#onpoli newsletter - We're baaack!

TVO's Ontario politics podcast kicks off a new season
By TVO Current Affairs - Published on Feb 18, 2020
Teachers of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario strike in Toronto (Photo credit: CP/Nathan Denette)

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Hello, #onpoli people, 

MPPs are returning to their seats in the legislature today, which means we are back as well. Welcome to season 4 of #onpoli!

Teachers vs. the province

Our first podcast episode looks at a topic that has become a source of aggravation for pretty much everyone involved — the brouhaha between the teachers and the province. Most strikes essentially come down to who can win the hearts and minds of the public. We’ll explore some of the tactics both the unions and the government are using to do just that.

As it turns out, pretty much every Ontario government has had a fight with the teachers’ unions at some point. Here are our hosts, Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath, on that.

‘Everything old is new again’

Steve: Well, JMM, this edition of the very regular Teachers vs. The Government dispute has a lot of the hallmarks of previous disputes we’ve seen. I guess the granddaddy of them all (in our lifetimes, at least) was 22 years ago, when the teacher unions all simultaneously went on strike and took to the streets to protest the changes another Progressive Conservative government wanted to bring in. In that case, it was led by Premier Mike Harris. I’m doing the math… I assume you were alive when that happened? Junior kindergarten, maybe?

Mike... who?

John Michael: Mike… Harris, you say? He was a premier of Ontario? Kidding, of course — I was in high school when the Tories won in 1995, and that sure made for an eventful academic experience as a young lad. It’s admittedly a bit hazy now but I definitely remember just getting used to the idea that a school year would be interrupted by a work stoppage of one kind or another. And now I’ve got a kid in kindergarten who’s been affected by the strikes as I write this. Time is a flat circle.

Lessons from David Peterson

Man surrounded by microphones
David Peterson takes questions from reporters (Photo credit: Globe and Mail/Thomas Zlukoveny)

Steve: I know everyone thinks there were no teacher protests before Mike Harris. In fact, there were. During the 1990 election campaign, the teacher unions hounded Premier David Peterson at virtually every stop he made. But unlike today’s demonstrations, the premier didn’t duck out the back door. He waded right into the crowds and listened to the union leaders berating him. The Liberals thought Peterson would get points for appearing to be accessible. But the opposite happened. Those confrontations conveyed an image of a leader constantly under fire. Peterson went from the biggest majority government in Ontario history in 1987 to losing the election and even his own London Centre seat three years later. It’s still one of the most astonishing “rise and fall” political stories I’ve ever seen. And it may explain why we’ve never seen any subsequent premiers wading into a crowd of teacher-demonstrators since.

Life-long enemies

John Michael: Bob Rae also left office without too much love lost between him and the teachers’ unions — and, as I recall, basically the entirety of Ontario’s public sector shared the animosity. Even Dalton McGuinty, elected in 2003 in part on a pledge to make and keep peace with the teachers' unions, left office under the spectre of Bill 115 and his government’s attempt to control teacher pay.

Now that I think of it — if we start with Peterson in 1990 — in my life, the Ontario government has probably been at loggerheads with teachers for longer than it hasn’t.

Who speaks for the education system?

Steve: The big, omnipresent philosophical question always is: who speaks for the education system? The government thinks it does since it won a mandate at the ballot box to implement its priorities. The teachers think they do because governments come and go, and sometimes enact what’s trendy, whereas the teachers can be there for decades, minding the store, so to speak. And like pretty much every dispute, no one side is completely covered in glory, or completely wrong either. The sad part, of course, as you learned more than two decades ago, is that while these sides duke it out, parents and students are often collateral damage.

Back to work... or not?

John Michael: I honestly wasn’t sure that we would make it to mid-February — and the return of the legislature, today — without MPPs getting called back early to pass back-to-work legislation. I’ve definitely spoken to some opposition MPPs who were planning on it, too. But it seems the government is still content to wait before going there, for now. I guess we’ll see how this unfolds — along with the rest of the government’s agenda — in coming months. Welcome back, everyone.

Just a reminder...

Want to know more? Check out the latest episode of #onpoli, out today.

Have thoughts on the show? Tell us what you think at onpolitics@tvo.org

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