Tag Archives: Ontario

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While Bill 115 is about to be repealed, because much of its contents was forced upon teachers in a contract, its elements will remain.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

General Assemblies, student movements and Québec’s cégeps

6 Nov

Half of the members’ meeting at Ryerson Students’ Union, Nov, 2010 (courtesy: The Eyeopener)

Having watched most of the Québec student protests from Ontario, I’ve obviously spent hours thinking about the differences between the Québec student movement and the Ontario student movement. And I’ve come up with a few theories that I hope to write into something…someday.

Luckily, others have similar questions as I do. Doug Nesbitt, PhD student at Queen’s and the local PSAC president, has done some thinking on this. And so, because I’ve spent most of my day dealing with the bureaucracy of the state in French and my brain is fried, I’m sharing with you what he’s posted at his blog. Nothing I write next will be as good as his analysis…

Doug focuses on the role of General Assemblies and how they have helped to build Québec’s movement into what it is today. I agree that GAs have been critical to politicizing generations of students. They have helped to circumvent conservative student leadership and maintain the necessary accountability of those students who “float to the top” of a formal students’ union’s executive.

But I can’t believe that it’s *just* General Assemblies. While GAs politicize students who attend them, what is the factor getting students in the door in the first place?

At Ryerson, our General Meetings would normally reach 150 students while more contentious meetings may have topped out at 400. At McMaster University last year, thanks to a heavy advertising campaign and the promise of the MOST AMAZING FROSH WEEK EVAAARRRR more than 600 students attended the MSU GA to vote in favour of an ancillary fee hike. It’s hard to explain how this is possible if we look only at the GA model and how it has fueled generations of activists in Québec. These Ontario examples don’t make sense.

I think that the most significant reason for the differences in the student movements in Ontario and Québec isn’t just the decision-making structure, it’s the role of cégeps.

During my time in the student movement, I always found graduate/second degree/college transfer students easier to organize. They came to their new educational tier with baggage: debt from a previous degree/diploma/certificate, experience (sometimes negative) from another degree (and even school) and maturity that grew out of their first round of post-secondary education. They spent more time in the system and were more ready to challenge what they had witnessed in their first educational experiences as being unjust, but not necessarily having the time, opportunity or willingness to act. I found my work to explain the effects of debt, tuition fees, large classes etc. was always easier with these students as they had an experience that we could link the facts to.

Imagine if Ontario’s colleges were full of students who had already done a few years at college? Imagine every student walked into a university already having experienced the soul-crushing bureaucracy of higher education? The context for organizing would be entirely different.

There’s a reason why cégep students lead the strikes in Québec. The dangerous combination of free higher education, a radicalizing movement and participatory democracy blew up into an amazing student strike. And every university student involved in the strike had been introduced to the student movement either directly or indirectly through their time at cégep.

This has to be said: identifying this difference isn’t to say that it is impossible for Ontario students to organize provincially in the way Québec students have. I think it’s critical that if Ontario students are going to figure out how best to carve out their own movement, the right analyses of the differences (and similarities) are necessary to lead to appropriate organizing techniques.

I have a lot more to say about this…and it’s later than I had intended to be up (and I wrote more than I intended to write) but I will flesh this out. I’m interested in feedback too, as always, but especially on this. The history of the student movement (or movements) hasn’t been told well enough…and who better to tell it than those of us who’ve been there.

The Province of Northern Ontario

5 Oct

George Orwell warned us. Somehow he knew that the future would be marked by the use of words that mean one thing but that mean another.

In many ways, it should have been inconceivable (I don’t think it means what you think it means).

I’m thinking of this because I came across the use of one of these doublespeak words while looking up an article for this post.

Sustainable.

Here’s a definition I copied and pasted. With my French classes making me comb through dictionaries 68 times a day, I don’t feel like transcribing what my Canadian Oxford Dictionary says. But, you’ll get the point.

sus·tain·a·ble/səˈstānəbəl/

Adjective:
  1. Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
  2. (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture) Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources

The least popular Liberal in Northern Ontario, Rick Bartolucci used the word “sustainable” to justify the divestment in the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, according to the North Bay Nugget.

In the release, Northern Development Minister Rick Bartolucci says the divestment of the ONTC is necessary to promote sustainable transportation and telecommunications services in the North – now and in the future.

“This thorough and competitive sales process will ensure the buyer selected for Ontera is best able to meet provincial priorities to deliver telecommunications services, stimulate the economy, sustain jobs and provide value for taxpayers,” he said.

You got that?

Turning over the telecommunications infrastructure and service of Northern Ontario to a private corporation will ensure the sustainability of phone service in the North. Divesting in rail and bus service will ensure the sustainability of transportation in the North.

