It’s a well known fact that the Government of Canada is trying to balance its budget, as is Ontario as a province. The implication of debt is that the indebted party is spending more than it is making, and thereby needs to reduce its spending habits. It’s clear as day when an individual goes into debt that the individual needs to cut costs and give up a few luxuries. But when the province is facing debt, whose pocket should cost saving measures come from?
Bill 115 has enraged teaching staff and their students across Ontario. The bill, which came into effect September 1, 2012, enacts a number of “restraint measures” on teachers. These measures include a two-year wage freeze, a reduction in how many sick days teachers may take, and the elimination of “bankable sick days” (meaning that teachers cannot “save up” their sick days when the year rolls over; unused sick days are gone and the original number is reset for the following school year), as well as a ban on teacher strikes.
The bill mentions that teachers hired after the bill comes into effect can be payed no more than another teacher with similar qualifications and responsibilities. In much the same way, teachers already teaching who are given a promotion will be promoted to a wage only as high as another teacher working with the similar qualifications and similar responsibilities.
In protest of the restraint measures teachers suspended their support for extracurricular activities. Considering the restraint measures undemocratic, they refused to work beyond the regular 8-3 or go beyond their duties of leading class.
This was a hard and direct hit to students as a result of Bill 115, also known as the “Putting Students First Act.” As a result, students across the province staged walk outs, rallies – one group of students in Ottawa even made a rap video directly demanding McGuinty (now stepped down) “Kill the Bill.”
There is of course a glaring contradiction in students protesting a bill named “Putting Students First”. It was certainly a strategic move for teachers to pull extra-curricular activities as part of their own protest. The Government, parents, and various other organizations are well aware that after-school clubs, particularly sports, are indescribably valuable in helping at-risk students stay on a safe and healthy track. This fact is directly referenced by the students themselves in that Ottawa-student rap video. Now unhappy, unoccupied and in some cases at risk of finding less legal activities to occupy their time, the teachers have found a way to make the “Putting Students First Act” detrimental to the group it aims to help and protect.
The students, even those who would be well informed about the bill by their own political interest, without the controversy, might reconsider their opposition if their personal, extracurricular lives weren’t so traumatically affected. The bill is clear in its goal to make sure funding afforded to education keeps more teachers working and hires more young teachers, bring more support and smaller class sizes to students. This is instead of continuing to give raise after raise to veteran teachers simply for renewing their contracts.
Are the students really upset about this, or do they just want their basketball team back? Yes, they support their teacher’s rights, but in reality this bill is about more, not less.
Upon reading the bill, its necessity is not questionable. It is clearly part of a larger plan by the Ontario Government to balance the budget, not a singling out of education staff. What can be questioned is the timeline and implementation of the bill. While no group is going to be enthusiastic about the reduction of benefits and a wage freeze, the bill was implemented suddenly and completely. This left the teachers feeling forced and unheard at the discussion table. They walked away feeling that democracy was lacking in the process. While the government was conscious of their goal-timeline for balancing the budget and that encouraged them to have this bill in place as soon as possible, could a more gradual implementation have caused fewer ruffled feathers?
Teachers (unions) have taken this bill to court and have said that they feel their case is strong, and will fight all the way up to the Supreme Court if such measures prove necessary. The involvement of courts has stopped both sides from speaking as freely to the public about the bill as they once did, because it is now an open court case.
While prior to resignation McGuinty remained confident in the bill, even as the court case was launched, and with him stand the Conservatives, the NDP are not on board. Andrew Horwath has expressed concerns about the process which brought the bill into place and fears that in the end the price for Ontarian’s could be higher in the case the bill is thrown out by courts and teachers can demand compensation for losses caused by the bill, than if the bill had worked properly to begin with.