Back to school with The Little Education Report

Doug Little  – 2023-01-08

Major Victory – Ontario court strikes down Bill 124 !!!

For a refresher, Ontario Bill 124 was a bill enacted by the Ford government in 2019 to limit public sector wages, Unfair from the jump ball, it limited teachers, nurses, and all others in the public sector to MAX 1% raises for 3 years while outrageously allowing 2% for the police and firefighters.

Just like the Liberal McGuinty, and Wynne bills which imposed public sector contracts, it was seen by many legal scholars as likely unconstitutional from the start. The painful process from lower court to Ontario Court of Appeals to the Supremes can take years if the losing party appeals. As of November 29,  the unions are successful in the lower court and it puts another nail in the coffin of imposed labour contracts, not just in Ontario but across Canada. The court even struck down a sleezy clause that forbade courts from awarding a remedy if the bill was deemed unconstitutional, if the province is unsuccessful on appeal, provincial governments will be boxed into a position where they will actually be forced to bargain in good faith with public sector unions who will retain the right to strike.

The option of using the notwithstanding clause or Section 33, is basically off the table since the entire, often fractious, labour movement has put governments on notice that this would trigger a general strike with serious economic and political implications.

Almost the only option left would be to try to declare such groups as teachers and nurses as essential services but this means compulsory arbitration at an impasse in bargaining and the police have done very well financially with that system. That rather defeats the purpose from the government perspective. Arbitrators have a reputation for being moderately generous on wages but status quo in working condition areas like class size.

In summary, the walls are rapidly closing in on the ability of provincial governments to be one of the two teams in public sector bargaining and also the referee. Signs look good that Ford will be told by the higher courts that it is unconstitutional to set wage limits or any other fetters, in advance of collective bargaining based on past rulings but the ball is in the higher courts court if you will, and you never really know. If the unions continue to win, some type of decade long, back pay remedy will have to be negotiated.

​In late breaking news Ford has indeed declared that he will appeal the decision to higher courts. A remedy at this point could cost $8 billion which will mount with delay.

If Danielle Smith wants to privatize healthcare, can education be far behind ? 

Alberta UCP premier Danielle Smith has said that her prime motivation in politics is to stop socialism. She claims this is due to her Ukrainian great grandfather’s escape from Soviet communism, notwithstanding the fact that the great grandfather’s move to Canada was in 1915, two years before the Russian Revolution. The old chap actually lived in the Austro-Hungarian empire, not in Ukraine or Russia. Chalk this one up with her claims to Cherokee Indigenous heritage, which set off local chiefs gathering into spontaneous guffaws and gales of laughter.

Nevertheless, Smith hates “socialism” and seems to apply the term to long established programs like Medicare and public education which has been public in Canada since established by Ryerson in 1850.

Smith is not just on written record but on video touting “health savings accounts” in which she will make an initial deposit of $300 and then tells each Albertan to deposit to the account themselves or by family members, employers, whoever they can find. This is “crowdfunding” your healthcare – a direct attack on Medicare and we should not be surprised if the feds step in and say it doesn’t meet the criteria outlined in the Canada Health Act.

As far as education is concerned, Smith backs a plan to spend more public dollars on elite private schools and homeschooling. Smith told a right wing group, Parents for Choice in Education, that she wants to move Alberta towards a “voucher style” funding model, by  increasing subsidies for students in private schools and doubling the subsidies for home schooling. Of course this is a disaster for Alberta public education.

Thirty years ago Sweden and Finland both had outstanding education systems. During a short lived conservative government, Sweden approved a voucher system. Finland remained and enhanced a 95% public system. Finland today remains one of the 2-3 outstanding education systems in the western world while indicators like Sweden’s PISA rankings have crashed and burned. Since 2013, and vouchers, Sweden has endured a sharp drop in standings. Finland’s reading result in #3  in the western world while Sweden has fallen to #11.

Click the link for details

For educators, the unease is palpable.


Mr Singh goes to Germany, gets excellent advice from SDP. 

The NDP leader recently returned from a trip to Germany where he met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SDP). SDP has been one of the two major German parties most of the 20C and into the 21C. Since WW2 it has governed Germany four times under Willy Brandt (1969-72), Helmut Schmidt ( 1976-1980), Gerhard Schroder (1998-2002) and Scholz (2021- present). SDP also participated in “Grand Coalitions” with the CDU under Merkle. Once a radical socialist party, the SDP is now a moderate progressive party on the Scandinavian model and a sister party to the NDP.

Singh was accompanied by two MPs Heather McPherson and Charlie Angus and NDP National Director Anne McGrath.

The central theme involved the surprising victory of the SDP in 2021 after years of sliding in both polling and election results, in coalition with the Greens and the small centrist FDP. Most Social Democrats, including Singh did not see an SDP victory in the cards.

The campaign even began with the SDP in third place behind the Greens, but they emerged in first place. Although the party diddled around with fonts and colour, the fundamental thing was that the party returned to its traditional base and campaigned unapologetically as a “workers party” . Scholz peppered his speech with “respect for the workers”. The word “respect” was stamped on all the party banners, signage, and brochures. Candidates were expected to stress the one overarching theme, “respect for workers” locally. Schloz peppered his speeches with “working class”. The SDP said in the past it had been a mistake to assume the workers saw the SDP as their party due to past victories and past glory. They need to be won back every election and every generation.

Scholz told Singh not to spend too much time on concessions extracted from the Liberals, but instead on “what comes next”. Don’t dwell too long on “we got dentacare” and more on “next is pharmacare”.

This writer believes that the SDP advice is critical for NDP success, and for those who believe the NDP has shortcomings, you are absolutely correct, but it remains the only serious party on offer that continues to be a workers party, and this must be the emphasis.

Some progressives will protest, what about the environment, racism, misogyny, LGBTQ2S, FNs, or healthcare? Of course they remain important issues but must be seen in the context of a workers party. Victories in upcoming years in Alberta, Manitoba, and future elections in Ontario, reelection in BC, a return to power in Nova Scotia only work in the context of common dreams, not a laundry list of multiple oppressions.

Even with strong second place results, maybe in Saskatchewan, right wing parties read the polls and the results and trim their sails, ditching their extreme privatization policies when threatened with defeat by the left down the road.

The NDP at all levels should heed the SDP advice and win back blue collar and pink collar labour. It seems that John Fetterman, the new Democratic Party Senate winner, who flipped a Republican seat in Pennsylvania, and even Joe Biden talk more about workers and unions and “lunch bucket politics” than our Canadian NDP. When workers are taken for granted, many drift off to the social conservatism of the Conservative Party or the thin gruel offered by the Liberals.

If teachers and education workers don’t participate in this process, they may regret it in the future.