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Michael Laxer's blog

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Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore with his partner Natalie. Michael has a Degree in History from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the newly formed Socialist Party of Ontario.

Laurel's lies: The real way to put Ontario students and children first

| January 4, 2013

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Laurel Broten is lying. 

But, then, so are all of Ontario's other politicians.

The narrative of Broten, imposing contracts on Ontario's teachers, is quite clear. Ontario cannot afford pay increases, fair wages and reasonable sick day banking  policies because of an alleged "financial crisis" in the province. Ontario simply has no money.

She laid out the Liberal government line. And the media have largely bought it. The Ottawa Citizen states:

After months of labour strife, Broten says she chose to impose contracts on thousands of people working in the province’s public school system, based on similar terms reached with Ontario’s Catholic teachers last July, in order to save the cash-strapped province $2 billion and protect gains in education and teaching jobs.

“In the interest of students, families and all Ontarians, I have been left with no other reasonable option,” the minister told reporters in Toronto.

Ontario families deserve “certainty and clarity, and that is why we put in place collective agreements,” Broten said.

The key point is the claim that she, and the government, "have been left with no other reasonable option". That is simply false.

There is a reasonable option that would put students first and that would also ensure that educators were properly compensated. It is an option that would allow for the reversal of the welfare cuts, in real terms,  of the last budget that were supported by the NDP. It is an option that would eliminate any deficit at all.

It is raising taxes.

For far too long we have coddled a middle class philosophy that seeks to grant tax cuts to everyone while still maintaining the services and systems that the middle class cherish.  We have indulged the fantasy that you can cut taxes on the middle class and still provide services to the middle class, or anyone else, a fantasy that is demonstrably false.

We seem to think that a top quality public education system is possible, but no one should pay for it.

Previously I have shown that the entire "austerity agenda" and the entire deficit could be reversed immediately by undoing the reckless and economically foolhardy vote getting tax cuts of the last nearly twenty years that are now supported by all political parties. Tax cuts that have endangered all of our existing public services and prevented the creation of new ones, like universal daycare or dental care.

When Ontarians were faced with a one day teachers strike, suddenly the press and the politicians claim to feel the pain of the parent left without childcare.

According to the press this was a stunning and horrible inconvenience. The Toronto Star had headlines about people "enduring" the day long strike in December as if it was the Mayan Apocalypse.

But where were the headlines about parents enduring totally unaffordable daycare regularly, every single day? Where was the outrage at the fact that most parents depend on teachers not only to teach their children, but to take care of them while they work?

The irony is that the Star and other papers seem to live in a world where a day without the "childcare" that is our public education system, is an insurmountable inconvenience whereas in reality working people, the lower middle class and the poor are driven into poverty constantly by being forced to find costly childcare for their children, our youngest citizens, who do not yet qualify by law for kindergarten or who need to be cared for after school hours.

There are some simple things to take out of this.

One is that the teachers are not daycare workers. For whatever reason, as a society, we have decided to force parents to endure years of financial terror in Ontario and Canada before our kids are in Kindergarten and then after.  As a result, once our kids are actually in the classrooms of trained educators, we are under the mistaken impression that this education is about our "convenience" or that it is constructed to make our lives easier. 

Apologies to parents but universal education is not, and was never, about us. The reason that children are required to attend school by law is not that it makes life convenient for parents, but, at one time, we as a society understood that the purpose of childhood education is to ensure that all kids, no matter their class, race or gender background have at least some chance within the school system of equality of opportunity.

People don't train to be teachers to wipe bottoms or noses, but to educate. They are not "day care workers", whatever that might mean. But it seems that the unwritten rule of the elementary school teacher is to wipe noses, help nourish students and to teach them. They also encourage our little people with praise when they try their best.

What does our provincial government do when our educators do their best? They punish them, by taking away their constitutionally protected  collective bargaining rights, and therefore their right to free assembly.

Beyond that we get the sheer idiocy of the Tories.

"The union should pay for the childcare that parents are now scrambling to find for their kids", said Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod.

"Thirty to fifty dollars is a lot to a lot of Ontario families," she said. "Especially those families who are going without this year because mom or dad doesn't have a job."

So, here is the thing. Is Macleod or anyone else in the Ontario Legislature, including the NDP,  calling for universal daycare to save parents that $30-50 a day? Of course not.

By her logic, there is a clear way to end this strike. According to government stats most teachers educate at least 15-20 students in elementary school per class. That means, at minimum, according to her, teachers with 17.5 students per class are worth $700 a day. And there are, at a legal minimum 194 school days.

This means they should earn $135,800 a year on average. As opposed to the bargain we get of  a 15 year veteran earning less than half that.  

$135,000 a year would be a salary comparable to the MPPs fighting them or who are de facto approving Bill 115. These extraordinarily well compensated citizens seem to have no problem cutting the wages and benefits of those less Patrician than themselves.

The illusion that we can, as parents, put our children first while supporting tax cuts for ourselves is being called out. They are not compatible.

Anyone who really claims to be putting students or their own children ahead of themselves is lying if they are unwilling to make the minor sacrifices collectively through slightly higher taxes that would allow this.

Putting students and children first means not only supporting your educators and their rights, but also accepting that the middle class tax cuts of the last generation were done to benefit people in the "here-and-now" and that they are selling away and damaging the futures of our kids.

Our selfishness is soon to be their problem.




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