I’ll repeat: removing the public accountability inherent in these organizations (through, you know, democracy), Northerners will be better served by Rogers or Coach Canada or…you know, the likely replacement in the case of most transportation services….nothing. Jobs will be lost. Workers will be paid less. Services will suffer.

It’s easy to ignore that companies like Greyhound nearly cancelled routes in Northwestern Ontario because they’re not profitable enough (though a public pressure campaign convinced the company to keep some services). Forget the fact that the ONTC exists because Northern Ontario is a large place and the normal rules of capitalism haven’t really convinced politicians to create transportation systems that actually help people (rather than the mines). Let’s pretend to not remember the vast network of quasi-public (more public than private anyway) system of transportation that moves people throughout the GTA called GO Transit that also costs a lot of money to operate.

These things are forgettable for two reasons.

The first is that for most people in Southern Ontario, Northern Ontario starts at Orillia. And when the tip of the iceberg is mistaken for the entire thing, bad decisions will be made.

The second is that for the Liberal Party, they can mail a bag of turds to most Northerners and it will not likely change what people think about their party. The Liberal supporters will blame it on the kids down the street. The vast remaining majority will further despise the party.

So, attacking the telecommunications network Ontera and killing the Northlander are good political decisions. They won’t likely hurt the Liberals.

(Though, as the party with arguably the most support in the North, the NDP made a huge political and moral mistake by not including support for the ONTC in their budget negotiations with the Liberals.)

A few weeks ago, I encouraged people to not fear discussions about Québec independence. In that same vein, I think that it’s clear: Northern Ontario needs to become its own province. Not a country, yet, but at least a province.

For many people in positions of power, the North, especially with the Liberal’s drooly romance with the Ring of Fire, seems to be nothing more than a bunch of vacant land with lots of wickedly expensive crap under the soil. For industries who will  profit from the activities in the North, infrastructure, telecommunications and quality of life of Northerners is only important insofar as it encourages and enables their profits to grow. This colonial relationship continues to drive communities into poverty and perverts local leadership to support programs that aren’t what their communities want.

Bay street doesn’t care about Sault Ste. Marie, Hearst or Geraldton. Neither does Queen’s Park. And, together, such an attitude leads to a decision like the divestment of the ONTC.

Imagine the possibilities inherent in the creation of a new province: The chance to build a transportation infrastructure that connects communities with rail and bus lines that can bring students home from Lakehead University or Northern College. Imagine starting a province where people come together to create what they want, rather than inheriting a series of messes created by the South? Imagine being able to make decisions without waiting for permission from the faraway land of Toronto.

Imagine what Northern Ontario could look like if the people in the North were the decision-makers? Imagine the possibilities for First Nations communities, many of who struggle for self-determination and some of who have successfully fought against mining or logging companies looking to profit off their “resources.”

To me, that would lead to something sustainable. That would create jobs and infrastructure that actually works for Northerners.

All communities in Canada are struggling with another form of doublespeak: where their “democracies” are less democratic and more a tyranny of the minority. In Northern Ontario, it’s clear that the current arrangement in the province does not work in the best interests of the people there and something has to change.

If Northern Ontario can’t get any respect from the South as an appendage then its time to create a new entity that could form a relationship with Toronto or Winnipeg (or Chicago) on it’s own terms.

Enough of having to beg from the scraps left over from the Greater Toronto Area.

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.

Ontario students: it’s time to step up

10 Sep

In 2005 during the last college professor strike, CSA organized students to protest their professors by wearing pawn hats and making signs like these.

I’m writing this listening to April 26 1992 by Sublime. If you’ve never heard it, you must. It was in Québec City where I first heard this song many years ago and, having had the FTAA protests, it’s a pretty appropriate place to be introduced to such a song.

So, while writing this, I’m inspired by songs of rioting. I just thought it was useful for you to know that.

This week, Statistics Canada should release its tuition fee data. If it’s like the past two years it will come out late next week. Or, if it’s like the 2 years before that, late October.

Québec students just had a massive victory. After the longest student strike in Canadian history, a high profile campaign that embarrassed the hell out of the establishment and sticking to principles of direct democracy, they managed to block the hike like they said they would. They also embarrassed the hell out of Jean Charest who’s next political step will have to be behind the veil of patronage that is given to all failed politicians who, despite having received a veritable shit kicking, still slide their selves into high paying consultant positions or new, high profile law firms.

Actually, if Charest receives anything less than a Senate appointment, my guess is that we can assume he was snubbed. Or maybe he’ll take over for Dalton McGuinty.

