The table is set for teachers’ bargaining. But it is set to blow up, booby-trapped by government blunderbuss.
Doug Ford won’t be the first premier to be entangled by teachers’ unions. But he will prove to be the most myopic, oblivious to the lessons of recent history and the author of his own misfortune — despite enjoying the good fortune of good economic times.
This month, as negotiations reached their culminations with the major teachers’ unions, the Progressive Conservative government conveniently passed into law a 1 per cent ceiling on the outcome. Put another way, it wants the talks over before they truly begin.
It is not just a formula for unfairness, but a recipe for failure. To understand why Ford’s bullying will boomerang, let us go back in time.
Remember Bob Rae’s NDP government? New Democrats thought they could coax teachers into sharing the pain of tough economic times with a “social contract” — which union leaders burned at the stake (big mistake).
From its ashes arose the “common sense revolution” of Mike Harris that didn’t quite decapitate its victims, as Robespierre’s revolutionaries once did, merely cut teachers off at the knees. It was the undoing of the Harris PCs.
After that scorched earth policy, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals tried giving teachers what they wanted, including a handsome 12 per cent from 2008 to 2012. But when he asked for a freeze amid an economic crisis, he got the same cold shoulder that Rae received two decades earlier.
That’s when history was made. Joining hands with the opposition Tories, McGuinty’s minority government pre-emptively legislated restrictions on their collective bargaining rights. The Liberals won the day only to lose years later when the courts reinforced Charter rights for free collective bargaining unimpeded by political meddling.
His successor as premier, Kathleen Wynne, tried to make amends by giving teachers what they wanted ahead of the 2018 election. The elementary teachers’ union repaid that political debt by promptly endorsing the NDP (which didn’t stop Ford’s Tories from triumphing).
Which takes us to today, and back to the future. Like Harris before him — and without learning the lessons of McGuinty after that — our current premier has set the stage for confrontation.
With a difference. In their defence, the Liberals in 2012, like the PCs and NDP in the 1990s, were facing undeniable constraints — a recession, a runaway budget, and an economic crisis.
Today’s Tories, not so much. To be sure, there is a debt overhang, but the deficit figures are dramatically overstated — literally and figuratively speaking:
A $15 billion deficit trumpeted by Ford proved to be a fiction of his fertile imagination — disputed even by the auditor general, and disproven by his finance minister (who restated the deficit at $7.4 billion for the last fiscal year). A scary deficit helps set the context for cuts, but an overstated deficit only undercuts the case.
An inflated deficit devalues the currency of public finances and undermines the government’s public credibility. Not merely with teachers, but parents and voters (not to mention students).
Pretending that we face an economic emergency — as the premier did earlier this year with dark talk of a “carbon tax recession” — is not only irresponsible but unsupportable. The government’s own spring budget and fall update show steady economic growth today continuing through the next two years, with unemployment at the lowest level in decades.
So by what possible metric — deficit, economic or employment — do the Tories justify a harsh crackdown against teachers and other public servants, who faced wage austerity in 2012 amid the last (genuine) economic downturn? The only metric that matters is self-interest
During the recent federal election campaign, Ford fell on his sword to avoid school closures by CUPE support staff — ostensibly to spare students any hardship, but more obviously to shield his fellow Tories on the campaign trail from any fallout. Having conjured up a midcampaign truce with CUPE, the Tories are now gunning for a post-election confrontation with the remaining teachers’ unions.
It is not just unfair and unjust, it is politically injudicious. And almost certainly unlawful.
How does this government explain its phoney war to teachers and students, parents and voters, all of whom will pay the price for its miscalculations? Tell it to a judge. SOURCE