Ontario, for the past few months, has been swept up in a whirlwind by teachers’ strikes all over the province. Fighting for smaller class sizes, higher pay, and other benefits, some teachers’ unions have threatened to cancel report cards for students, while others have stopped extracurriculars. A few regions, such as Peel and Durham, also witnessed the shutting down of schools and cancellation of examinations. To top it all, Ontarians were left in further shock by the news that followed: 7.1 million dollars were recently handed out to negotiating teachers’ unions and school boards to compensate for their “expenses” during the 47 days of collective bargaining . This is 7.1 million dollars too many.
During the endless hours of negotiations, union members must have had a stay at the Birmingham palace and feasted on gold crusted pizzas-Minister of Education, Liz Sandals, surely made it seem so. 7.1 million dollars is an unnecessarily extravagant amount to be spent on “necessities.” Indeed, pizza parties for the striking teachers have gobbled up money that should have been directed to Ontario’s education system. Surely the provincial government realizes that they are not recounting a very convincing tale.
With Premier Kathleen Wynne preaching transparency in provincial government, it is ironic that this event was not widely and clearly reported to Ontario residents. Bits of information were dropped here and there by the Minister and the Premier regarding the subject. Some press conferences were conducted, and the matter was briefly touched upon in an interview. Some vague arguments occurred in parliament. In any case, Ms. Wynne is certainly not living up to campaign promises.
We also have to take into consideration that the government is funding those who they are bargaining against. Providing funds could potentially compel unions to prolong the bargaining process, something the government obviously should not want. The Liberals exclaim that paying for the unions’ expenses is their responsibility, but have yet to take into consideration the students and families who suffered during the bargaining process.
If Ms. Wynne is bent on following these “fair” rules, and compensating the unions for their troubles, then she has to consider everyone affected by the strike. Parents who work during school hours had to make arrangements for kids when schools went on strike. After all, daycares and babysitters do not come for free. Evidently, expenses were incurred by affected citizens during the strike, so why were they not compensated? The Premier, it seems, refuses to acknowledge the other side of the coin.
More so, the provincial government can’t seem to decide whether paying for the unions’ expenses is customary practice, or whether it occurred due to the lengthy bargaining process.
The new two-tier bargaining system, introduced in 2014, allows employers and staff to discuss and tailor specific terms and conditions in their agreement. Although this system makes strikes more difficult to occur, the two-tier bargaining system is an extremely stretched-out process. Sandals was quick to point out that the new system requires a greater amount of time than before, which rationalizes payment for the union’s’ expenses.
However, a quick stroll through memory lane reveals that these payments are in fact not a new concept at all. Since 2008, the government has used 3.7 million of taxpayers’ dollars for negotiating costs. Some members, possibly unaware of the Minister’s excuse, saw this as a potential explanation to the payouts and started the blame game, saying,“It has been done in the past, so why question it now?”
This internal rift amongst the government itself has left citizens more wary of its actions. While some Liberal members point to the bargaining system as reasoning for the payout, others believe compensation to be typical practice. The government is showing inexcusable indecisiveness on the issue. And if the Liberals do not even know what the cause of the problem is, how can they say their actions are justified?
If the provincial government does decide that the new bargaining system was the cause of this event, then they should take action against it. Ontarians all across the province will agree that the government should focus on changing problematic policies, rather than dishing out money to unions. Conservative leader Patrick Brown made a statement exclaiming that the Liberal government is using students’ money for “a faulty negotiation process.” Ontario agrees.
And as the Liberals are extremely fond of estimates, let’s make one ourselves. Decisions such as these will leave Liberals riding the losing horse in future provincial elections.
But of course, that is merely an estimation.