The Ontario Teachers Strike

Canada’s most populated province has been in the midst of a Teachers Union dispute since November

By Joshua Weigert
Feb 17, 2020
(Image Header: Teachers participating in rolling strikes across the province of Ontario. Source – Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Chances are, you haven’t heard about the Ontario teacher’s strike. Why would you have? Unless you live in the province of Ontario or actively search for Canadian provincial news, public sector strikes within a Canadian province doesn’t receive national or international coverage. However in this particular case, it should be reported on internationally. The ongoing union dispute highlights the power of large public unions and their bully-like mentality. This strike highlights how most governments can frivolously spend taxpayer dollars to appease public unions. It should provide thought and reflection about where all of your taxpayer dollars are going and which individuals are benefiting.

The teacher’s union attempts to frame this strike as teachers fighting for students rights. It is in no way about the students, but instead about their own selfish interests. The entire dispute comes down to 2 things: Class sizes and money.

Before discussing the 2 main areas of contention between the province and the teachers union, we need to take a quick look at the province of Ontario and what the teacher’s union currently have in their contracts.

Ontario is in serious debt. As of February 15, 2020, that debt is almost at $350 billion CAD. To put it into perspective, Ontario has a population of about 14.5 million people. Both the capital or the country, Ottawa, and the economic capital, Toronto, are located in the province. Ontario’s per capita debt is over $18,000 USD, four and a half times the per capita debt of California (1). The Ontario debt is larger than the GDP of 75% of the world’s countries (2).

The current Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford of the Progressive Conservative Party, ran on a platform of cutting the debt. Like with any politician running on a “cut the debt” platform, there is always pushback when cuts are proposed. The art community was upset because of planned cuts to arts funding. The medical and disability communities were upset because of planned cuts to autism funding by the government. Lastly, the teachers unions were upset because of planned cuts to education.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford. FordNationDougFord

The teacher’s union in Ontario is one of the largest public unions in the province. The union has been able to bully the province with regular strikes into higher wages, more time off, lower class sizes, and virtually everything else they wanted. Currently, the average yearly wage a teacher makes in Ontario is $92,000. In comparison, the average annual salary of an Ontario worker is about $55,500 (3). It’s not just the teachers wages. A report submitted to a former Premier, Dalton McGuinty, stated that a typical teacher retires at aged 59, several years before the average Ontario worker. The pension is largely paid by the province, not the deducted wages from the teachers (3). The Ontario school year lasts 187 instruction days. Teachers received 2 months off in July and August, as well as march break, Christmas break, and a variety of extra “professional development” days (usually 1 a month). Teachers also receive 11 fully paid sick days a year, where unused sick days can be carried forward (4). On top of this, school boards offer teachers a variety of extra (usually 4 or 5) miscellaneous or “family leave” days. Lastly and most shockingly, the union was able to negotiate 120 short-term disability days at 90% pay (4). As previously mentioned, there are 187 working days for teachers in the year. An individual, in theory, can not work 136, or 73% of the working days. Is there a wonder why the Ontario debt is astronomical?

You may be thinking that it’s rather difficult to abuse this system, or that it doesn’t ever happen. In late October, it was revealed that a teacher on sick leave from the beginning of the school year in Toronto, was found teaching at a Montreal, Quebec, school. On top of that, she had mounted an unsuccessful campaign to be elected as a representative of a federal party in the Montreal district. She ended up working on the successful candidate’s campaign in the district for a seat in federal parliament. Unsurprisingly, the federal party she was running as a candidate for was the NDP, a left wing and socialist party (5).

There are several key issues in this case. Yes, the province of Ontario paid her to pretend to be sick. Yes she abused 2 different school boards. However an important thing to note is that a long-term contract had to be given to her teaching replacement while being on sick leave in Toronto. This is the unnecessary spending that inevitably occurs when taxpayers are footing the bill to public unions. It is important to stress that I am not against people earning high wages and great benefits. what the issue here is that public unions are taking advantage of the government and taxpayers.

Facebook picture of Roseline Dorcin, a Toronto teacher on sick leave found to be working in Montreal. FACEBOOK

What more can the teachers union want?

The class sizes in Ontario varies depending on region, district and school grades. To put it simply, average class sizes across any board cannot exceed 23 students for primary school grades, 24.5 students for middle school grades, and lastly, 22 students for high school grades (6). The province of Ontario attempted to raise the class size average to 28 students across the board, which the union vehemently rejected.

The Ford government then attempted to negotiate and meet half way by proposing raising the class average to 25 students over a four year period, which the union still vehemently rejected. It is no doubt difficult for teachers to have more students in a class. Class disruptions, learning disabilities, home issues, etc. all play a factor in the difficulty level of teaching students. However, we naturally want to make our jobs easier in any and every way we can. That doesn’t mean the employer is obligated to make it easier, especially when the employer is the taxpayers in a province that is in extreme debt. Raising the class averages to 25 students can potentially save the taxpayers 10% in teachers wages.

The union also rejected a plan to move 2 of the province’s mandatory 30 high school classes online, which would save even more money. The union has no intention of saving taxpayer dollars. They do not care about the debt crisis in Ontario. The union’s goal is to employ more teachers, which in turn adds more union dues to the pockets of the union heads.

Teachers striking outside the Royal York as Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks to the Canadian Club in Toronto. Steve Russell/Toronto Star

Originally, the union claimed that this contract dispute had nothing to do with teacher wages, but cuts to certain education programs. However this isn’t true. In mid-December, the union legally challenged Bill 124, the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, which was passed by the Ontario conservative’s majority government and capped public sector wage increases to 1% for the next three years (8). The union has now demanded a yearly 2% wage increase, which would cost the taxpayers an additional $1.5 billion, to be added to the negotiations (9). The union has done a fantastic job creating propaganda ads and attacking the Ford Conservative government. Since June, the union has spent more than $336,389 on Facebook attack ads alone (10). They spread memes and misleading information like the image below.

Misleading graphic spread throughout Ontario regarding teachers strike

Unfortunately, their ads are effective. The above image has circulated like wildfire through facebook friends, other public sector unions, media pages, and even cultural and city pages like NarCity and 6ixbuzz. However, is this graphing true? No, it isn’t.

There has been a 10 year wage freeze on Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs). This freeze was instilled by a previous Liberal government and 2 successive Premiers have not touched the wage freeze (11). However, Deputy Ministers have received an incremental 14% wage increase since 2016. Deputy Ministers are senior leaders within the non-partisan Ontario Public Service, provide policy advice and other support to elected officials (12). The only issue is that the Ford Conservative government has only been in office since 2018. These pay increases were approved of before he took office by the previous Liberal government, the same government the union overwhelmingly supported.

Let’s say that this graphic was true, and that 31 members of Ford’s government received a 14% wage increase this year. That’s around a $30,000 increase for each member, which totals about $930,000. There are more than 160,000 teachers in the province. If an Ontario teacher only made $300 a year, and each teacher received a 2% increase, collectively, it would be more than the $930,000 that the 31 MPPs would have received.

To summarize, the Ontario teacher’s union has robbed taxpayers for decades. The union does not have the needs of students, or even the province, in mind when they negotiate. Instead, they, like most unions, try to get as much as they can for their constituents. However, the teachers union is a public union and taxpayers and the provincial debt needs to be taken into account when negotiating new public union contracts. If the teachers union really cared about the needs of the children, they would propose a slash in their own benefits and wages and redistribute the funds to additional education funds.

However they won’t because they would rather condemn the very children they claim to care about to a lifetime of provincial debt than to take a cut in wages and benefits.

Sources in Order of Appearance