Opening Statement



Tuesday, 27 September 2011

OECTA Endorsements + Catholic School Funding


All Ontario English Catholic Teacher's Association Toronto Secondary Unit [OECTA TSU] members should have received the election edition of our unit's "Highlights" newsletter. It includes the list of provincial election candidates OECTA has endorsed. OECTA reviewed each candidate and party platform on education in helping decide who made the list. You can trust these are all education friendly picks.


The newsletter has highlighted the fact that Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak refused to meet with our teachers for the past two years while developing his education platform for the election. I have discussed this too, in a blog earlier this month. Anyway, it should come as no surprise for our teachers who were around between 1995-2003 considering the Conservative party's track record during the Harris years. Neither Tim Hudak nor any other Conservative candidates have made the list. However rest assured fair due process was followed in screening all the candidates when asking OECTA's big election question, "Who Speaks For Children?"

We can't help it that Tim Hudak's Conservative Party refuses to meet with us as Catholic teachers to discuss their education policy. OECTA would be remiss if you weren't advised accordingly. It's a good idea to look over TSU Highlight's election issue carefully and think for yourself about what it says.


So that's Highlights for you. Look it over. It's highly recommend. Now for some unofficial election scuttlebutt of my own dear readers.


Your teacher's union knows you are no dummy. We are all teachers. We can think critically. These endorsements are recommendations. Just that. Nobody at OECTA who I met during my eleven years with your TSU, or your Provincial PAC for that matter, can or would even want to force you to vote this way or that. Any such "union thuggery" claims are pure baloney. As always you will hopefully look over the list, consider the information, and ask yourself "Who Speaks For Children?" best. OECTA has provided us as members with these endorsements in good faith as a Catholic educational advocacy group. Recommendations have been made but of course we can and will think for ourselves. It's disingenuous to claim otherwise.


You have probably heard some critics taking potshots at OECTA's one time $60 election fee increase passed at our Annual General Meeting [AGM] this spring. Was the vote conducted fairly? I know for a fact, as a member of our TSU executive that a members support for the motion or lack thereof, was not an issue in approving the applications among those who volunteered to attend during their March Break as your rep. I also know, having been at the AGM,  that 2/3's of the conference supported the motion. Also that amongst the 1/3 who didn't, most weren't actually against funding the "Who Speaks For Children?" campaign . They wanted to use up our strike fund for it first. In the end, after a very long and thorough debate a clear majority seemed to realize that would leave us in a very precarious situation should the Conservatives win this fall's Ontario provincial election.


One can only wish more members had read the pre-AGM materials that were sent out by OECTA before the spring AGM. If they had disagreed with the motion, which was clearly presented there they should've volunteered to come to speak up back then and vote accordingly. That's what our resolutions meeting and the spring AGM are for. The information, forum and procedures were all made readily available for us at school if you looked so that everyone could have their say!


You should know that it is no secret former Harris Education Minister and Tax Cut Axeman John Snobelen was working the Hudak backrooms in the lead up to this fall's election. He was telling all and sundry that the Harris Conservatives only made two mistakes when they won in 1995. They didn't go fast and hard enough in creating an education crisis.


If you will remember, Ontario's teachers became the scapegoats used to gut school funding in all the boards across the province so the new Conservative government could cut services to pay for it's promised tax cuts. Premier Harris even went on t.v. during the evenings to put us down as lazy, incompetent and overpaid. That might sound crazy if you weren't teaching then but please believe me, it is not something you as a teacher would ever want to experience at home, in your community, or the next day at school.


Of course OECTA wants to speak out now during the election so this doesn't happen again. As an educational advocacy group made up of teachers, our involvement in the election process should be no more suspect or of a surprise to anybody, least of all Tim Hudak. Concerned professional, corporate, business, citizen and developer groups do this all the time. We are just upfront about it. Issue advocacy is a very common part of our political process. That's been the case under all of the last three consecutive Liberal, Conservative and NDP governments. It can even be traced a lot further back than that, both at home here in Ontario and abroad.


I would like to further address some other misconceptions about our our teacher's union role at both the professional and contractual level. That will take a future post. Suffice to say, how could our Catholic teacher's union support Hudak's education plan for our members when you weren't even consulted about it? So of course he is going to complain when OECTA speaks out now and hope enough voters are naive enough to believe him. Pure political trickery, but then divisive politics is the name of his game. Some folk will say and do anything just so long as they win! We know that, unfortunately sometimes even at TSU.


