ETFO President Sam Hammond opened his speech by outlining the record of deep cuts, chaos, uncertainty, insults and attacks from the Conservative government. ETFO has fought back with advertising on television, radio, billboards, transit, online and in movie theatres. We have also organized and mobilized both ETFO members and the public to fight attempts to undermine public education and vital public services.
Next, he recognized the dedication of local presidents and the Provincial Executive team, and welcomed first-time Annual Meeting delegates.
The President enumerated a lengthy list of irresponsible cuts and changes to education and other social programs. These include:
- Trashing carbon pricing and all related investments, including new investments for building and repairing Ontario schools. This led to the federal government stepping in to fund the school boards directly with the federal carbon funds for school repairs.
- Tearing up the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum, a move that was challenged by ETFO and community partners with a march to Queen’s Park last August and with a court challenge which saw the court recognize the professional judgement rights of teachers to establish inclusive learning environments. This allowed them to teach important concepts from the modernized 2015 curriculum without fear of reprisals.
- Cancelling needs-based autism program funding, creating months of chaos for the families of autistic children. But these families organized and fought back, forcing the Conservatives to back down.
- Cancelling Indigenous curriculum writing sessions and implementing a new, elective curriculum without input from Indigenous leaders.
- Attacking worker rights with the cancellation of the $15 per hour minimum wage and other provisions contained in Bill 148, and the cancellation of the Basic Income pilot project.
- $300M in cuts to mental health care.
- Attacks on post-secondary students through cuts to OSAP and attacks on the rights of student unions.
- Other cuts and cancellations such as: $85M in funding for children and youth at risk, slashing the Ontario music fund, cuts to public libraries and legal aid, and eliminating the Office of the Child Advocate.
- Devasting cuts to public education contained in the April budget and the Grants for Student Needs, including increases to class sizes in grades 4 to 8 and in high school. This will result in the elimination of thousands of teaching jobs.
The President outlined how ETFO action to send over 100,000 emails to MPPs through the Building Better Schools website prevented the removal of class size caps in Full-Day Kindergarten and the primary grades.
Hammond stated that “it’s no secret that the Conservatives want to eliminate Regulation 274 and.…roll back fair hiring practices” in the education sector. However, ETFO has insisted that this is a bargaining issue that must be discussed at the bargaining table. To date the government has made no changes to the regulation.
Hammond noted that ETFO assigned the Ford government a failing grade of ‘F’ in June, and that if the new Minister of Education would like to improve upon this he should:
- reverse the government’s cuts to publicly funded public education;
- state that his government is fully committed to public education and that no tax dollars will go to private schools; and
- commit to continue the current model for Full-Day Kindergarten with a certified teacher and a DECE in the classroom.
President Hammond mentioned ETFO’s open letter in newspapers this year from a long list of academics in support of the current Full-Day Kindergarten model. He stressed that our focus for the coming year must be to lobby trustees, MPPs and the Minister to pledge to continue with this model.
In his speech, Hammond stressed the importance of mobilizing “…all of our members, all of our locals, and every facet of our union, effectively.” To this end, ETFO undertook an historic Member Engagement Initiative this spring which saw staff, released officers and local leaders hold steward meetings across the province, followed by member meetings in all workplaces. These meetings resulted in over 45,000 cards being returned to provincial office in which members pledged to protect public education.
Hammond commended all ETFO members for supporting “Red for Ed Fridays” and for wearing our “Class Size Matters” and “Cuts Hurt Kids” buttons during the past school year. He thanked local leaders for all their actions to picket and lobby local MPPs. Finally, he recognized the efforts of ETFO members, local leaders and our allies to mobilize for the massive Queen’s Park Rally for Education in April. Over 30,000 people filled the front lawn of Queen’s Park to send a strong message to the Conservative government that schools need investment, not cuts.
President Hammond noted that the theme of this year’s Annual Meeting is #ETFOstrong. This is to signal to school boards and the government that “ETFO members are entering negotiations united, inclusive, and—always—strong.”
He noted the following milestones in the bargaining process:
- ETFO began preparing for the 2019 round of bargaining in the fall of 2018 with an all-member survey to get member input on our bargaining priorities.
- Based on survey responses, the Collective Bargaining Committee developed a list of bargaining priorities that were approved by Representative Council in February 2019.
- ETFO’s central bargaining lists were finalized at a special meeting of presidents and chief negotiators in May.
- ETFO gave notice to bargain on June 3rd.
- Discussions are continuing with OPSBA and the Council of Trustees’ Association to finalize central bargaining lists for the various tables: Teachers and Occasional Teachers, DECEs and ESPs/PSPs.
Hammond noted that bargaining and the road ahead will be the focus of the incoming President in his speech on Thursday.
President Hammond closed his remarks with the following call to action:
Let there be no mistake, your individual and our collective actions are making a significant difference. Now is not the time to be complacent or divisive.
We must continue to organize, mobilize and confront this government head on, always holding them accountable for their irresponsible actions.