Tag Archives: Dalton McGuinty

Ontario NDP given chance to pull the Liberals left

2 Aug
Peggy Sattler with Andrea Horwath during the August Ontario byelection

Peggy Sattler, middle, won in London during the August 1 Ontario byelection

Voters delivered a clear message: out with the Liberals, down with the PCs.

The NDP won two of the five liberal ridings up for grabs in this byelection. The new MPPs are successful politicians in their own rights: Percy Hatfield was a city councilor in Windsor and Peggy Sattler was a school trustee. Both were running in ridings where the former representatives, Dwight Duncan and Chris Bentley, wore most of the controversy of the $500 million waste in the gas plant scandal. 

The Liberals barely held onto Dalton McGuinty’s former riding and Mitzie Hunter took over for Margarett Best, a cabinet minister whose profile was never very high.

The PCs only won Etobicoke-Lakeshore in a race that had more to do with Toronto politics than Ontario politics, where two sitting councilors raced against each other. Former Etobicoke mayor and Rob Ford insider Doug Holyday is their new MPP.

Before any party claims victory, a sober analysis of the political scene is critical: were people voting for, or against something?

There’s no question: the PCs and the Liberals, if not tied to be this byelection’s loser, were neck in neck for that laurel. The PCs might just take it as byelections tend to be the opportunity to show the ruling party a lesson. In the next general election, these votes might swing right back to the Liberals. Many have wondered publicly what this will mean for Tim Hudak’s future. I agree that his days as leader are numbered.

This bring me back to my first point: the Ontario NDP might regret these results.

That’s my pessimistic way of saying this: the NDP has won its greatest opportunity since they held government to influence government. Are they up to the challenge?

Assuming that government holds long enough to even consider a budget, the pressure on the NDP to deliver a budget with the Liberals that reflects some progressive values will be their greatest test in nearly 20 years. The Liberals will need NDP support. The New Democrats cannot rely on weak, populist policies if they’re going to prove that they’re a viable alternative. They’ll have to demonstrate that they can play politics: make serious demands or force a general election.

Will party insiders see this reality? Or will they actually believe that folks in London and Windsor voted NDP because they think Andrea Horwath should be premier?

The victories for the NDP in this campaign are not insignificant. Sattler and Hatfield will be important additions to Queen’s Park.

But the losses for the NDP are more significant than this byelection’s gains. The absurd powerplay of Adam Giambrone to become the candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood called into question both the party’s internal democracy and moral decency. It was a bigger error than Sattler’s win was a victory. Miscalculating Giambrone’s transit strategy and siding with a Rob Ford-esque subway promise was a bigger error than Hatfield’s win was a victory.

They’re bigger errors because they seem to have been orchestrated by the party’s central command. Where Sattler and Hatfield won mostly on their reputations followed by the banner of the NDP, Giambrone seemed to be steered by the back room of the party. Or, at least that’s what it looked like from the outside.

When budget negotiations come around, who will be the strategists? The folks who organized Giambrone’s campaign or Sattler’s campaign?

If the NDP picks their big issues now (public childcare? lower tuition fees? new energy policies?), pulling a Liberal budget to the left won’t be politically difficult.

Staying on their current track: figuring out the easiest policies to implement and allowing populism to drive them, will result in the a PC victory during the next election, if that party jettisons Hudak.

There are many, many months for the NDP to clean itself up internally and find the best political minds and organizers they can mine from the left. With an activist Ontario Federation of Labour, this shouldn’t be a hard task.

They have no other choice: they have to finally put their progressive rhetoric into action or left-wing Ontarians should walk away and start something new.

Whether or not “the party” sees this is an entirely different question that I’ll no doubt get to write about in a few months.

Photo from http://www.peggysattler.ca

Drawing blood from stones: the relentless tuition fee hike

28 Mar

ABasQPsmallOntario announced a new tuition fee framework today. It’s the first time that the Liberal government has changed it in seven years

In 2006, Dalton McGuinty punched students in the face with a five per cent, on average, fee increase. It was supposed to last four years, but was extended, painfully, until 2012.