Now, for activists who believe that higher education should be free, this isn’t a total victory. The PQ will continue to increase tuition fees by the rate of inflation, but it’s much better than what Charest was promising.

Indeed, the students have won enough hearts and minds of Québecers to truly influence government.

Québec’s fees will remain relatively stable next week in StatsCan’s data. So will Newfoundland and Labrador’s, where students, united, have been successful at rolling back tuition fees at a rate unseen in any other Canadian province.

For Ontario, the data will demonstrate, again, that students will be paying more. With the seventh consecutive tuition fee increase of up to 8%, Ontario’s tuition fee gap as the most expensive province in which to study will continue to widen. On average, undergrad tuition fees will likely rise from $6,640 per year to $6,972. That’s nearly $7K *on average*.  For graduate students, their average fees will likely be around $8,184 (this number is misleading: StatsCan has admitted to excluding MBA tuition fees from this calculation because, as they told us at the CFS at the start of this practice, it skews the average…. wtf).

None of what I’ve written here, though, will be a surprise to any student who has just received their tuition fee bill.

This is the fault of neo-liberal wolves wearing some sheepskin trying to pretend that they’re of the enlightened humanist class (just read the Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities says online…) Ontario students cannot afford to keep accepting these tuition fee hikes.

And yet, “student” organizations like the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the College Student Alliance strangle any hope of activism on their campus through their confusing use of doublespeak, faulty logic and outright lies. OUSA’s last major submission boasted that they had the plan to increase quality without any additional cost. This, coming from an organization that supports higher tuition fees, is outrageous and certainly not reflecting the opinions of anyone on their campuses who aren’t members of the Young Liberals or babysitting the houses of their university administrators. The College Student Alliance was too busy playing a public relations game to support college management during OPSEU’s recent round of negotiations to even discuss quality or tuition fees any time recently on their website, though their last coherent position on tuition fees was that they should rise by (wait for it………) five per cent.

Ontario students have to take back the student organizing on their campuses. They have to approach their students’ unions, use their resources and organize through the structures that they can access. If, like at McMaster University, their General Assemblies have been taken over by Liberal/Conservative students who are only interested in raising student fees to give the administration more money for student activities, the students have to rise up and take back their students’ union.

It’s absurd that Ontario students, studying right beside Québec, pay three times more for the same education. The only difference is that students in Ontario have been betrayed by all three political parties and the popular movements that support lower fees are more organized in Québec.  So, some lessons:

College students: take back your students’ unions. College students in Québec have *free* education and you can too. You need to get organized, take control back from student union staff who have built fiefdoms around them and kick them out. It’s your money, it’s your campus and it’s your right.

University students: everything I said for college students goes for you too, other than the free education part. Get organized. Reject the rhetoric of “pragmatic lobbying” that so many Liberal-controlled students’ unions hide behind and democratize your students’ unions.

If you go to a school where your students’ union is a member of the Canadian Federation of Students, your task will be easier. Show up one day and volunteer, call a general assembly or organize an action. If you find it isn’t that simple, leave a message below and I’ll hook you up.

Québec (and Newfoundland and Labrador) show Ontario students that it is possible. It’s totally possible. All it takes is strategy, solidarity, some risk-taking, creativity and a relentless drive for fairness and justice for you and your classmates.

Welcome back to school. I too have three classes this semester and will be feeling your pain..though as a student through the University of Saskatchewan, my tuition fees this year were lower than they were at Ryerson when I started in 2003.

What will it take to make it stop?

3 Sep

I can tell when I’m being mocked.

I spent the day painting, sanding and caulking. I sat down at my computer with some tea and thought it was time to write something for this blog. But I couldn’t think of what.

Thankfully, Louise Brown at the Toronto Star came through (just like old times when I worked at the CFS). She posted this.

Now, I’m not going to spend time deconstructing the journalism of the story, or why it would be the case that this is news, now (on a Sunday of a long weekend, 3o days before the subject of the article is set to be released), but I am going to go bananas on the content of the article.

Glen Murray’s at it again. And, knowing the yesmen and yeswomen that he has built around him at the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, he’s not going to get the advice that he needs to hear.

I’ve wrote about this plan a few times. Here, for Huffington Post. Here, on this blog. In case you missed it, here’s a primer:

A document was leaked that promised to push through a suite of changes to higher education in Ontario that included:

Shortening degrees to four years
Placing 1/3 of all undergraduate courses online
Forcing schools to offer education in three semesters
Docking university budgets by 3% if this plan isn’t implemented
Boosting university budgets by 3% if the plan is implemented and the president calls Glen personally to say he’s really, really smart.

