By Stew Slater
Two differing visions of the term “goodwill” emerged earlier this week from opposing sides of the ongoing Ontario teacher labour dispute.
On Monday, Jan. 21, the ruling Liberals announced they will repeal Bill 115, labelled by the government as the “Putting Students First Act” when it was passed last fall, as a means of “promoting goodwill and stability in Ontario’s schools.” A news release from the government stated the return of goodwill is being accomplished “by addressing a key concern of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)” unions — namely, the very existence of Bill 115 and the limitations on public sector collective bargaining it contains.
“Kill Bill 115,” demanded one of the protest signs held aloft on Wednesday, Jan. 16 outside the Woodstock constituency office of Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, as members of the Thames Valley District local of the OSSTF joined counterparts in various parts of the province in after-hours demonstrations. Laurie MacDonald, bargaining representative for OSSTF members at College Avenue Secondary School in Woodstock, told the Journal Argus during the protest — which came five days prior to the government’s repeal of Putting Students First — that “we’re hoping to bring public awareness to Bill 115” and convince the government to return to collective bargaining.
Originally, OSSTF leadership had planned a “day of action” for Jan. 16, including a day-time removal of services and march in Toronto, but that was called after after a one-day ETFO walk-out was scuttled at the 11th hour by a ruling of the province’s Labour Relations Board.
“I think the public needs to be informed about the issues,” MacDonald said, when asked why teachers still felt it was important to hit the streets in Woodstock after their daytime duties were complete.
In the Avon Maitland board, District 8 OSSTF local president Jeff Denys explained there were no after-hours marches in Huron or Perth Counties on Jan. 16. That’s because the region’s relatively sparse population base makes it difficult to gather a large contingent of placard-carrying teachers together in one place on short notice.
Instead, Denys told the Journal Argus, the Avon Maitland local leadership is “putting all our effort, 100 per cent, into attending the rally on Saturday in Toronto.” He’s referring to a planned demonstration outside the provincial Liberal leadership convention, with six busloads of the Avon Maitland board’s teachers booked to attend as of Monday afternoon.
“We believe (Saturday’s demonstration) is our best hope for showing the new premier, whoever that is, that (the current strategy of the government) is not the best way to bring this problem to a resolution,” Denys said.
By “this problem,” Denys is referring mainly to the withdrawal by ETFO and OSSTF members from the supervision of extra-curricular activities, including the coaching of sports teams and leadership of clubs and school bands. Monday’s news release from the government explains that Bill 115 is no longer necessary because it served its purpose by allowing the government to impose new two-year deals on members of the two unions. But the supervision of extra-curriculars is not strictly covered in those deals, and the two unions have asked members to withdraw from what are presented as voluntary roles.
And, according to Denys, union members will return to supervisory duties “when the government demonstrates that they respect the collective bargaining process, and are willing to come to the table without a hidden agenda.”
The local OSSTF president also presents a different version of “goodwill” from that proposed by the government with the repeal of Bill 115. In Denys’ version, goodwill returns if and when the imposed contracts are renegotiated.
“They’ve legislated,” he said. “But you can’t legislate goodwill. And, through their actions, they’ve destroyed the goodwill that was present in our schools.”
Stratford Northwestern Secondary School Principal Martin Ritsma told the Journal Argus last week that he would love to see the decision to withdraw from extra-curricular supervision revisited, whether through allowing individual teachers to make choices, or revisiting the decision entirely.
But Denys wanted to make sure the public is aware that it’s not the provincial leadership of the OSSTF which has mandated withdrawal from specific voluntary duties. Instead, he said, each union local has a rules committee, made up of teaching members, which has the final authority over what is included in labour action.
“We can have any number of arguments about how crucial sports teams are to the high school experience, and how being able to be a part of the band is a valuable element of a good education, but, at the end of the day, I would call those curriculum enhancements as opposed to curriculum delivery,” Denys explained. “You don’t need to be a member of the basketball team to get a credit in Phys. Ed. You don’t need to be a member of the band to get a credit in Music.”
He added that “this is not going to last forever. Some sort of resolution is going to be found.” But it’s going to take a return of the elusive “goodwill,” and “what that eventually looks like, I don’t know.”