Opening Statement



Wednesday, 5 October 2011

OECTA, Diversity + The 3 Party Platforms


OECTA members should have received the two latest "Speak For Children" bulletins outlining and comparing the party platforms for the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP. It's useful to review these and consider which party would be best for our education system and the province as we get ready to vote Thursday, October 6th.


It seems the NDP's popular "just plain folk" policy thrust aptly covers working family issues. In education it's pretty thread bare. An education platform wasn't added until later on in the campaign. It lists a few motherhood issues like fundraising and so on. Much of it concerns colleges and university tuition. There's a lot of emphasis on equality and access issues throughout.


Having put the spectre of the Bob Rae years behind her, Andrea Horwath is now coming out on her own as a force to be reckoned with. She has done well during this campaign in identifying and establishing herself in the public eye.  Andrea has the confidence of OECTA, and an increasing numbers of Ontarians. The NDP must now figure how the party can move into the middle mainstream of Ontario politics in a convincible way without alienating their old left wing support. If the NDP ends up holding the balance of power on election day they will certainly find many opportunities to do so. On the other hand if there is too much Liberal and NDP vote splitting, and the Conservatives come down the middle to form a majority government, they might just as quickly find themselves rendered redundant.


The Liberal education platform seems quite detailed, without any big ticket expense items. It follows Dalton's steady course as "Premier Dad" in strongly supporting publicly funded education as the keystone of the party's platform; for economic growth and renewal we need a well trained and educated workforce. As usual the party has squarely placed itself in the middle of the Ontario political spectrum. The Liberals straddle economic issues with a cautious right of centre approach, and social issues with a more  left of centre approach. McGuinty's firm managerial hand writing is all over the party platform, and is being further reinforced constantly in his final speeches and t.v. ads as we race towards election day on Oct 6


The Conservatives continue to throw out wedge issues as a negative divide and conquer strategy squarely from the political right. Despite claims of being in support of education and health care their platform creates an economic tax "black hole" that the province won't be able to crawl out from without inevitable service cuts and expensive user fees. Lacking a clearly defined or upfront Ontario political vision, Tim Hudak's Conservatives continue to hammer away at the same old scapegoats; union bashing, foreigners, and chasing welfare cheats. Don't forget his promise to create prison chain gangs to clean up our streets. Their latest is the homophobic fear mongering about equity and inclusivity issues in our schools. It's all supposedly a ridiculous Liberal plot to force children to cross dress and gender bend nursery rhymes into tales of homosexual lust and sin. The Conservatives must think our teachers are pretty stupid if they really believe that's what is going to happen.


Hudak knows many Catholics in our province are quite concerned about gay lifestyles being openly displayed in a Catholic school setting. Or with Gay Straight Alliance Clubs being set up too. However, the Conservative position is clearly fear mongering at its worst. Recent flyers and outrageous claims ridiculously take equity and inclusivity points out of context. They are exaggerated wildly to feed the flames of anger on both sides of the issue in our own church community, while antagonizing many secular groups on the outside as well. When opposition to equity and inclusivity issues is dressed up as hate literature, the flip side is that public funding of our Catholic schools on human right grounds is called into question.The Conservatives are clearing playing with fire and brimstone in this final ugly twist to their campaign. Whatever political advantage Hudak might gain could well leave lingering flames that will continue to burn long after the election is over.


Equity and inclusion, as it pertains to gays and lesbian issues has been a particularly divisive denominational verses human rights issue within and outside the Catholic school community. It's even been argued that it could be indicative of an even more deep rooted schism within the very Catholic church itself. For Mr. Hudak to play this card in a last minute dash for votes is highly reprehensible.

The TCDSB's new Director of Education, Bruce Rodrigues, has acknowledged in his welcoming address to our school community the recent amendments emphasizing our school board's predominant denominational rights. Short of naming Gay Straight Alliance Clubs and implementing them in our schools, a school board policy is now in place to deal with the furor from last spring.


That Mr. Hudak should revive the spectre now only further emphasizes in this writer's mind, how desperate he must be. It seems he will say and do whatever it takes to win, without concern for the effect that could have on the well being of the province as a whole. Please remember also, that in opposition and on the campaign trail he can say or promise voters anything that strikes his fancy. It's disheartening to see him be so careless and callous. Is that the sort of leadership that we want?


I realize many of my readers who still oppose the boards new equity and inclusivity policy are sincerely concerned about protecting family values. My father, John Chiarelli, was also an educator. He was a strong advocate for pro-life in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. He attended the rallies and protests well into his seventies until he died of a sudden heart attack a few years ago. I often feel it is only right that I carry on the good fight, and indeed, a pro life position was one of the TSU election platforms I ran on last spring. I wish to see this very important family value be more widely acknowledged by both board and union, especially during Respect for Life week. Like many I am concerned that it often seems to have fallen by the wayside over the past decade or so.


I myself see pro-life in it's widest sense as a positive movement to help protect families and young parents, so they can raise their children well with strong values, which include respect for life and each other. Without proper social services and a public support net one fears they will increasingly decide to go the abortion route rather than try to raise their child. Tim Hudak's Conservatives argue that tax cuts will put more money back in the family pocket, but at what cost?


Mr. Hudak has been quite disingenuous in attacking Premier McGuinty as the "tax man" while promising his party won't raise taxes. He has not promised to roll them back either, and outside of shuffling spare change around a bit, he plans to keep all the current tax programs, including the HST in place if elected. At the same time he promises to increase spending on healthcare and education. Simple math tells us that there will need to be deep service cuts and high user fees that will hurt these very same struggling working parents and families the worst.

That isn't a very positive election promise for creating the kind of Ontario I want to live in. We need to look after each other, and the less fortunate. My Ontario does not include everybody just looking out for themselves. It is here that the unborn child is most likely to fall through the cracks of our family values in the face of desperation and pure naked self interest.


We live in an increasingly secular world, of that there is no doubt. Mr. Hudak's negative campaigning continues to pit rich against poor, civil rights against denominational rights, and look for scapegoats; be they unions, welfare recipients, or foreigners. Whomever strikes his political ire is to blame for our current economic woes. He's desperate to create and inflame wedge issues that will only serve to divide us in Ontario.

Before we vote on October 6 each of us must ask ourselves two questions. Look over the OECTA "Speaks for Children" literature. You have the party platforms, broken down in much greater detail than I could hope to duplicate here. You have a list of recommended education friendly candidates to consider. We all need to think carefully about everything that has been said and done during this fall's election campaign by the three main party's and ask ourselves: Who speaks for our children best? And what kind of province do we really want?


As Catholic teachers we know that education is the bedrock on which any strong community will thrive and grow with opportunities for all. We may not like every rocky road that takes us down, but as educators we can and do make a difference. Let's vote to continue to make Ontario a great place to live despite all the problems we collectively face. Educate yourself. Make an educated vote. Please speak out for our children by electing an education friendly government on October 6th.

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