During the 2011 Ontario election, the Liberals introduced a grant to help offset the burden of these fees for some students. To those of us who spent days analyzing the Liberal proposal and strategy, it was clear that they had hoped to divert some of the negative attention on their tuition policy by offering a confusing, runner-up prize.

In the same vein, the kinder, gentler Liberal party, now lead by a grandmother rather than a seemingly ageless dad, is trying to help students out.

Today, they announced that the fee increases: 5% for most programs, 8% for the programs where university administrators want to screw students the hardest, has been replaced with 3% and 5% respectively.

McGuinty’s (and now Wynne’s) fee increases were historic: they pushed Ontario’s fees to be the most expensive and they allowed for different fees to be charged to different programs. Today’s increase puts tuition on track to double under the Liberal reign alone.

Now, students sitting in a second-year elective are paying a combination of a bunch of different fees for the same class. I say “a bunch” because I stopped counting at 10 different combinations, depending on the year they started, the actual year of the class, their program of study or their citizenship. Yes, added bureaucracy is necessary to keep track of these divisions. Yes, students will pay more and receive the same instruction as other students.

This was a clever idea: charge incoming students the most (because high school students don’t protest), charge engineering students the most (because they’re way too busy to protest), charge graduate students the most (because they’re too busy rocking back and forth under their desks to protest) and charge international students the most (because Jason Kenney will deport them if they protest).

For some, it has meant an increase of more than 71%.

High tuition fees are the best example of the insanity of austerity. Despite the fact that people who are better educated will earn more and pay more taxes (thereby paying for the cost of their education), Kathleen Wynne and her Neoliberal crew don’t care about the facts. They care about privatization. They care about eliminating the public system by stealth so that they don’t have to pay for it.

Indeed, Liberal, Tory… you know the rest.

Some “student groups” call it a step in the right direction. Of course, it isn’t. It’s a smaller step in the same direction. And, when walking towards a cliff, any steps in the direction of the cliff will lead to the same result. Wynne has smaller legs than McGuinty, this is just a difference in stride.

Actual students know that any tuition fee increase is simply going to exacerbate an already crisis situation. The Liberals hope that the pressures that are created by high tuition fees will be enough to continue to keep Ontario students quiet. And, it may. The crushing combination of high fees, high rents, youth unemployment and needing to, you know, live, depoliticizes and disenfranchises.

But, there is a breaking point. The question will just be how it manifests among Ontarians.

Today’s announcement does not come in a vacuum. The sustained political pressure that students have placed on the Liberals has helped to “win” this policy. The highly unpopular 30% off grant exposed a floundering, rudderless Liberal party that realized that they were losing the war over the message. Ontario students should take some comfort in that.

But the other political context, the waves made by the student protests last year in Québec must also be considered. The impact their protests had on Ontarians, to teach that another system is possible, cannot be understated. The Maple Spring created spaces in Ontario where student activists could actually talk about free tuition fees and be taken seriously by their peers.

That’s the power of a peoples’ movement: raising consciousness and building capacity. Ontario was lucky to benefit from some side effects. Québec students will be reaping the harvest of their work for years to come, and the story isn’t anywhere near finished yet.

But the 3% fee increase is a necessary reminder: Wynne, bowing to pressure and trying to distance herself publicly from McGuinty settled on a tuition fee increase lower than the past seven years. In Québec, Pauline Marois picked the same percentage to increase students’ fees, despite the fact that she rolled in on a wave that was absolutely opposing a hike. What’s the lesson here?

The line between demands made by social movements and minor policy changes is sometimes direct, sometimes crooked and most times non-existent. Marois tricked Québecers into voting PQ and turned around and went all Charest on them. Wynne was elected as the moderately progressive alternative and has turned around and gone all McGuinty on Ontarians.

Meanwhile, students in both provinces will be paying 3% more next fall.

