going to happen if parents refuse to be held hostage. To avoid that, what they need to do is make alternate child care arrangements for their children, for however long a strike or work-to-rule lasts. They can get help from neighbours, relatives or they take vacation time from work. Whatever it takes. Because as long as it is about childcare, the unions are in control, not only of the provincial government, but of families as well.  

The same needs to happen in Ontario because McGuinty knows how angry parents got with Mike Harris in 1997. But Harris was right. There is only so much taxpayers’ money to go around. Ability to pay must mean something. Otherwise, it will be our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will be paying for the raises the teachers receive now. Without a doubt, people who work in the private sector have every reason to be very angry.


Endnote: I am not going to be a hypocrite. Both my husband and I are retired teachers, although only he has a full pension. Regardless, we both benefitted from positive collective agreements over the years. Meaning, I’m hardly anti-union. But, we are now in a new world. As such, it is my belief that it is long past time that teachers’ unions took a step back from confrontation and became part of the solution. Why? Because, there was a time when people looked up to teachers — something they no longer do.

10 thoughts on “Paradigm shift needed by B.C. & Ont. teachers’ unions

  1. Hi Sandy,

    I believe that this is a very reasonable response to situations that always turn out to seem so unreasonable to the general public, especially when negotations are in full flight.

    My question to you, (and it comes from something that you said in your endnote): To what do you attribute the change in the public’s attitudes towards teachers? Do you think that there is a difference in attitudes towards individual teachers and teacher’s unions?

    I think that a healthy and respectful public dialogue about all of this needs to take place


  2. Hi Stephen. I had left a comment on your blog. Your question is a fair one. I have been writing about this for six years so I hope I can do justice in a reply comment.

    It all started back in the early 1970s with the progressive wave and then whatever goodwill was left died with the 1997 Ontario strike and what the public perceives as constant whining and selfishness. All too frequently, teachers go on and on about how hard their jobs are. Yes, they are hard but others are much harder, such as emergency response workers, fire fighters or the military.

    The other issue is the move away from the basics. I started teaching in September 1972, just as the progressive wave hit. We struggled for nearly a decade teaching whole language experience, while trying to keep discrete phonics, spelling and grammar. Eventually, primary and junior teachers were told to stop teaching those subjects as discrete subjects. So, like today it became almost entirely experiential and discovery. Which is great for most students but not for those who need the extra direction.

    What should have happened was that whole language should have been whole, not taken apart. Kept the basics and integrated them with the experiential. I don’t know the buzz words for literacy/language arts today, but you get the drift.

    Anyway, that is when the alienation started. When I was teaching teacher ed in the 80s and 90s (both pre-service and Master’s level), I also ran a private reading clinic for students with learning difficulties. Such a clinic should not have been necessary. It was then that I heard the anger from parents. It was then that I was frequently invited by parents to speak to their concerns at meetings and conferences. Since I also taught teachers at the Master’s level, I would talk to the professionals too. Most understood the disconnect with parents but were just following their board’s and the MOE curriculum documents.

    The funny thing is that most parents will say they like their child’s teacher. They just don’t like what the “profession” has become and the unions are a big part of that. It’s all me, me, me and more, more and more.

    In the mid 1980s I was my school’s FWTAO rep. It was not the same animal as ETFO. OSSTF was always more militant but not as much as now. OECTA has changed completely. Like bullies and bulls in a china shop.

    Guaranteed if the unions now, knowing the dire fiscal shape Ontario is in, took a moderate stand and agreed to a salary freeze and other things, the image of teachers as grasping would change in an instant.

    One more thing. The general public does not understand the reason teachers do not speak out against things they don’t approve. In teaching, as you know, it’s called ethics. However, what it looks like from the outside are people who can’t speak up when they disagree with something. Teachers also now believe and obey the unions without question. How can parents believe that they can teach children and youth not to be swayed by peer pressure when they are themselves?

    In 1995 I went on a reduced teaching load in my university to work for a Mike Harris MPP. Every day I got faxes in his office from the teachers’ unions that were exaggerations and outright lies. I assumed my colleagues would know it was just a union doing what a union does. Well, imagine my shock when they actually believed the nonsense. Harris was going to destroy public education. Harris was going to fire 10,000 teachers. Harris this and Harris that. It was all lies. Harris ended up arranging for professional teams to improve the primary language curriculum. 10,000 more teachers were hired. Yet, teachers I knew and respected bought all the garbage and walked out in 1997 in an illegal strike. If you were to mention the name Mike Harris in your staff room, you would hear the boos all the way to your parking lot. Yet, if the education system has been ruined over the years, it had nothing to do with Harris and everything to do with watering down curriculum, passing students to the next level who weren’t ready and getting on every politically correct bandwagon going.

    In other words, it has taken 40 years to deteriorate, the entire span of my career. But, if the unions would change, if there could be a paradigm shift, all the public disrespect and anger could disappear if not at least be reduced. But, I’m not holding my breath given your unions now have their own vested interests in surviving as they are.


  3. Check out Christina Blizzard’s column today and the link to Dalton’s YouTube appeal to teachers Sandy.
    Too many predicted exactly the scenario we have before us today.
    I happen to think, only because I was close to the action once, that Dalton’s picked this particular battle with the Elementary teachers carefully, because he knows well, that the sick days issue and pay freeze will resonate well with the taxpaying public. The calls that came in to a London Ontario radio talk show yesterday morning from former union-workers at Caterpillar were eye-opening in that even they though the ETFO sick-day package was a bit over the top.
    It’s a long time between now and August (when ETFO’s contract expires). What really worries me though is that the stance the McGuinty appears to be taking with ETFO will win a lot of Conservative support. Hudak may be stuck on this issue…AND, McGuinty may know that. It’s going to be interesting to monitor how Hudak plays this.


