I look forward to the opportunity to set the record straight for members of the Legislature as well as members of the public, who at this point in time have only heard the representations from the Minister of Education and his parliamentary assistant about what is happening in education in the province of Ontario.
I'd like to start with a reference that both the minister and the parliamentary assistant made to peace and stability in the school system. What I expect soon is legislation that will redefine the meaning of the words "stability" and "peace," because the recollection I have of what it means to have peace and stability is far from what we're experiencing in the province of Ontario today. Some 29 of 31 teacher unions have voted to go on strike, with Essex and Carleton being the exceptions.
Now, I'd like to just take a minute, because I know that perhaps members of the Liberal caucus have been kept in the dark by their Minister of Education on this issue. I have in front of me the elementary school strike votes, and I'd like to share these with you for the record: Superior-Greenstone, 89% in favour of striking; Hamilton-Wentworth, 92%; North East, 89%; Thames Valley, 96%; Bluewater, 97%; Hastings and Prince Edward, 94%; Waterloo, 93%; Simcoe, 96.4%; Renfrew, 92.1%; Rainy River, 100%; Halton, 95%; Upper Grand, 97%; Kawartha Pine Ridge, 99%; Keewatin-Patricia, 95%; James Bay, 95%; Peel, 95%; Lakehead, 95%; Toronto, 94%; and York, 96%.
These are teachers speaking to the issue of peace and stability. They're putting the Minister of Education on notice that they don't like what's going on in the province of Ontario. They don't like his leadership. They don't like the rhetoric that he is putting out into the province of Ontario about how this government is going to treat teachers. Peace and stability: That is the rhetoric we hear from the minister, but the record will show that teachers are anything but pleased and there is anything but peace and stability on the horizon for education in this province.
What kind of message does that send to the students in our province? What is the message to parents who have been seeing the daily announcements about these strike votes? What is the message to the teachers who themselves are arming for either work-to-rule or for strike action? What is the message to support workers within our school system? What is the message to principals, who have a responsibility to manage the affairs of our schools? How secure do we think students are in their classrooms when they see these reports?
I'd like to point out, in case there are those who say, as quite frankly the Minister of Education did when he was asked about the strike votes -- you know, neither teachers nor unions were very impressed with the minister's response when he said, "Well, that's just a negotiating ploy." Really? Is it really? Is that all that is? These teachers have just gone through the hoops, and it means nothing?
I'd suggest that these are very strong messages being sent to the Minister of Education, to this Premier, who's taken upon himself the mantle of being an education Premier. The message that teachers and stakeholders throughout the entire education field are sending to this Premier, the so-called education Premier, is that his promise was one thing and his delivery is far from what he promised. But that shouldn't surprise stakeholders in education because, you see, stakeholders in every other public policy area have found that this Premier's words cannot be counted on. He has broken promises to every other stakeholder group in this province as well.
People will recognize this Premier as the man who looked at them through the television screen throughout an entire election campaign, saying, "I will not raise your taxes one cent." And what happened when they got elected? The first budget, we had new taxes. We had a tax that every working person in this province knows about today. It's a health care tax. The promise was that this new health care tax was going to create a new day in health care and waiting lists would be reduced. Well, that too was a false representation of what was going to happen. We now have the tax, we have a projected multi-million dollars of additional taxes coming out of people's pockets, waiting lists are longer than ever, and there are entire communities that have been abandoned by their medical doctors. The credibility gap just continues to grow for this Premier between what he says he is going to do and what he actually delivers.
But back to Bill 167: This bill does the exact opposite of what this Minister of Education said it would do, just a few minutes ago as he stood in this House. He spoke about how this bill restores respect for teachers. Find one teacher who will say that taking away their union's right to negotiate freely at the local level shows them respect. Find one representative of a teacher's union in this province who will say that this bill, which prescribes a two-year or four-year contract, shows respect for the negotiating process and for the bargaining process in this province, that that shows respect for teachers and unions, or school boards. It doesn't. What it does is it erodes the very premise of negotiations, of free bargaining. It negotiates from the top down. That's effectively what this bill does. I ask teachers, unions and stakeholders to think about this very clearly.
It's a very short bill; a mere two pages, Speaker. You have it in front of you there. It's probably one of the shortest bills this House has ever seen, but I would suggest to you that it's one with overarching implications to not only the teaching profession but to the entire process of contract negotiations. Effectively, what this bill does is that it sets up central bargaining, bargaining out of the minister's office, for every school board in the province of Ontario. It states very clearly that whether or not the local school board decides it is in their best interests to negotiate a three-year contract, this bill does not allow them to do that.
Those of you who have copies of the bill, I ask you to look at the deeming section of this bill, which effectively says, "Well, if the school board doesn't do what we ask them to do, and that is to negotiate a two-year or four-year contract, by legislation it is deemed that you have done so."
