Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Three thoughts on Bill 122 committee hearings

Having read through the transcript of last week's committee hearing into Bill 122, there are only a few things that percolate to the surface for me as the legislation continues its move through the House.
The transcript is part of the bill's bundle of pages on the legislative website-- French-language skills will be useful as two of the deputations' remarks are in French as are a few of the questions asked afterwards. Kudos to the Globe and Mail and QP Briefing (owned by the Star) for having their reporters in the room. The focus of the Globe piece was heavy on conflict, of the potential for it even with this proposed bill in place.
With one exception (Clegg), I found the deputations' comments to be reasonable and pointed out the three things that percolated to the top for me.
  1. That Bill 122 enshrine the Crown as one of the parties in any provincial negotiations. Most every deputation spoke to how the Crown ultimately sets the terms of how this bargaining will look and feel like but doesn't define itself as a member at the table. Given the province, through its ministry and budget, funds the vast majority of the monies used by boards to pay their employees and run our publicly funded school systems, this appears as a glaring oversight. I don't know if its omission was an attempt to keep the Crown from being defined in any way as an employer around those tables-- but given the school board associations (for better or worse) represent their members and the unions represent the employees to be covered the people at the table with the money to make it all happen work for the Crown. It should be a defined member of those negotiations.
  2. That the central bargaining created by Bill 122 include all unionized employees who work within Ontario's schools. OSSTF, OECTA and CUPE spoke most strongly to these points, although they diverge slightly on the nuts and bolts of how each of the various smaller unions in the education sector could or should participate in central bargaining. Again, this is an oversight-- teachers' federations (who represent more than teachers) often steal the education-sector bargaining limelight. We in media tend to overlook and ignore the support workers, their contracts, their working conditions and such unless and until there's any job action. If central bargaining on key issues will be the law of the land for teachers' federations, then it should be so and include other unionized employee groups as well.
  3. What should be discussed locally and centrally? Bill 122 proposes the government/Crown make this definition. The unions all pointed out that in free collective bargaining, the first item for discussion is to decide what is to be discussed. I'm undecided on where to sit on this question. Given the sole-funder question, I see a day where it wouldn't be too far-fetched a premise to have central bargaining deal with 100% of education sector agreements. We're a long way from this, but Bill 122 is an important step. If school board associations become more structured and transparent, government remains accountable to its citizenry and the unions remain accountable to their members, then you have three equal partners making decisions that are consistently applied in every publicly funded school. Unless funding control were to return to local boards and unions de-amalgamated, there wouldn't be two equal partners at the table in local bargaining-- which in part was what happened from 1998-2002/3, when provincial table officers from headquarters were assigned to every district for bargaining to achieve provincewide objectives while school boards had no similar support.
All of the above, and anything else to be said about Bill 122 whether you agree with this assessment or not, is moot unless the bill actually makes it to royal assent. Given the larger chess pieces at play, I don't have the confidence that will happen before the spring budget which may lead to an election. Further, the government isn't out there pumping up the fact this is one of the key bills it wants to see passed before the next budget.
If left on the order paper, what happens in a post-election scenario? In a change of government scenario, how would the impending round of collective agreements be dealt with? If the Liberals are returned to office in whatever form (minority/majority), do they pick up 122 and re-introduce it with the goal of a quick passing?
Unless there are some big changes, the next Ontario election won't be about education, it will be about the Liberals' track record on other files. Neither opposition party has yet shed its timidity when it comes to challenging this government on its education track record in a way that will resonate with voters. Their final platforms will prove otherwise, but overall silence from the third party, countered with a pledge to halt implementation of full-day kindergarten from the official opposition are not going to make education the ballot question.
Clause-by-clause consideration is scheduled for March 11-12 to start March 5 In the midst of a few other things going on, I'll read through those transcripts and come back with any additional thoughts afterwards.


susansmith said...

Thought clause by clause review starts today. Perhaps I am wrong.

Education Reporter said...

Correct-- it does start today, actually, started six minutes ago. I had grabbed that date from the other minutes.