Shortly after midnight on 4 December 2019, it was announced that the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (Ontario’s trade union) and the provincial government failed to reach a tentative deal in their contract talks. As a result, on 4 December, a one-day province-wide strike was held, not only emptying the halls of Marc Garneau CI, but all other public high schools throughout Ontario.
After the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario won a majority government in 2018, leader Doug Ford authorized many changes to lessen the province’s budget deficit. Among these changes were cuts to the education budget, resulting in increased class sizes and the loss of teaching jobs. The government is also proposing mandated online courses. These cuts mean that public school students will receive less equipment, course options, and personal support from teachers.
For the past two hundred days, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) has been negotiating with the government to scale back the planned cuts. When talks stalled, the OSSTF began a work-to-rule campaign, meaning that the 60 000 high-school teachers and support workers across the province would only do the absolute minimum required of their jobs. Originally, the OSSTF planned to cancel participation in extracurriculars such as sports teams, clubs, and other programs; however, the federation changed its plan due to objections from teachers. As a result of the work-to-rule campaign, teachers will not provide report card comments or participate in certain staff meetings.
The one-day strike occurred as an attempt to pressure the government into making an agreement. Thousands of staff members picketed outside schools including Marc Garneau CI. Among those included Ms. Longpre and Ms. Lajeunesse from MGCI, who shared their experiences with Global News, particularly their stances on eLearning.
“I think that there’s a lot of value to eLearning but there’s a lot of value for very specific kids, kids who are very independent, who come from resource, who have their own computers they constantly have access to. It doesn’t work to make it mandatory,” said Ms. Longpre, an English teacher at Marc Garneau.
“ELearning is very hard for students who struggle with literacy or any of the executive functioning skills. They can’t do the eLearning and the platform itself is not ready,” said English teacher Ms. Lajeunesse.
Nelson Lee, a Grade 12 student at MGCI, also attended the strike. “It was amazing. There was a lot of unity amongst teachers. Their job and passion is to teach so they’ll stop at nothing when something is in the way of that. They were protesting a terrible proposal by being positive and making everyone remember it’s for the students, not them,” said Nelson. He also reported that numerous vehicles honked in support as they passed by.
The government has responded to some of the demands of the OSSTF. As of 3 December, the province had reduced the number of mandatory online courses from four to two and the proposed average class sizes from twenty-eight to twenty-five students (the current average is just over twenty-two). The union also requested a 2 percent increase in wages to reflect the inflation increases.
Other students and teachers in the school have similar perspectives about the actions taken by the OSSTF. “It’s a good thing that the teachers went on strike to show that they’re serious about this and they’re doing this for the kids,” said a grade 9 student who chose to remain anonymous. She also added that her older sister had tried an eLearning course said that it wasn’t helpful and the workload was too heavy.
Ms. Manjra, a Phys-Ed teacher at Marc Garneau, spoke about the cuts to the budget. “I don’t feel good about the cuts Doug Ford is trying to implement. It hurts the teachers, it hurts the students. We are already feeling the effects of the increase in size. The teachers have a harder time meeting the need of each individual student.” When asked about how she felt about the union’s actions regarding the strike, she said that she thinks that it has the students’ and teachers’ best interests at heart and that we all collectively need to cooperate.
As a contract between the union and the government has yet not been agreed upon, the OSSLT is still fighting for our rights as students to the best education possible. The union has announced a second one-day strike which will take place on 11 December 2019 should an agreement not be reached before then.
The president of OSSTF, Harvey Bischof, said that they’d be happy to keep negotiating, but that “it has to be on the basis of a proposal not just going back and sitting at the bargaining table.”