Political ideology is the domain of the Conservatives. Today, the remaining Neoliberal parties are populist, gauging where public interest is and governing accordingly. Under these conditions neither Ontarians nor Québecers have any chance of witnessing fundamental change. Austerity and populism has too great a control over the brains of our politicians. Instead, we’ll have to force it.

What the student movement in Québec does is reminds us that these battles, if fought and won in the streets, will be won by the people. The campaign will last longer than a semester. It’s origins will be theorizable but it’s effects can only be told in retrospect. Its existence gives hope and a path to follow.

So Ontarians, how will you play your hand?

Supporting Ontario teachers

23 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 2.03.41 PMAll progressive struggles are connected, even when those connections can be hard to determine. Drawing these connections is not always easy. Neoliberalism has fractured our communities and conservatives (Conservatives and Liberals alike) have pitted one sector against the other to be able to control our organizing. Progressive people have to work to repair these damaged relationships and better connect the struggle with which they are most connected, to others happening in their communities, provinces or country.

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty has capitalized on division in his campaign against Ontario’s teachers. In an attempt to fight against his tactics, a group of activists and I created this Q&A on Bill 115 and teachers’ struggles. Feel free to share it, add to it in the comment section or offer your feedback.

While Bill 115 is about to be repealed, because much of its contents was forced upon teachers in a contract, its elements will remain.

What is Bill 115?
Bill 115 imposes a contract on all education workers (teachers, educational assistants, custodians, social workers, secretaries and lunchroom workers), some of who earn minimum wage. In early 2013, the McGuinty government intervened in the relationship between “management” (school boards) and the unions’ normal negotiation processes and forced a contract through legislation on all public elementary and secondary school workers.

The Liberals announced that they intend to repeal Bill 115 once implemented, proof that is unfair and likely unconstitutional because it restricts collective bargaining rights. If the legislation is eventually challenged for its constitutionality, there won’t be anything that can be done to change it, as it won’t exist any longer.

Really??
Yes. This is dirty politics at its worst. BIll 115 also doesn’t allow for appeals to the Labour Board or a third party arbitrator. No recourse exists to challenge or change the Act. This is why many teachers have resorted to withholding work that they would normally do as volunteers. Unfortunately, students who rely on extracurriculars, and the majority of teachers who love coaching or supervising clubs, suffer the most.

The government knew that this would be teachers’ only recourse and are banking on it damaging teachers’ image with the public to lose public support.

What are the biggest problems with the imposed contracts?
These imposed contracts undercut the role of the elected School Board trustees as management to determine what they think is best for their communities. It also removes teachers’ elected representatives from negotiating a fair contract for education workers. The Ontario government is circumventing two forms of democratic representation and forcing its will on both sides of the bargaining table.

In addition to the wage freeze, Bill 115 changes how sick days can be accrued. Teachers get no vacation pay. Instead, they are paid for 10 months of work, pro-rated over 12 months. Previously, many teachers could bank unused sick days and have them paid out much like workers’ vacation days or time in lieu. The new “use ‘em or lose ‘em” policy means sick days will now cost double what it used to to pay them out (when factoring in the cost of sick day usage and paying for supply teachers).

But teachers have it pretty easy. I do tough physical labour all day. They play with kids.
As with all workers, teachers are dedicated; they know it is a privilege to work with, advise and mentor your kids. On an assembly line, defective parts are thrown out–but teachers cannot just discard the kids that need extra help.

The impact teachers have on the lives and outcomes of our children is profound. If our government treats teachers like this, you can bet that they will treat other workers just as poorly.

I’m confused; didn’t Dalton McGuinty resign?
Yes, but even though he’s stopped all business of the Ontario Legislature since early October, he decided to stay Premier until the Liberal Party’s leadership race in late January. Every decision that he has made since he prorogued parliament has been done without the democratic force of our government behind it.

It sounds like he’s trying to use the teachers as a distraction.
Probably. Remember that he resigned and prorogued government amid allegations that his party wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in the temporary closure of a gas plant in Mississauga. His minister of energy, Chris Bentley, was facing a motion of censure that could have landed him in jail.