Speaker, I ask you -- rhetorically, because I know you can't respond to me -- if you were a teacher, if you were a teacher representative, if you were a stakeholder in education and you saw this legislation coming down, would you be concerned? Would have you any concern about the flexibility and the freedom that you might have to negotiate a contract?
I'm going to, for the record, share with you what someone who is in that business of negotiating contracts had to say about this. I have a letter here from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association. Donna Marie Kennedy wrote this to the Minister of Education. It's dated December 2. I want you to listen to this.
She speaks about a meeting that they had and thanks the minister for the meeting of Tuesday, November 30. She says, "I came away from our meeting of Tuesday, November 30, believing that we had a full and frank discussion of OECTA's position on the fundamental need for unfettered local bargaining for teachers."
This minister is very good at having people believe that he understands them. This minister is very good at letting people and entire stakeholder groups believe that he is on their side and that this government is supportive of them, as Ms. Kennedy, when she left, had that understanding. But it's interesting. This letter goes on, "That's why your letter to local federation presidents dated December 1 puzzles and disappoints me. I do not understand what you hope to achieve by communicating directly with our local representatives when, as the bargaining agent, provincial OECTA had spoken to you only the day before about our unequivocal support for local bargaining. Your statement that `The goal would be only to determine a clear ministry position that could further support successful local bargaining' strikes me as disingenuous. Your concern that" -- she's quoting the minister -- "`Local bargaining efforts may be adversely impacted by issues that can't be adequately resolved at the local level' sounds suspiciously like a veiled threat."
This is coming from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association in correspondence to the Minister of Education, who tells us today about peace and stability and about respect and about how he and his government are bridging the gap and building bridges to teachers in this province. We have this kind of chastisement coming from the Catholic teachers' association to this Minister of Education.
The letter goes on to say, "OECTA has already concluded one successful local agreement for its members. We expect to negotiate others." In other words, "Leave us alone. Give us the opportunity to do our work." From the perspective of this association, Ms. Donna Marie Kennedy says, "The greatest threat to public education moving in a harmonious fashion would be the failure to respect" -- here's that word, Speaker, "respect" -- "the role of school boards, local units and provincial OECTA."
The legislation that we have before us does everything but show respect for OECTA, for any other bargaining unit, for teachers in this province and for school boards who heretofore have had the responsibility of negotiating contracts. This legislation before us today, I say to members in this House, is an insult to every teacher in this province and it's an affront to anyone who is familiar with the negotiating process that has historically been operative in this province, so much so that the OSSTF filed a labour board complaint against the education minister.
You know, I suppose the education minister might, in response to this as well, say that that's just a negotiating ploy, that they really didn't mean it, that they understand what the minister really means. I don't believe that's the case at all. I believe that the Minister of Education has crossed the line. Education stakeholders are seeing his actions, and his actions speak much louder than his words. They are an affront to people who understand what is really going on here.
The news release that was put out by the OSSTF on December 15 reads as follows:
"In an unprecedented move, Minister of Education Gerard Kennedy wrote directly to local Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) district presidents on December 1st with a clear intent to pressure OSSTF members and local leaders to engage in `provincial dialogue' on matters impacting negotiations. In an earlier letter dated November 29, Kennedy had written to OSSTF provincial president Rhonda Kimberley-Young inviting the federation to enter into a provincial dialogue on finding long-term solutions surrounding workload issues. Before the federation could respond officially to Kennedy's invitation, however, he sent a second letter to OSSTF local leaders outlining his plan and inviting them to communicate directly with him. Bargaining rights are held by the provincial organization and not local OSSTF districts."
The minister knows that. And he knew full well when he wrote those letters that he was interfering with a process that has been time-honoured. It's heavy-handed on the part of the minister. It was inappropriate, and the minister had no right to interfere as he did in that process. This release goes on to say:
"`Minister Kennedy's letter to our local presidents is a serious breach of protocol and is seen as direct interference in local bargaining and federation affairs,' said Kimberley-Young. `Clearly, the minister was trying to circumvent the provincial executive of OSSTF. Kennedy's actions came as a complete surprise to both provincial and local leaders in OSSTF,' added Kimberley-Young.
"Given the seriousness of Minister Kennedy's interference in federation activities, OSSTF has filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. `We cannot allow the minister to disregard and bypass the current legal structure for collective bargaining. We want him to cease and desist immediately from interfering in the internal affairs of the federation. It is unfortunate that OSSTF was forced to take this route but Kennedy left no choice but to file this complaint at the Ontario labour board.'"
The bill before us today simply adds to the actions of this minister. Essentially, what this legislation does is that it actually gives legislative authority to the minister to do what he didn't have authority for when he wrote that initial letter to the school boards as well as to the unions. We on this side of the House object to that.
