As teacher unions and the Ontario government have sparred behind closed doors over proposed changes to the province’s education system, a very public battle has taken place simultaneously.
That fight has been for the Ontario taxpayer’s support. And both sides have given the impression it’s the latter they feel is most important.
A sign that Premier Doug Ford and Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce were losing that battle came last week.
Both the premier and minister made very public announcements stating they were willing to concede defeat on two of the major sticking points in negotiations-dropping class size from 28 to 23 and doing away with mandatory online courses.
They were also quick to point out that they were holding firm at their offer of a one per cent cost of living increase for teachers.
The intent of the announcement was obvious-convince the taxpayers that if teachers don’t accept this offer, it clearly means they’re only after more money and not looking out for the well-being of the students. The government’s willingness to share their side of meetings with education union reps, complete with their own crunched numbers, is a stark contrast compared to their approach with the details surrounding the deal with 3M and what it cost to produce the much maligned dark blue license plates.
In that instance, they’re been rather tight lipped on contract negotiations.
If polls are to be trusted, the Ford government was wise to back off on bigger class sizes and e-learning. Even data collected within ‘blue’ ridings from the most recent election showed the public’s support was leaning towards educators.
Polls are always subject to debate and questions of accuracy, but the government’s willingness to back off on a stance they held firm for almost a calendar year could indicate some concern on their part as they start to look ahead towards next election, which is just over two years away.
Unions representing the various levels of Ontario educators haven’t been silent on the matter either, taking to social media to share their side of the matter.
The public protests that have become a weekly occurrence are also another way the unions look to sway the public’s opinion. Quite frankly, Lecce already knows the unions aren’t happy with him, so the clever signs with biting messages likely aren’t intended for his eyes. The ‘he said, she said’ rhetoric isn’t going to get students back into the class anytime soon.
Rather than trying to ‘win’ the court of public opinion, both sides should be focusing on finding a solution that allows the province to provide the best level of education as possible.
The students have already lost enough.
Adam Prudhomme is editor of the Napanee Beaver