[ok, I made up the last part]

The plan was panned by nearly everyone that matters in the sector.

In a stunning show of idiocy, Murray’s Ministry continued with the plan as if nothing had happened. A discussion paper was issued and consultations occurred over the summer. But, because we *already* know the plan, we know that the results are already figured and that these consultations are a dog and pony show, similar to the one Bob Rae was torn up over by Ontario’s students, staff and faculty, in 2006.

On Sept. 30, Murray will either announce exactly what was contained in the leaked document from February, or soften it somewhat so that it’s a “good news story” full of consultation and a pleased OUSA and CSA.

Here’s what’s absolutely certain: nothing will actually come of these changes. OUSA and CSA will be pleased.

One year tomorrow I was stuck at the door of the Liberal Party platform launch at a hotel in downtown Toronto. Dalton McGuinty, with an adoring Murray looking on (I’m guessing), announced that tuition fees would be reduced for Ontario undergraduate students by 30%. One year later, we now know that the program offered a grant of less than 30% to one in nine Ontario students.

This plan is going to be similarly distorted. We know this because it’s happened with the credit transfer system promise (other than the creation of a committee, nothing’s happened) and the online institute (something happened, and it was shelved).

Heather Mallick wrote this in response to the last time this report was written about. It’s really good and I’m not going to repeat what she says.

But, I will say this.

Ontario students do not want three year degrees. This can be said with certainty as we look at how nearly all of Ontario’s three-year degrees were phased out since the elimination of OAC.

Ontario students do not want three semesters. It’s not practical. Thanks to the same government, working during the summer is a necessity. The working theory that Murray et al. had was that if students could study all summer, they could take advantage of a job market less saturated by workers, like during the winter. Except the job market doesn’t work like that. There aren’t thousands of workers taking summer holidays leaving open spots for students. Instead, they’ll be fighting each other over Tim Horton’s and McDonalds jobs in January.

Ontario students do not want to be forced to take an online class. Ever taken an online class? IT ISN’T THE SAME AS CLASS IRL. It just isn’t. Allowing students the choice to study online isn’t what’s being proposed. As Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy once said in a pre-budget consultation, no 17-year-old proudly announces to their parents that they’re going to school, and runs into his room, closes the door and goes online.

And, contrary to Louise Brown’s article’s assertion, no student wants to be one of 3,500 fucking students in a single first year class. No one. I don’t care if Jesus is playing the banjo for the duration of the course. It’s not education. At best, its entertainment. At worse, it’s the rock bottom of a system that has had the shit kicked out of it so badly by government after government that it will never recover.

Just like the current assault on teachers, this is an attempt to destroy Ontario’s higher education system. The most outrageous part is that words like “innovative” “creative” “transformation” and (my personal favourite because it makes me want to drill my fist into the monitor of my computer) “spend smarter” are taking the place of the words that should actually be there: austerity, cut backs, destruction. If the Ontario Liberals haven’t figured out how to “spend smarter” after being in office since 2003, it’s time to resign.

Each one of these changes will need to be approved by Senates, Boards of Governors and unions/faculty associations. There are enough obstacles to stop it that, if unified, students and workers should be able to. It’ll also likely be opposed by free-thinking administrators, who will likely oppose this just as much as the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

But, they going to have to oppose this with everything they have. And it’s not going to be easy, with OUSA and CSA cheer-leading from the sidelines.

Glen: I know you love the Internet and I assume you’re an avid Googler of your name. When you eventually find this, I need you to read this to yourself, internally, using the voice of your mother. Stop this hair-brained scheme. Stop it immediately. You’re going to fail or (what’s worse) you’re going to destroy Ontario’s education system. It’s the opposite of what Ontario needs, what students want and it shows that you’re dangerously unqualified for the portfolio you hold.

If you want to maintain the facade of capability, make this plan disappear.

 

Why students in the Rest of Canada aren’t a homogenous mass

8 Aug

Have you read this yet? It’s the subject of this post.

I think it’s necessary for the student movement in the ROC (rest of Canada for you ROC’ers) to examine the difference in student organizing outside Québec. I’m glad Brian Platt took a shot at it (actually, a good shot at it), although I think he missed some important aspects of the student movement outside of Québec.

I spent the last year of my job with the Canadian Federation of Students asking this question: what makes Québec’s model of organizing so effective? How have they succeeded in mass mobilization? While I think Platt makes some reasonable arguments, his main thesis, “anglophone student unions aren’t built for protesting” is untrue. Differences do exist between Québec students’ unions and the ROC but it’s not this simple.