I raised the issue as a point of privilege in the Legislature, as you know, because I was fundamentally convinced that the actions of the minister in writing those letters, in which he presumed this House would pass the legislation we're actually debating today, which would provide for the two- and four-year contracts -- I was offended, as a member of this Legislature, that a minister of the crown would presume to write those letters and to send direction to unions as well as to school boards to negotiate contracts for which there was no legislative authority at the time, that he would simply presume that members of this House would pass this legislation. He went beyond that. He actually said in his letters that this government would guarantee, and he used the term "guarantee," funding for those four-year contracts.
We've done the calculations, and based on the increases he suggested be incorporated into those four-year contracts, the additional funding would be some $1.2 billion over and above the base we have now for the education budget. What right does a minister of the crown have to make a guarantee of that funding to school boards across this province when there is, first, no legislative authority do it, and second, no budgetary authority to make that commitment? However, he did, and unfortunately the Speaker ruled that was not contempt. Well, if it wasn't contempt, what I say is that it is an insult and highly presumptuous on the part of the minister. It does not auger well for this place, where I believe we should retain the right and the responsibility to have that open debate, first of all, for enabling legislation, and second, for budgetary approval.
That's why today I tabled in the House, for first reading, a private member's bill. I tabled this private member's bill, which received first reading today, because I believe the legislation we're debating today and will be debating tomorrow is fundamentally wrong. I wanted to at least get on record in this Legislature a piece of legislation that I believe sets right what this legislation is doing wrong.
The title of my bill is An Act to amend the Education Act to remove political interference in collective bargaining and ensure flexibility at the local level. What this bill does is provide for two-, three- and four-year contracts, should the local bargaining units and the school boards decide that is in the best interests of that local school board. It's simply allowing that local autonomy that I believe is fundamental to ensuring we have that free bargaining and that we have the flexibility I believe every bargaining unit should have.
There is a reason for this title, which speaks to the removal of political interference in collective bargaining, and I'll tell you why; I'll explain that. Is it just a coincidence that the legislation we have before us today does not allow a three-year contract? I'm going to ask every teacher in this province, every school board trustee, every person involved in bargaining to ask themselves why this government, why this Minister of Education, would not want a three-year option available for a contract.
I would suggest that there is another piece of legislation that was passed in this House by this government not too long ago which calls for set election dates, and that set election date -- ironically, incidentally -- just happens to be in the year 2007. Isn't it interesting that if the government allowed a three-year contract to be negotiated by teachers' unions and school boards across the province, that contract would incidentally come up for renegotiation in the year 2007?
Isn't it interesting that the election date is set for the first week in October 2007? I would ask the Minister of Consumer and Business Services, who knows about these things, when these contracts come up? It happens to be just around the first week in October. Is there a possibility that this government is actually using their legislative authority coming out of this amendment to serve their own political ends? Isn't that an interesting question?
I've spoken with many stakeholders, I have spoken with union representatives, I have spoken with teachers and I have spoken with trustees. To a person, there isn't one who is giving the benefit of the doubt to this government. Everyone resents the fact that this government is using them for its political ends. It's fundamentally wrong. It's an insult to this profession, and it shouldn't happen.
I would appeal to the backbenchers; I know the cabinet is whipped, but at least the backbenchers can use their own discretion here. They can rely on some of those principles that they have -- and I know they have some -- and make a decision and say, "I'm going to vote this legislation down, because it's simply not right." It is not right.
I believe the Minister of Education has made a huge mistake by bringing forward this legislation, because he is demonstrating to the very people who got him elected that he too, along with his Premier, was prepared to say one thing while on the election trail and is still repeating these empty and hollow words of peace and stability in education. He's saying it on one hand, and on the other he's undermining the very basis on which this profession relies to negotiate its contracts. It's fundamentally wrong.
I urge members of this Legislature to vote this legislation down, and I urge them to support my private member's bill when it comes forward for debate, which provides for flexibility at the local level for bargaining units to be able to negotiate their contracts together with local school boards so that we can arrive at solid contracts that are reliable, that are not dictated by the Minister of Education.
I will wind up my remarks very soon because I know my colleague wants to speak to this, but there are some things I also want to speak to before I close. One is the credibility gap that we find coming from this so-called education Premier. I'm going to refer to a news report that appeared during the election campaign, and I want to read this into the record. This is when Dalton McGuinty, then leader of the Liberal Party, running to be Premier and willing to say anything at all to become the Premier, was in Brighton, Ontario. Here's what the Premier said: "`We will put our money where our mouth is,' McGuinty said, as he pledged $177 million to protect rural schools, saying the moratorium on closures would last several months until a Liberal government could change what he calls the Tories' one-size-fits-all funding formula."