Rather than belabour the consultation issue further, let me just change track a bit and say, "Thank God Catholic school funding hasn't become a big election issue -yet!".


Officially, the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP have all told OECTA that they support public funding for our Catholic schools. The Green Party is running against Catholic school funding but so far haven't gotten very far with it. However, we know the Conservatives have in the past supported an ill thought out faith based schooling plan that would not have been good for our Catholic school funding model. They also supported Charter Schools, which defacto would mean we could end up privatized, rather than being publically funded.


Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has always been firm in his funding support for us. However at the Young Liberal meetings there have been motions presented in the past to eliminate Catholic school funding. Nothing came of this but the situation warrants watching.


NDP leader Andrea Horwath has assured us the NDP supports Catholic school funding. However her opponent in the last leadership race, MPP Michael Prue, doesn't. You will notice in the Highlights list that OECTA is not endorsing Prue this year. I doubt it's a coincidence. NDP Education critic Rosario Marchese has apparently seen the light and reversed his stand. Since he's also done a lot of positive things for education in general, I'd suppose thats why he remains on the list. Still please note; there is at least one motion made at every NDP policy convention calling, so far unsuccessfully, for the elimination of public funding for our Catholic schools.


Let me give you an interesting tip. Some homework if you will. There are local candidate debates currently going on in every riding. It would be wise to consider asking all the candidates the following question at your local debate so you can further help decide for yourself which is best for our Catholic schools. I would suggest you ask them all a very simple but direct question:


Do you support continued public funding for the Catholic schools?


I've heard through the election grapevine that not all the election candidates have been sticking to their party platform in supporting us during the riding debates. This remains a rumour for now but I would suggest that it is pressing and persistent enough to warrant your immediate concern. At the grassroot's Catholic community level it's well worth asking every candidate this question at each and every riding debate across the province, even the candidates we've endorsed. If anyone refuses to attend the debate I'd be suspicious of that too.


If I heard a candidate say they didn't support Catholic school funding, or waiver or duck the issue at my local riding debate, I would certainly advise my family, friends, parish and school community asap. A quick phone call to your local OECTA unit office would also be very helpful too. All of our members should know, along with the candidate's party leader. Any rogue candidates who are against us can then be quickly identified and taken to task. Anything less could prove dangerously foolish, regardless of their party affiliation!


Most political pundits, both pro and con, realize that sooner or later Catholic school funding will become an election issue. If it doesn't explode this fall, then it most likely will at some point during the next two provincial elections should the current trends persist. True, the denominational rights of our Catholic schools are constitutional, dating to Confederation in 1867, and are included in the British North American Act which created the Dominion of Canada, as we referred to our new country back then. However, that does not mean the government is bound by law to fund us all the way through secondary school. This has only been done incrementally over the past century or so, not being fully extended right through secondary school until 1985. Conservative Premier Bill Davis rattled a lot of chains when he did so just before retiring from office. The rancor was quite aweful.


By the way, I don't think you can consider OECTA to be anti-Conservative. Bill Davis was made an honourary OECTA member. Moreover, every year the current Conservative leader is invited to our OECTA AGM. Every year they decline, except for former party leader John Tory who attended dinner to honour our teachers. Of course he was too "red" for most Conservatives, including Tim Hudak, and is gone today.


Those same chains that were being rattled during Conservative Premier Bill Davis final days are still being rattled today. If anything they are only growing louder, so please keep your ears peeled! It's our Catholic community that will lose out if enough popular and political support is created to cut public funding for our Catholic schools. Maybe others will argue it's a great way to pay for tax cuts, or that it wouldn't be approved if Confederation had happened today. Who knows?


Let's be prepared. Our publically funded Ontario Catholic schools remain quite unique, even across Canada now, and certainly abroad. Few of us would argue that it's better to be safe than sorry. Please look over Highlights and my blogs. Consider "Who Speaks For Children?" We need to take a strong stand for our profession, our students and our schools by electing an educational friendly government come October 6th. It's also very important that they will support our Catholic Schools in particular, during the difficult years ahead.



Hudak and Harris: Tim is him? Let's not find out the hard way! Once was enough! See my further election blogs below, of check my archives, below this column, for other interesting stuff...

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