Will this affect me as a worker in another sector?
Yes. The teachers are being used as a test case. If the government is able to interfere in the collective bargaining process of a sector, even if the interference may be unconstitutional, they will use similar tactics against other workers. Bill 115 has allowed the McGuinty government to circumvent the only democratic process that workers have, and force them to take concession contracts.

Do you really think the government would come after private sector workers in the same way?
As industries change and as foreign ownership continues to play a role in labour politics, the Ontario government is going to look for what pieces of anti-union legislation to keep wages low and boost corporate profits. The closure of the Electro-Motive plant in London is proof that our governments are uninterested in protecting workers. Just as we will fight U.S.-style Right to Work legislation when it appears in Canada, we have to fight Ontario anti-union legislation in other sectors.

The Liberals only react when they think it will cost them votes or support. This means that all workers have to oppose Bill 115 and support education workers, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because when we’re targeted by these policies, we’ll need support.

Dear Ontario teachers:

12 Sep

I know you’re angry right now. You should be. That your bargaining process has been interrupted by the reprehensible actions of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in Ontario should outrage you and all Ontarians who support you.

I want to acknowledge your pain. Having never had a student wet himself beside me, having never had to separate a fight where girls’ hair is strewn across the floor, having never had to explain why the Merchant of Venice doesn’t suck, having never had to stop myself from swearing for more than a few days at a time….I know that what you do I could never do. What you do, most people can’t do. Even with the shitty teachers lumped in, the service you give to the community deserves to be acknowledged, honoured and celebrated.

Somehow, this message hasn’t gotten to Dalton McGuinty. Somehow his teacher-wife who I assume he talks to has withheld this vital information from him whenever they chat. Somehow his memories of high school (likely awkward) have clouded his judgement. Values of fairness, respect and process have been lost or forgotten.

Today was a terrible day in the history of Ontario.

In part, you are to blame. You spend too much time with students. Unlike the current government, you don’t issue a press release every time little Preethy learns to spell or big Hugh walks into class on time. You don’t brag to the world that another cohort of students have come and gone from your classroom with more knowledge than before. If you took the government’s approach to public relations, you would release an advisory about every child, every three days, even if medium-sized James was still a terrible fractioner.

In part, your union representatives are to blame. They thought that only Hudak could be as bad as Mike Harris. They were wrong. They thought that *maybe* Dalton was different. Despite having taken no action on much of the waste and poor policy ideas of the Harris years (like EQAO), they thought -just maybe- Dalton’ll respect us.

Did you know that one of the stats that Dalton likes to keep referencing is that under his watch, there’s been zero days lost to teacher strikes? He drags that out whenever he can. I first saw it at the Liberal convention in 2011. No mention, of course, that Ontario have a college professor strike under his watch. But who’s counting?

Dalton knows that playing politics with teachers is risky business. Screwing over the people who spend the most time with your children is not the smartest idea. But, his kids are grown now so bets are off, apparently.

You’ve all been used. Disrespected. Shamed. He’s hoping that you’ll return to your classrooms and never mention this again. He knows that your other political options aren’t the strongest and that many of you will reluctantly return to the Liberal tent.

But, you don’t have to do this.

You’ve just experienced what many progressive people would call “oppression” and it was at the hands of the “law” or, the people who you elected to represent you. These people were empowered by your votes, are paid with by your money, play with your money and then make your most powerful tool, a strike, illegal.

When you experience an injustice at the hands of people you pay and you elected, you have to first acknowledge that you’re part of the problem. Then, that there’s something you can do to fix it.

I urge you to think beyond work-to-rule. That pisses off the most keen or the most in need of extracurrirulars. The most keen will grow up to become embittered politicians and repeat this vicious cycle. The most in need of extracurriculars are the ones you care about the most.

Instead:

-Refuse to mark anything. Refuse to submit grades. Refuse to administer tests. Use this as an opportunity to be creative and responsive to your students. Give fake grades to the students who need to hear that they’re better than everyone else.

-Refuse to administer the government’s standard tests. Return the tests blank.