Interesting. There he was, in a nice rural setting in this great province of ours, speaking to people who were believing him at the time. He committed $177 million to rural schools to keep them open, he said. They wouldn't close. Then he went on to say, "`It's time for a government that will keep rural schools open because it understands that diverse communities -- urban, suburban, rural and northern -- have different needs.'"
When asked, "Well, Mr. McGuinty, how are you going to pay for this?" here was his response, quoting again from this newspaper article: "He said the Liberals would pay for the rural school strategy by cancelling the private school tax credit and stopping an exemption for seniors on the education portion of their property taxes." Well, isn't this interesting? He promised $177 million to keep rural schools open, and when asked where the money was coming from, he said we're going to get it by cancelling the independent school tax credit and the tax credit for property tax for seniors. He did both of those. In fact, he did the tax credit cancellation retroactively.
My question to the education Premier is simply this: You did all of that, took the money away from seniors, took the money away from ordinary, hard-working families who send their children to an independent school and are paying twice, and you did so retroactively to really rub it in. Where is the money for rural schools? It's not here, and people right across rural Ontario are asking the question, where's the money?
That's one more example of a Premier who cannot be believed. There are two issues -- one is trust and one is competence -- that people expect from their government. This Premier has failed on both counts. He has demonstrated his incompetence to lead and he has broken trust with the people of this province. Every announcement that this Premier or any of his ministers makes is met with the same cynicism on the part of the taxpayers and of the citizens of this province. They are saying to this Premier, "We hear you, but we don't believe you. We hear you when you say you're going to improve health care, but the facts belie that promise. We hear you when you say you're going to fund capital projects for schools, but when we read through and look at the small print, we see that what you're really doing is encouraging school boards across the province to go into debt to the tune of $4 billion. We hear you, Premier, when you say you want to help us, but what is really happening is that you're reaching deeper into our pockets. We cannot afford it, and we don't like what you're doing to us."
That's the kind of incompetence, the kind of mismanagement, the kind of untrustworthiness that people in this province are experiencing, this coming from a Premier who promised on the campaign trail that he would do government differently. Well, he has -- very differently. He's done it so differently that never before in the history of this province has any Premier had the distrust this Premier has earned, and he has earned it, because he's worked overtime to convince people that politicians can't be trusted.
I see the pages here today. What a great opportunity for them, to be here and to experience how laws are made. What is extremely disappointing is that not only these pages, but students and young people right across this province, every day -- as they study civics, as they learn about what government is doing -- have as an example, in this very province, a Premier who breaks promises.
Young people, don't take that as an example of what to do, because it's wrong. Just because a Premier does it, doesn't make it right. That's the message. And just because the Minister of Education has introduced a piece of legislation into this chamber that removes the rights and responsibilities of the collective bargaining process, and it happens to come in the form of legislation moved forward by the Minister of Education, doesn't make it right either. It's fundamentally wrong. This Minister of Education is letting down teachers, he is letting down teacher's unions, he is letting down school boards, he is letting down principals, he is letting down parents, and he is letting down students.
In closing, let me refer to one other issue, and that is the issue of special education funding. I'm appalled, as I know teachers, principals and school board trustees are, at the doubletalk that's been going on around the issue of special education funding. Last year, in one month, this Premier announced there would be an additional $100 million in funding for special education. Two months later, we found that this same Premier, this same Minister of Education, announced he was going to claw back $100 million that was already in the bank accounts of schools right across this province, earmarked for special education. This Minister of Education, this education Premier, reached right into those bank accounts and yanked it back up. All the time, we have literally hundreds -- thousands -- of special-needs students across this province waiting for support services, waiting to be diagnosed, waiting for assessments.
Promises made, promises broken. There is a shell game that this government is very good at. It's very good at making promises. It's very good at having press conferences. They've got some good media advisers. It sounds good, and they are getting the clips on the evening news. Whether it's CFRB or 640, we find ourselves listening, rapt by these announcements, and whether it's the Minister of Education or the Minister of Health, they are great announcements, but no substance. But no substance. People across this province are being let down every day. Promises made, promises broken.
I'm going to close my remarks simply by saying this: This Minister of Education has brought into the Legislature today a piece of legislation that takes away the right of local school boards and the right of local bargaining units to negotiate freely. It takes away their flexibility. And what it is doing essentially is putting the Minister of Education into a position of negotiating contracts centrally. That has never happened before in this province. Under the guise of respect, this minister had the audacity to stand in his place, just a few minutes ago in the Legislature here, and talk about how, by bringing this legislation in, he and his government are demonstrating respect for teachers and for the teaching profession. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I encourage members of this Legislature to vote this legislation down, because it is wrong. It will not serve us well. I would ask that members of the backbench of the Liberal Party -- because I know that the third party is going to vote with us on this -- let's ensure that we do retain that respect for teachers across this province.
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