Opening Statement



Sunday, 5 February 2012

Our Education Minister: Some Thoughts + Speculation

Etobicoke Lakeshore Liberal MPP and Minister of Education Laurel Broten held her 9th New Year Levee with her many constituents, family, friends and helpers back in her home riding on January 29th. I recognised a number of our TSU members present including Counsellor Bianka Hudek who has worked with Laurel since our unit first helped her get elected in 2003. Indeed Laurel was quick to recognise us all and note, in her address, that at least a third of her election workers have been teachers. She looks forward to continue working with us now in her new role as Minister of Education.

I have posted before why I think Laurel could serve us very well as Minster of Education. There will  however, be challenges, of that there isn't any doubt. Our contract talks will begin soon. When I enquired about this, Laurel noted that it is not easy getting all the various partners to sit down together at the provincial table first to set up a framework for our local negotiations as in years past. We must also consider that there is no longer a majority Liberal government at Queens Park. It's only a one seat minority, but still the political climate will have changed as the new legislature meets to carry out it's work.

You have probably heard about the Drummond Report which will make recommendations on how the province might balance the budget. We can expect the Tim Hudak Conservatives to continue to call for pay and benefit cuts for teachers and other members of the public service sector. NDP leader Andrea Horwath will take the exact opposite tact, insisting even more be spent. The McGuinty Liberals will once again be in the political centre trying to perform a balancing act. Public opinion could sway all over the place rocking the political spectrum from right to left. Watch with interest; it will be a very difficult balancing act indeed!

TSU Ad Hoc Special Education [AHSE] Chair Linda Witney was also in attendance at the Levee and met our new Minister of Education. Our AHSE committee is currently involved in carrying out a Special Education review to be shared with our Local Bargaining Committee to use during the contract talks. Of course, in any such contract negotiation, there are pay, benefit and working condition issues that will all need to be addressed. I haven't any doubt Laurel will be very educational friendly to us as teachers, but of course she will have a difficult balancing act to perform with our many different partners in education, who will also be letting the ministry know what they think and want too.

I have discussed our AHSE Committee work before, and will do so again soon, to explain our work further. In the meantime suffice to say that when the contract is being hammered out there will be a lot of important issues and different interests discussed at the table. It's good to know OECTA Provincial  Government Relations has had a very good working relationship with Laurel, most notably over the past while in developing the all day Kindergarten program when Laurel had the Minstery of Child and Youth portfolio. And of course she isn't a stranger at TSU either. Special Education is certainly one of many issues, both the TCDSB and us will want to discuss.

On our way into the Levee Laurel, Janet and I reminisced a bit about the Witmar years. Who could've guessed then, at the beginning of our long struggle to elect and support an education friendly government, that someday Laurel would be our Minister of Education? Likewise who knows what will happen in the years ahead?

There was some very interesting scuttlebutt making the rounds at the Levee on the possibility of Premier McGuinty stepping down and calling a provincial leadership convention during his 3rd term in office. Such speculation is not new. Apparently he promised his wife Terry that he would only be premier for 10 years, and she is keen to hold him to this, and get back home to Ottawa. The latest speculation is that Dalton is considering a run in the Federal Liberal Leadership race! Both the Provincial and the Federal liberals were doing a lot of hobnobbing during their concurrent conventions in Ottawa recently, and a lot of Dalton's speeches and addresses have more national than provincial references in them as of late. If you consider that Dalton McGuinty is now the longest reigning and most successful Liberal Party leader in Canada, the idea of him running for Federal Liberal Party leader might not be too far fetched. We will have to wait to see.

The possibility opens up another interesting prospect. Who would then run for Ontario Provincial Liberal Leader? Kennedy and Smitherman are long gone now. Kathleen Wynne's name often comes up, but how would she play outside the Metro Toronto mindset? What about Laurel then? She's young, married, has two kids in our French Catholic immersion schools, and an experienced profile that includes the Environment, Healthcare, Childcare and Education Ministries. It's interesting to speculate. Could Laurel someday become our first female Ontario Premier?

Even those closest to Laurel at the Levee, family not withstanding claim they don't know what Laurel might do, even suggesting perhaps she won't until the time arrives. It might be a prospect to watch for carefully over the next year or two as she settles down into her newest high profile ministry.

In the meantime, other more immediate and pressing issues are ready to possibly boil over on the front burner of Ontario educational politics. There's the new contract, the GSA [Gay Straught Alliance Club] issue in the Catholic schools; on and on the list goes. Laurel will definitely be one minister to watch with great interest over the next little while as she rises to the many challenges that lie ahead!

PS: You can find my October posting on Laurel in my Blog Archives at the bottom of this column. Likewise in my September and October blogs I have discussed the Ontario political scene in greater depth, especially as it affects our Catholic schools. Also what Andrea Horwath needs to do. There is more info on AHSE in the December Archives as well. Photos from the Levee are posted in the slide show top screen left. Your comments are always appreciated in person, or via the link in the space below each blog.

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