Opening Statement



Wednesday, 7 March 2012

PDT, GSA, Inclusivity + Fee Excitement Ahead!

This weekend is the annual OECTA [Ontatio Catholic Teachers Association] AGM [Annual General Meeting]. Hundreds of teacher delegates will gather from across the province to hear reports, presentations and vote on our teacher association business. This year we are meeting in Windsor Ontario. It promises to be an especially interesting and even exciting 3 day event.

On Sunday afternoon, our Ontario Provincial Education Minister Laurel Broten will speak to the gathering, our first Q+A opportunity as members since the official PDT [Provincial Dialogue Table] announcements of a 2 year salary freeze, sick day reduction and provincial pension plan contribution cap last week. [See my March 1st blog]. OECTA has, of course, refused the province's opening contract offer. Unless there is a breakthrough during the two days of PDT talks this week, one can expect the frosty reception Laurel received at our BTC [Beginning Teachers Conference] will quite likely change to down right cold. [See my February blog]. It's a pity. She has been a big teacher supporter and advocate, who has enjoyed strong OECTA support since the 2003 election.

It will be interesting to see how Minister Broten handles the questions. The Liberal government's recent change in direction, from 9 years of working cooperatively with our teacher associations, is a contract shocker none us had foreseen. Now here we stand poised for perhaps a return to the deepest depth of labour strife and unrest since the Harris era. There hadn't been a single day lost to teacher strikes or work to rule since then, but now? Laurel, please prove to us it isn't so!

Windsor is in Finance Minister Dwight Duncan's riding. Perhaps he should come to speak too, so we can figure out who is really pulling the strings here! A provincial Liberal Leadership race is possibly not too far off. Could both Laurel, and our previous teacher friendly Education Minister Kathleen be having their teacher support rug pulled out from under them by Dwight "the cost cutter" Duncan as the party takes a sharp policy reversal that out Tories Tory leader Tim Hudak's Conservatives? Please see my February Blog Archive and roll this one around in your mind for a bit.....The implications are a very scary thought indeed!

Please note Laurel will not, repeat not, be staying to host the Liberal hospitality suite, as past Education Ministers usually have in year's past. I know for a fact that this is due to a previous scheduling conflict. She's off to speak at the OSSTF AGM in Toronto next. So Sunday morning AGM will be the moment of truth, her first public opportunity to take the floor and address our teacher troops as a partnership era of Liberal Party and OECTA co-operation quite possibly comes to an end. The NDP [New Democratic Party] must be rubbing their hands in glee! Who would've ever thought it would come to this?

The Harris Conservative era was an 8 year period of labour war with our teachers. The NDP government before them saw a previously pro-labour party impose a wage freeze and unpaid Rae Day "holidays" on our public sector unions. We have not had trouble with the Liberals alone. It was a proud, productive and relatively blemish free period of government, until now......

So what else on the agenda could be quite exciting? Well AGM's are hardly ever exciting, except maybe when Conservative Education Minister Liz Witmar showed up in 2003 to tell us if we didn't like the way we were being treated to go get a another job somewhere else. Whew! She did not walk out of there to a shower of praise let me tell you! I hope, hope, hope NOTHING of the sort happens to Laurel. She is indeed a fine, fine Liberal MPP and person as well who strongly supported us back then through until now. Barring that rather unlikely prospect there are still a few other policy potboilers ready to bubble over too. For example:

A Fee Increase? Our emergency reserves currently show a surplus but it would disappear quickly if we face a flood of job actions in the terse times ahead. We have a past AGM promise to roll back last year's election fee increase, but now the question could be, by how much? The fee proposals on the floor are from $950 to $975 per member a year but the issue now seems quite volatile. What happens next if we don't have contracts in place by August 31 this year?

Gay Straight Alliance Clubs [GSA's]? A TSU [Toronto Secondary Unit] policy motion for them to be recognized by OECTA pits denominational against civil rights in a quite possibly very divisive fight that would without doubt draw a lot of public attention to our Catholic school funding and Religious Affair issues. That could become a big problem in the next provincial election should anyone choose to use this as a political grandstand for eliminating public funding for our Catholic school system!

It will be very interesting to see how the issue is received by many of the OECTA units, especially those from outside Toronto. They  could well either make or break the question of GSA approval. Gay inclusivity issues have not been favourably received on the AGM floor in years past. A lot could hinge on the premise given in the motion's rationale that the GSA's enjoy the support of the Ontario Catholic Bishops. Cardinal Collins has recently stated that they don't. This could be a real nail bitter from both points of view as we see how the debate unfolds!

Another Human Rights Committee policy motion calls for OECTA to support  an inclusive learning and working environment for both students and teaching staff regardless of their sexual orientation.
The Ontario Government has insisted that bullying on sexual or any other grounds is unacceptable. That should be reasonably clear and acceptable to all Catholics who abide by the golden rule to love one another. However, if we extend that to openly accepting non heterosexual gender relationships within our Catholic schools, we are again facing a very heated denominational rights conflict for many members of our Catholic community. Many delegates could well find the motion totally unacceptable should it reach the AGM floor for debate. Expect even more fireworks here too, as the two opposite sides of the issue clash!

A complete OECTA AGM 2012 Agenda and Resolution handbook is available at the http://www.oecta.on.ca website should you require further info and details on these and the wide range of other speeches, motions and debates in the action packed weekend ahead. Please also keep checking on my blogspot for more of my own hopefully timely teacher news and views! This year's AGM could prove very interesting and perhaps even explosive in more than one starting this Saturday in Windsor!

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