  4. Catherine — Hudak has to just be himself and push a PC agenda and not worry about what McGuinty is doing because the party in power always is in the best position. But, if the public buys the sick leave gratuity thing as McGuinty playing tough, they really are gullible. The public board both my husband and I worked for gave up that gratuity over a decade ago. So, its not going to make a huge difference, financially,to get rid of it from those still giving it.

    No, IMO, what needs to happen is a freeze on wages, an increase in the age when teachers can retire, putting some of the basics back into math and langauge arts (even just discrete spelling and times tables practice), as well as modifying the policy automatic promotion — which means parents also have to understand that not all children can get As and if their child is not academically ready, it is for their child’s own good that they repeat a grade.

    So, the PCs have lots they can do. And, like you keep saying, and I agree with, make the full-day kindergarten optional for communities who want it.


  5. Not much will change until some element of competition is brought into education (and health care). The major stakeholders–parents, teachers and the provincial governments–ALL have to have more choices. Otherwise, we are running around in circles, getting nowhere.


  6. I hope they don’t deem it an essential service, arbitrators tend to be more generous to the unions than a negotiated settlement.


  7. Oh and Stephen — Please don’t let me discourage you from starting up that public dialogue at That is not my intention. Public dialogue is desperately needed. But, you and others in the system today have to be able to step back and understand why the anger and distrust. If you are still teaching, you and I both know that you can only say so much and an Internet forum is very public. So, that may be the first place to start. Explain to your principal and superintendent what you want to accomplish on your own time. Because, it shouldn’t take until we are retired that we are free to speak our minds — fully.

    Yet, even then now when I agree with anything going on in the system I am called part of the problem. The reality is I am who I am and you are who you are. We can’t change our training and experience. But, we can be empathetic to how the public feels. By the same token, perhaps education critics need to also have empathy for us. There are still lots of good things going on in public education today. Meaning, we are not going to condemn everything.

    Like last week I wrote a post explaining why the teacher in Waterloo would have had to report the incident with the drawing of the gun. I wasn’t condoning the misunderstanding and what happened, just explaining it. Yet, many didn’t want to listen to my explanation and some comments were so nasty I couldn’t publish them.

    Meaning, dialogue is going to have to start with small steps. One of my regulars here, Catherine, I believe contacted you as well. She is an education critic and been around the block as a parent, so she would be a good one to get that side of the discussion going.

    All the best!


  8. Sandy – this is all optics for McGuinty, for sure. I believe McGuinty already has some idea of what individual teachers are willing to give up. Whether the union heads and those individual teachers will wind up in a disconnect is another question that needs asking.

    I can’t begin to know what Hudak’s agenda is when it comes to education. That’s problematic for people like me who became PC’s because of the changes Harris set in motion. If McGuinty is believed to be coming on, as some columnists have written today, hard-line like Harris, how Hudak speaks to this is important.

    re: the whole full-day K and the Early Learning Program. A HUGE elephant in the room IF there’s job action. What WILL parents do for daycare? I believe that actually scenario was raised on this very blog when we talked about the cost of the ELP.
    Should be interesting.


  9. This might come back to haunt McGuinty in the coming months. You may remember this article Sandy. My apologies if it doesn’t transfer very well. Keep up the great work. Heading out to enjoy time away from social networking.

    “Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty didn’t invent political hypocrisy, he merely took it to new heights when he urged striking teachers this week to continue their illegal campaign against the Harris government.
    Would this be the same Dalton McGuinty who, a few years back, introduced a private member’s bill in the legislation that would have effectively stripped teachers of their right to strike?
    Would this be the same Dalton McGuinty who cried crocodile tears over the plight of students when teachers in Ottawa-Carleton shut down their classrooms in 1992?
    Who boldly pronounced that teachers and school boards most certainly do not speak for students’ interests when they engage in walkouts or lockouts?
    Would this be the same Dalton McGuinty who called for a students’ bill of rights to protect students from the actions of over-zealous teachers’
    unions, including a statutory right to minimal class disruption?
    Is this the same Liberal MPP who called for the appointment of a student interest advocate to participate directly in negotiating settlements to make sure students’ interests weren’t pushed aside by big labor or school board demands during a dispute?
    Would this be the same Dalton McGuinty who wanted compulsory votes by teachers who are locked in contract disputes?
    Could it possibly be the same Dalton McGuinty who once moaned that: “There is no limit on the length of time parties can negotiate, no restrictions on when a strike may occur, no fixed maximum duration of strikes….”
    Ah, seem that was then.
    Today it’s a different story.
    Or, at the very least, it’s a different Dalton McGuinty.
    Because the latest incarnation told a packed house of striking teachers this week to “take heart” and “to not give up.”
    You’re doing the right thing,” he said.
    The right thing?
    A word of advice for striking teachers:
    Get to know your enemy.
    But first get to know your allies.
    You might be surprised.”


  10. Pingback: BC & ON teachers’ anger, arrogance & sense of entitlement | CRUX OF THE MATTER ►

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