What education minister Laurel Broten announced on Thursday is not a collective agreement. There was no collective of people negotiating teachers’ contracts, and there was no agreement. Bill 115 gave the government the power to impose contracts, but it did nothing to ensure labour peace in the education system.
Premier Dalton McGuinty set out to create one of the best education systems in the world, and he has largely succeeded. But he also wanted to ensure the goodwill of teachers, and instead, in the waning days of his leadership, has left an antagonistic mess.
Broten has now said that Bill 115 will be repealed. The so-called Putting Students First Act has done its draconian job. Whether one sympathizes with teachers or not, it’s difficult to accept that the Liberal government, with the support of Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives, are willing to write and pass one-time, disposable legislation in order to get their own way.
Broten cannot seriously hope that repealing the bill after the fact will ensure teachers will willingly and happily return to the many voluntary activities they provide to students. Teachers now have absolutely no security in believing that the government, in 2014, will negotiate a contract in good faith rather than unilaterally imposing one.
This whole fiasco will be bad for students down the road, but it’s also bad for Ontarians — those who have children in school and those who do not. With a potential spring election and Hudak’s right-to-work proposal, the erosion of collective bargaining rights has begun. And it won’t end until the government realizes that workers who make a fair wage are not a threat to the economy, but the engine of it.