If the Ford government has done one thing for Ontario, it’s given opposition a large target. The Tory strategy of moving radically and quickly might well have been intended to get catch people unawares, but in the short time it has been in office, Mr. Ford’s government is already in trouble: cronyism, a tin ear “for the people” and impeccably bad timing. Just this week, as parents of children on the autism spectrum demand proper services for their kids, the Tories are hosting $1 250 a plate fundraising dinner; cynicism costs money. A quick perusal of our feature FORDWATCH shines more light on this.
But, even in this long and relentless winter, things are beginning to stir. Defend Toronto, former mayor John Sewell’s group drew 300 people to the Church of the Holy Trinity in the middle of January and February. Defend Toronto is working on an idea to make Toronto a charter city – one that would be outside the arbitrary reach of provincial governments intent on bending it to whatever purpose seems top of mind. It has put in quite a bit of time supporting another group TTCriders as well as the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113(ATU) fighting the takeover of Toronto’s subways. Just last Friday, TTC workers wore T-shirts reading “Keep Transit Public” in silent protest to the plan while supporters rode the subway lines and passed out leaflets.
It’s true for schools as well. School Magazine reported a protest by post-secondary students outside Queen’s Park earlier in February. Students wore red patches reminding us of the demonstrations running into the hundreds of thousands in Quebec just a few years ago.
People, like those from Fix Our Schools and Campaign for Public Education have struggled for a long time trying to improve the state of our school buildings and what is supposed to go on inside them, as both Tory and Liberal governments have worked alternately at micromanaging and neglecting education in Ontario. Now others, keen to stop a government ideologically opposed to public education are getting their feet on the ground.
What’s happening in education?
We’ll keep updating this summary as events develop. Please let us know what we have missed – you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) hosted a different kind of party on Wednesday night from Doug Ford’s fundraiser for those who want access to the government and can pony up the $1 250-per-plate dinner to get it. About 200 people from some of the organizations below, members from OSSTF, CUPE 4400, and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) along with students and families of kids on the autism spectrum came together in one of the most bitter nights of the winter. They managed to slow down lines of Mercedes, BMWs, Lexuses, Escalades and similar transit options preferred by those in and around power who were trying to get to supper with Mr. Ford in the Toronto Congress Centre.
Inconveniently for Tory funders, the lines slowed so much that many of them had to hop out of their cars and make their hasty way to a side entrance 150 m away from the road. Sometimes even Tories aren’t let in the front doors. The party was much better outside and the food, certainly cheaper.
Doug Ford told local press that his party made about $4 million from the event, helped no doubt by the fact that lobbyists were told to unload the $1 250 tickets. The question that ETT wanted to help make clear? How is all this “for the people.”
The GTA Parents Action Network has been busy since it started up in early January. It consists so far of teachers and parents from downtown schools like Dewson, Huron, Da Vinci Alternative School, Dovercourt, Church Street and Yorkdale Secondary. Members have already organized around issues like the cancellation of the sexual education curriculum, class sizes, the question marks over kindergarten and school repair budgets. It’s setting out to lobby local Parent Councils to put political pressure on both of our major school boards while drawing in more supporters by creating an information package to hand out. The GTA Parents Action Network is also putting together a speakers bureau.
The Etobicoke Parent Network had its first meeting at the beginning of February and is concentrating on getting information out to people about cuts to school programs like the Education Program Other (EPO) that fell in January. According to spokesperson Heather Vickers the group is trying to connect with other people in the area, especially those from different background in an area like Etobicoke which has such a large and diverse population. Ms. Vickers is concerned about the number of people who will be unable to afford the services the Ford government privatizes. The cuts already, she says put the most vulnerable kids at risk.
Mothers for Better Education -Ontario is another new group from Willowdale – concentrating on mothers’ involvement with education. Spokesperson Katrina Koo says this is because their perspective is different than that of fathers. There is certainly a need for groups in this area. Ms. Koo explains that her group would like to ally with others across the city and has organized 500 submissions to the Ministry of Education and Training’s consultation on class sizes.
Becky Wallace of Ontario Families for Public Education (OFPE) explains that her group is trying to make information more accessible to parents with plain language updates about issues like budget cuts, increases in class size and a possible end to All Day Kindergarten. OFPE also is looking for ways for concerned parents to get their point of view across through petitions and meetings, like the one on February 28 at Malvern Collegiate with MPP Rima Berns-MsGowen and Ward 16 Trustee Michelle Aarts. Ms. Wallace says that “lifting classroom (size) caps is a bad idea that would make the too chaotic and difficult places to learn.
Local NDP MPP, Jessica Bell held a meeting at Huron Public School for local parents to organize around many of the issues outlined above. TDSB trustee, Chris Moise described what the loss of a government- funded program like Focus on Youth, means to young people in his ward, who were paid to help other young people. NDP Education critic, Marit Stiles spoke about the Tory strategy of increasing the size of school wards so that it’s harder than ever to push back. Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) executive member, Nigel Bariffe told the audience that Ontario’s 80 000 teachers put support for special needs students, class size and violence in schools at the top of the list of aims for collective bargaining
Student Rayne Fisher-Quann, helped organize the walkout of 40 000 students across the province over the cancellation of the sexual education curriculum and created a guide for the walkout, that teachers could use in the classroom. She said that students are angry, that ” government doesn’t seem to care about young people.”
As educators, parents and students get over the shock of what has and will continue come down from government, what’s left is action. People at the meetings hit on several basic themes:
Co-ordination: Opposition to the Ford government must be broad and co-ordinated. It is critical that folks from areas outside the downtown core of the city be involved. There are groups like Jane Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP) https://jfaap.wordpress.com already there and willing to take part. Despite their serious drawbacks, social media like Facebook and Twitter can be used to help people co-ordinate meetings and actions. But privacy problems and falsehood also abound.
Beyond that, parents and educators spoke of organizing Parent Councils into groups focusing on whatever of the many issues that confront them in the coming months and years. Parent Councils don’t tend to think of themselves as political, but that doesn’t have to remain so. They will be critical players in the struggles to come.
Communication: People at this first lot of meetings outlined many creative ways to get attention for their concerns. Report cards outlining local issues make sense. So does going to local Parent Council Meetings and supporting trustees to join parents and teachers in pushing for the changes needed in local schools; some need more encouragement than others. Writing letters to parents of a school from the Parent Council might bring more people to the fold as well. It’s also a good idea to have accurate information pamphlets handy to pass out at school events.
Upsetting Tories: Again and again the topic of lobbying or just plain scaring local Tory MPPs came up. A parent at one of the meetings suggested a “snowsuit challenge” for MPPs to see how long it would take them to dress a bunch of kindergartners.
Everyone – parents, teachers, TTC riders, union members, people worried about the waterfront – all agree that local Doug Ford MPPs need to fear for their seats in the next election. This means constituents showing up at their offices, posting signs for other constituents, writing letters and copying the local press, staging demonstrations and so on. Doug Ford says he likes to get out of Toronto where he can talk to “real people.” The real people of Toronto need to talk to his MPPs.
School Magazine will be here to help – as a clearinghouse of information and ideas, but also a place to come for the latest on what other people are doing to oppose this government’s plans to gut education.
Here’s something we hope you can use:
Contact TDSB trustees. You can get emails and phone numbers by clicking here.
Contacts TCDSB trustees. You can get and phone numbers by clicking here.
And it’s probably a good idea to let local Tories know how you feel. Here is some contact information:
Doug Ford email@example.com. Tel: 416-325-1941
Roman Baber firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 416-326-7114
Aris Babikian email@example.com. Tel: 416-326-7111
Raymond Cho firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 416-314-9710
Stan Cho email@example.com. Tel: 416-733-7878
Christine Hogarth firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 416-259-2249
Vincent Ke email@example.com. Tel: 416-325-3715
Robin Martin firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 416-781-2395
Christina Maria Mitas email@example.com. Tel: 416-615-2183
Kinga Surma firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 416-234-2800
Vijay Thanigasalam email@example.com. Tel: 416-283-8448
And don’t forget Tories at the Ministry of Education:
Lisa Thompson Minister firstname.lastname@example.org. Tel: 519-523-4251
Sam Oosterhoff– Legislative Assistant. email@example.com. Tel: 905-563-1755