Sandy Hudson and I came up with four reasons for why the Québec student movement has been so successful and what Ontario can learn from it, but that’s a topic for another bottle of wine.

On Platt’s piece. First off, there’s a huge difference between students’ unions that are structurally apolitical and politically apolitical (or politically oriented such that they support the government of the day). There are many students’ unions in Canada that are political apolitical, but not that many that are structurally apolitical. Universities like Queen’s, Western, McMaster and others in Ontario, for example, have vast resources, but fail to venture past a Liberal politic in their campaigns. This isn’t to say they couldn’t become politicized. Most college students’ unions in Ontario have also been depoliticized, but it has been more through the co-optation of student leaders, not necessarily thanks to the structures of their students’ unions.

From what I’ve seen, the students’ unions in Ontario that get away with being the least political (or most Conservative/Liberal) are the ones where their executive members are not elected at large. Or, where their representatives are selected structurally by the fewest people. In most cases, the president is elected at large, then he/she either appoints their vice-presidents or they are selected by board members who received fewer votes relative to what someone running for a VP position would receive. This is highly undemocratic and is a structure that keeps a dissenting politic out of the students’ union. The examples of this that I am aware of are at a few Ontario university students’ unions that are members of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, with two or three exceptions, and part-time students’ unions with a delegated class representative structure. Some college students’ unions are also organized this way.

Platt argues that the time spent on services is what really stops ROC students’ unions from mobilizing the way Québec students have. This is only the case where there aren’t enough activists involved in a students’ union. Of course, if your one activist is busy signing health opt out cheques and not mobilizing for a General Assembly, it’s a struggle between the two. But services are inherently political. The service centres that are strong in many Ontario students’ unions are what drive students to their students’ unions. Racialized student collectives, women’s centres, disability centres and others help to outreach to students and enable them to access the mainstream student political sphere. Where these services don’t exist, the student union is obviously and persistently less diverse. This is the case in many students’ unions in Québec and the movement is noticeably less diverse than it should be.

University and college services are political and should be organized and coordinated by students. The existence of profiteering health and dental brokers (one of which I’ve had the peripheral pleasure of being sued by, being locked into a contract by, settling with and then being locked in a contract again…some of the signatories to that agreement did get jobs, so at least they sold out for something, I guess), is one of the obvious examples of why students should control their services. A glance at Ontario’s UHIP system can show anyone how damaging for students’ interests and their pockets it can be when administrators control student services. And yes, coordinating these services takes a lot of time. This is why it is critical for active, service-heavy students’ unions to ensure that they are placing as much importance and as many resources into the campaigns work that they have.

I think it is also critical for ROC students’ unions to examine how students have organized in Québec and adopt the tactics needed to bolster similar efforts outside of Québec. Provincial solidarity is a major part and will make organizing in provinces like Manitoba or Newfoundland and Labrador easier (they also happen to be the other two provinces with the lowest tuition fees in Canada). In a province like Ontario, provincial solidarity is not remotely possible in the current state of affairs. This is a threat to the capacity of the Ontario student movement.

But the general assembly model is an important one that students’ unions should work to adopt. Organizing at the grassroots means going into each classroom, asking for them to select a representative and having open GAs at the departmental level where attendance is mandatory for class representatives, and encouraged for everyone else. Starting at this point would not only be constitutionally possible for local students’ unions, but would reach students in the classroom while they’re on campus. Minimizing students’ efforts to get them involved is critical, especially when tuition fees mean that you also have to work two jobs to stay afloat. Professors also become critical at this level, as access to their classes requires a level of support for the movement.

The most important critique of Platt’s piece, though, is that the ROC is not a homogenous mass.  The differences that exist among the students’ unions in Halifax alone cannot be ignored. Writing solely about one’s experience with the AMS at UBC (arguably one of Canada’s most bureaucratic and least political forces out there) and CUSA at Carleton (a service-heavy students’ union where campaigns this year have been eliminated by the current regime) doesn’t effectively capture the reality of the Canadian scene.

I was elected to the Ryerson Students’ Union where I think we did the best we could to balance our services (two businesses, taking back control of our student centre, the pub and the cafe, grade appeals help, health plan and five equity service groups, events etc.), but I know we could have done more. And, these things are always evolving. The current executive is probably doing more than we were able to achieve. While there are students’ unions I would consider to be comparable to RSU in size, scope and campaigns work, I’m under no illusion that RSU represented anything more than itself.

That’s the danger of these generalizations. Both applied to the ROC and to the Québec student movement, they are somewhat helpful, but not really.

Although, at the very least, I’ve just leaked 1156 words on this. Brian Platt gets all the credit for that.