-Talk to your students about what has happened. Organize protests at your school in any way you can.

-Mail all your garbage to Queen’s Park. Because, why not? (primary teachers: this could include wood shavings…)

-Take your kids outside for class once a week. Hold class outside in protest (the kids will probably love this).

-Write a letter and send it to all of your kids’ parents about how you have been affected by this decision.

-Consider a wildcat strike. Tell your most active, badass kids to spread the word in advance so that no one actually shows up to school.

-Encourage your students to boycott their uniforms.

-Never forget and spend every second you have not marking to rage against this decision.

-Make sure that you have a few colleagues ready to take action with you. Do this together.

Teachers, I really feel for you. This hasn’t been fair. But, remember that the saying “no justice, no peace” actually means something.

Keep the children safe, get creative, and fight back with everything you have.

 

**I updated a sentence where I misused a comma. The rogue comma lead some to the interpretation that I think elementary teachers are garbage. It has been corrected.

The era of the publicly assisted entity

30 Jun

For months, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Glen Murray, has been promising a revolutionary, new, innovative, amazing, spectacular, life-altering, history-creating, groundbreaking *policy* change that would bring higher education into some fictional reality most of us aren’t privy to.

Well, its discussion paper (whatever that means) has been released. It’s here. It’s SO revolutionary that you’ve probably never heard of it before. It’s the hipster version of policy delivery.

*Spoiler alert* it’s written as if the conclusions are foregone.

I could waste a lot of time telling you why I think this entire thing is a charade, but I respect (most of) you too much to waste your time. So, I’ll stick to the most obvious signal, for me, that this will be an exercise in the generation of vacant buzz words rather than progressive, positive policy development.

At the FIRST mention of universities, the discussion paper (whatever that means) refers to universities as “publicly assisted” rather than public.

This is important.

This year, nearly all Ontario universities will collect more revenue from private sources than from public sources to fund operations. This effectively means that they’ve been privatized by stealth. It’s worth noting that, before Glen blocked me and others on Twitter, he called us liars when we pointed this out. Look it up yourself. Make sure it’s comparing operating grants to tuition fees, otherwise, it’s lumping in a bunch of other funding envelopes that will skew this number. But, anyway, we’re past the era of public universities and the government is obviously aware of this.

So, what’s wrong with such a line in such a discussion paper (whatever that means)?

It’s a foregone conclusion. It readily admits that the government is uninterested in increasing its funding to universities. And, if they don’t, students do.

Saying that the system isn’t sustainable and there’s a problem, but then admitting in your own definitions that you’re uninterested in any solution that includes increased government funding is simple cognitive dissonance. Underfunding *is* the problem. How can you have an open consultation process when you’ve already settled on the idea that government is not going to pony up the dough?

I’m living in Québec now, I should stop caring about Ontario. But, it’s really hard. The Liberals there are a making worse decisions about higher education than Mike Harris. Re-read that 10 times aloud, please. It can’t be said enough. Dalton hasn’t once reversed any of the garbage tuition fee decisions that were made by Mike Harris. In fact, he layered a 71% fee increase on top of Harris’ fees.

This “crisis” that Glen is hoping to solve through twitter conversations (seriously, he’s asked for twitter comments on this, unless he’s blocked you, like all vocal student critics in Toronto at least once have been), was created by him, previous Ministers and his government. Actually, Nick Falvo talks about this in the broader Canadian sense, here.

Sorry if I’m pessimistic about this exercise, but it just doesn’t feel right. It’s like bringing the thief who broke into your house and stole your Gibson back as a consultant to give advice on thief-proofing your guitars.

I’m likely to write more about this later, and folks at the Ontario Office of the Canadian Federation of Students will likely have something along the lines of what I’ve written (but footnoted!), but there’s something in my stomach that dies a little when I see phrases like “publicly assisted.”

Or, we should at least insist on consistency: publicly assisted hospitals. Publicly assisted dairy farmers. Publicly assisted Rogers Inc. Publicly assisted Inco. Publicly assisted Caterpillar….sorry, scratch that one.