Dalton McGuinty’s attack on teachers’ trade union rights is ultimately an attack on the middle class. It is misguided and unnecessary.
It is also unfair.
McGuinty’s archly named Putting Students First bill is unnecessary because it seeks to end, through a two-year strike ban, a labour dispute that does not exist.
Teachers are not on strike. Nor according to the leaders of the two major unions involved, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, do they intend to go on strike.
They may have walked away from province-wide talks with the Liberal government. But as required under Ontario labour law, they have been bargaining with the local school boards that employ them.
Certainly the boards didn’t ask Queen’s Park to step in. Most apparently thought they could reach deals with their employees.
So why is the government attacking teachers?
My astute colleague Martin Regg Cohn has pointed to the politics of the situation. The Liberals are desperate to win two Sept. 6 by-elections in order to gain a majority of seats in the provincial legislature. They reckon that taking on the unions will play particularly well in one riding, Kitchener-Waterloo, that has traditionally elected Tories.
But beyond this, the McGuinty Liberals are suffering from the same myopia that seems to affect so many provincial governments.
They are focusing on the province’s deficit, now $15 billion, rather than the economic circumstances that created this shortfall.
Those circumstances have to do with a faltering economy that through job loss and weakened consumer demand is starving government of revenues.
A far-sighted government would focus on restarting the economy and raising those revenues. A near-sighted government, like this one, focuses on reducing spending alone — with no thought as to how such cuts might further hobble the overall economy.