Opening Statement



Sunday, 11 March 2012

Windsor AGM: The Education Minister's Reception!


Educational Minister Laurel Broten was greeted by a cold but respectful silence at this morning's OECTA AGM in Windsor. She received a polite reception from Provincial Executive President Kevin O'Dwyer focusing on her law and political career. Emphasis was placed upon her work at the Womans Affairs Directorate rather than at the Education Ministry.

Our delegates from across the province listened silently. There were no hand claps, or ovations, nor were there any hisses, boos or desultory comments. As she left she waved but it was to a crowd of blank faces sitting on their hands. The address went without incident in an incredible display of our typical OECTA restraint.

OECTA excels at quiet diplomacy. We talk. We exhaust all our options. Then when we take action it is very decisive. There isn't any haphazard grandstanding or idle threats. Most of the talking is completed behind the scenes through our lobbying and discussions with the Ministry. OECTA Provincial Government Relations works together with our local PACs [Political Advisory Committees]. We have a very good, credible track record, and are taken for our word at Queens Park.

In the past week or so we have seen ETFO [Elementary Teacher Federation of Ontario] walk out abruptly on the PDT talks. We have seen OSSTF [Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation]dis-invite Minister Broten to their AGM this weekend. OECTA has stayed the course. The invitation remains; Come on back to the table and let's talk! We are not done yet!

Minister Broten reiterated the salary and grid freeze in her speech. I heard her mention the gratuity question. She noted only a few boards offer it. I did not recall any mention of the reduced sick days, and definitely not the pension cap. Was this significant, or just not her focus today? We will have to see. I would be careful about reading anything into this. It's just too early yet. Let's wait and see what happens back at the PDT table in the next week or so. The clock is certainly quickly ticking away for the Liberals towards Ontario budget day!

It is also perhaps noteworthy that in her comments the Minister empasized that the government has acted upon our teachers request for class size caps and that all day kindergarten not be cut. These are OECTA positions but it might almost seem like they are being used to call into question our "Who Speaks for Children?" campaign, now that the big teacher issues have become salary, sick days, gratuities and pension caps. Hmmm.

After her speech, and a press scrum, the Minister answered member questions at a tea and cookie reception upstairs. Presidents and members from some of the local units engaged her in a series of animate questions. Mention was made of the govennment's incredulous claim that they are now "facilitating" a discussion between the teachers and trustees. The later of couse haven't any authority whatsoever to negotiate with us at the PDT. [See my previous blog.] Broten stuck to this very dubious position which seemed to undermine her credibility. As far as salary freezes she mentioned that the MPP's are looking at a 5 year freeze for themselves, but it did not seem like a very convincing argument to make us feel any better in our current situation. Laurel continued to stress that she wanted to dialogue with OECTA, but for the most part seemed to me to be in a holding pattern, with nothing new to offer.

I watched and listened paying close attention to her language, gestures, expressions and tone. Having worked closely with her for 10 years now I find it very hard to understand the seeming disconnect with the strong personable teacher advocate I know and the Laurel Broten we see in her new Ministry of Education role. She seems very inconsistent and out of character to me. Read into that what you will, I'm still not sure what to make of it yet either.

Many of our members gave heartfelt arguments about the difficult position the proposed cuts would place them in, especially our younger teachers who will be especially hard hit by the double whammy of a salary and a grid freeze. Other teachers worried about the loss of sick days considering all the virus and bugs we are exposed to everyday at school, not to mention, and this is from me, the stress from just teaching these days, at least in many of our more challenging schools.

It is also interesting to note that originally Laurel Broten hadn't originally planned to host a hospitality event here in Windsor. I asked her what happened on our ride down the escalator after her speech. She had been dis invited from the OSSTF AGM, and said she was still keen on dialogue. On her way out I told her I look forward to seeing her at our next riding association meeting.

It was quite an interesting visit, and I think we, for our part, pulled it off with our usual OECTA finesse and sense of proper decorum. True, I saw a few BBB's [brown bag boys] in the audience, minus the brown or for that matter pink bags. Unlike during the Witmar AGM visit in 2003, the same bad history clearly does not exist yet, as it did back then.We look forward to hearing OECTA's official statement and analysis on how we move forward from here within the next week or so, after they have had proper time, and a few more PDT meetings, to put today's visit into better perspective.

Below: OECTA teachers ask tough questions while General Secretary Marshall Jarvis looks on at Minister of Education Laurel Broten's tea and talk event following her speech at AGM 2012.




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