new faces on education dossier

 In Elections


The dust has long since settled in the Ontario election. …On the positive side, the Tories were not elected so the worst possible scenario was avoided. We will not likely be dragged down by a “Mike Harris” cutbacks agenda, have the labour arbitration system of Ontario rigged, or be sucker punched by privatization schemes. On the negative side, the McGuinty Liberals will believe they have a mandate to continue a heavily ‘human capital’ oriented education regime that will continue the distortion of the system with the EQAO standardized test driven system that seems to have forgotten that citizenship development through history, human geography and literature and human fulfillment through the arts, physical education, foreign languages remain two important legs of the three legged stool that must support balanced education.


Teachers campaigned hard to support the Liberals, almost to the point of forgetting that the NDP is the sea anchor that prevents the Liberals from shifting further to the right. ETFO ran their off-the-wall “Vote Against Kids” campaign, OECTA ran billboards reminding voters “Who Speaks for Children” and OSSTF preferred to keep their campaign a bit more subterranean with tons of direct riding support in swing seats. All three heavily supported the “Working Families Coalition” that pummelled the Tories and Hudak throughout the election. All three major federations, in the crass calculations of politics, are in a strong position with a weakened Liberal government. It is crystal clear that without teacher union support (OSSTF is 30% non-teacher support workers) that the Liberals would simply not be the government.


The first demand of the federations ought to be a shift in the EQAO to random testing pending a phase out of testing altogether. It is expensive; it has no role whatsoever in school improvement and it whipsaws the system allowing the testing tail to wag the program dog.


McGuinty feigned public sector wage restrictions pre-election. With any luck he will be disabused of this reactionary notion. With the economy still in recovery, McGuinty could be tempted to attack the public sector but he and the Liberals ought to know by now that this is just not on.


There are three new faces to education in Ontario . The Liberals have chosen Laurel Broten Toronto MPP for Lakeshore as the new education minister while the Tories chose MPP Lisa McLeod as their education critic while the NDP chose Peter Tabuns as NDP education critic.


Broten is an unfortunate choice. She was dumped from the cabinet once before after building a huge garage on her Toronto home that alienated her neighbours and was nicknamed Garage Mahal. Broten is seen by many as a ‘lightweight’ in the cabinet who knows little about education. With any hope, this does not indicate that McGuinty the “Education Premier” has downgraded education priorities in Ontario. With any luck he is indicating that he really intends to ‘be his own education minister’ with hands on control while Broten gets the coffee.


When the really stressful education issues arise you can bet that serious players (boards, unions, parents groups will soon begin to say that they wish to bypass the monkey and speak directly to the organ grinder.


Lisa McLeod, if there is any message involved, is a strong indication that the Tories ‘tried to play nice’ with teachers and boards and were rebuffed. McLeod is significantly to the right of former Tory education critic Liz Witmer and may indicate that the Tories are shifting back to their loony reactionary agenda of privatization, attacks on teachers and ed. workers, and a “test everything that moves” mentality. If so they this direction will result in self inflicted wounds that will limit the Tory future. They need to take a serious look at the polling on education, not amongst their own base or rural ridings but within the entire province or at least those seats they hope to represent some day. There is no real support in Ontario for privatization, for cutbacks or for increased testing. It is time the Tories got this through their thick heads once and for all. They played to their base during the election by demonizing employment programs for immigrants. It led to a plunge in support in the critical GTA belt around Toronto . How dumb is that?


The NDP chose Peter Tabuns as education critic. This is interesting. Rosario Marchese had been the long-term critic but all things need to change. Unlike the other two parties, the NDP did not choose a lightweight or a reactionary. Tabuns was a leadership candidate for the NDP and is considered an NDP heavyweight, a serious parliamentarian and a strong advocate.


The NDP’s problem has not been leadership but policy. For too long they have been playing it safe in education policy and giving ‘me to’ support to Liberal priorities. Here is what they need to do. They need to find 2-3 lead policies that meet some tough criteria. I call these the ‘public auto insurance test’. This policy was both radical and popular.


This begins with a serious analysis of what really bothers Ontario residents about education that is also open to a major progressive response. I suspect that tuition fees and opposition to school closings are close to the top of this list. Promises to freeze tuition at a certain level or gradually roll them back does not catch the public imagination. There is no ZIP to it. Instead, the NDP ought to say that there will be no tuition whatsoever in first year college or university. The policy would follow up to say that, when the province can afford it, tuition for year two will also be phased out totally. This is the stuff people actually get excited about, tell their friends about and move their vote about. With any luck, the Liberals will label the policy irresponsible and unaffordable and the Tories will sputter some apoplectic response when they gain their composure.


The NDP needs to also support a complete moratorium on school closings, rural and urban, and a shift to community use of schools, child-care, adult education, clinics, libraries, meeting space whatever it takes.


The government should last two years at least since the parties are all broke but could last longer. Therefore, raise the curtain. This could be good.


This article was taken from thelittleeducationreport Doug Little is a former high school teacher and school trustee.




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