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Teachers need a ‘soft touch’ in coming weeks

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

I may be living in a bit of a bubble — having a few teacher friends and a spouse to boot, but it looks to me like the provincial government and its legislative collaborators might have put far too much faith in a perceived lack of sympathy for the situation facing Ontario’s educators.

Wait… let’s qualify that somewhat. In regards to the relatively favourable terms under which teachers currently operate in this province, Premier McGuinty might be right — things could be a lot worse for them, ARE a lot worse for many of us downtrodden private-sector schmoes. And so the age-old story goes.

But that’s not the issue at the moment. We’re not talking about an obstinate union holding society and the economy hostage with unreasonable demands. Not yet at least.

Our government saw to it with a great deal of chest-thumping political theatre that the teachers of Ontario were never given the option in the first place.

This, depending on most reasonable people’s sensibilities around democracy, fairness, and legal obligation, is a different story. To their credit, many Ontarians seem to be cringing over the use of a last resort weapon before a single shot has been fired.

Would you accept such actions if imposed on you?

Even former provincial education minister Kathleen Wynne conceded last week that the Liberal Party’s third place finish in the recent Kitchener-Waterloo byelection, a defeat that cost the Liberals a majority government, was likely a result of the move to impose a contract on teachers.

To state it mildly, this is blowing up in the government’s face. It will get even worse if the courts rule in favour of the unions who argue that they’ve been stripped of their constitutional rights. It is not inconceivable that the government finds itself on the losing end of any such judgement and on the hook for millions of dollars in legal fees (their own and the unions’).

Having navigated this situation very well thus far, I think the teacher’s unions would do well to keep the attention focused squarely on the government’s ham-fisted shenanigans and muzzle their membership as best they can.

For whatever support the teachers enjoy is a fragile, ambivalent one at best, I think, sure to evaporate at the first sign of whining about losing banked sick days.

Overconfidence on the part of the unions would be a mistake, despite the gains they’ve made with the public in the last week or two. Just below the surface lies the seething bitterness of a recession-weary public. The very same fearsome beast Dalton McGuinty had hoped to have whipped into a frenzy by now is beginning to rouse itself yawning and blinking as the teachers begin feeling out the public’s response to their voluntary withdrawl from extracurricular activities like sports teams, arts clubs, school trips and such.

It won’t take much to restore the lack of patience that Premier McGuinty was counting on when he manufactured this crisis.

 

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