Teachers demonstrate their solidarity in Toronto
Submitted photo Renfrew County’s public school teachers, along with other unions, joined together in a massive rally in Toronto Saturday, held in conjunction with the Liberal leadership convention. Some 30,000 people took part in the demonstration, held to protest the government’s actions with Bill 115, which imposed contracts on the province’s teachers.
Renfrew County public school teachers, like their colleagues across Ontario, are hopeful the new premier will be more receptive to their issues.
This in the wake of Kathleen Wynne’s victory at the Liberal leadership convention in Toronto on Saturday, which was also the target of a massive labour rally held that same day protesting the way the government handled its educators through Bill 115, which imposed two-year contracts on teachers and support staff.
Members of the Renfrew County local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, along with District 28 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, attended the rally, which had been organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour.
A bus, sponsored by the ETFO, left Pembroke on the day of the rally at 6 a.m., stopping by Renfrew to pick up a few more educators, which included those from schools in Arnprior, Renfrew, Killaloe, Pembroke, Petawawa and Deep River.
They joined others at Allan Gardens a few hours before the march started with music and speeches. CUPE, USW, CAW and others were among some of the union groups in attendance with OSSTF and ETFO, with the OFL estimating crowds reaching 30,000 people. The rally took to the streets, marching from Allan Gardens to the Maple Leaf Convention Center where the leadership convention was taking place.
Allison Ryan, president of the Renfrew County Teachers’ Local, ETFO who attended the protest, said she felt the rally went well, as they delivered a strong message to Liberal delegates that democracy must be restored and collective bargaining must be respected.
“The energy of the crowd was remarkable,” she said. “To be a part of something like that was uplifting.”
Ryan said she hopes the change in leadership will signal more positive change to come between educators and the provincial government.
Jeffrey Barber, president of OSSTF District 28, said he was proud to be a part of Saturday’s rally in Toronto along with 30,000 Ontarians who were passionate about democracy.
In regards to the new Liberal leader, he is also hopeful things can be worked out.
“Kathleen Wynne has earned my respect in conversation and now she has to earn my trust through her actions,” he said. “In the next two weeks, the new premier will have an opportunity to begin finding a way out of the chaos that the Liberals and Conservatives created in our education system.”
“This will be a daunting task, but an achievable one if she is willing to allow free collective bargaining.”
Bill 115 was used on Jan. 3, 2013 by then Ontario’s Education Minister Laurel Broten to impose contracts on the province’s teachers and education support staff who haven’t yet reached deals with their respective boards, while also prohibiting their right to strike for the length of the contracts. She had surprised everyone by also announcing the bill would be repealed, seen by political pundits as a cynical ploy to defuse the situation before it became an election issue.
The teachers’ unions launched a court action against Bill 115 on the basis it violated their rights to bargain freely and was thus unconstitutional, and are intending to continue holding a series of political protests after school hours to continue to keep the matter in the public eye.
Ideally, the public school unions want Wynne to tear up the imposed contracts and begin with collective bargaining once more, but as that seems unlikely, will be seeking some sort of concessions from the government in exchange for supervising extracurricular activities once again. These have been suspended since late fall as part of their ongoing protest against the province.
Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist