Monday, July 29, 2013

Open Letter to Ken Coran

Hi Ken,

You might remember me. When you were forced to answer questions at the beginning of OSSTF's last AMPA, I asked you a question. I asked, "Ken, I was told that OSSTF was going to fight to repeal Bill 115, rescind our imposed working conditions, and restore collective bargaining. We got the first one - what happened to the other two?" I can't quote your response as accurately as my question, but I remember you telling me that OSSTF provincial executive was indeed working on rescinding our imposed working conditions and restoring our collective bargaining rights, and that I should wait and see what developments would come with Broten and McGuinty gone. Well, I gave you the benefit of the doubt and waited to see what OSSTF would put forward to the members for a vote. And might I say I was severely disappointed.

In the end all I got was some "improvements" to an imposed contract. I never got to vote on a collective agreement. In fact, I worked summer school under an imposed contract that nobody seems sure how to interpret. Local school boards are picking and choosing which parts of our MOU to implement, and my board, Ottawa-Carleton, has so far failed to append the MOU to our existing collective agreement, making it clear that my employer intends to bargain from the starting point of the Bill 115 imposed contracts, rather than the imposed contract including the improvements from the MOU. Whatever I got, I sure didn't get rid of the imposed working conditions, and I sure didn't get my collective bargaining rights back.

So what did you get? Well, you got your retirement from OSSTF (with a fully indexed pension, I assume - something I seriously doubt I will have when I retire in 25 years). But, you also managed to find yourself a new job - with the Liberal Party of Ontario! This is the same party that, less than a year ago, suspended our right to strike and stripped our contracts of benefits we fought for decades ago. Some might think that Kathleen Wynne represents a new government with a new collaborative approach - but I would hope such people would remember that Wynne voted for Bill 115 just like every Liberal MPP in the legislature.

So, I guess I got the answer to my question. Well, I'm not happy, Ken. In fact, I am infuriated. I rallied on the streets for months in support of my union as we fought for our rights to bargain a contract. I marched in the freezing cold only to be offered an MOU that did nothing to undo the damage of Bill 115. And while I get to live with the damage to our rights and our benefits for the rest of my career, you're out trying to win an election as a Liberal candidate. Well, I decided the appropriate way to demonstrate my disappointment with your decisions was to try and make your campaign a little more difficult.

I spent the first day of my summer vacation driving from Ottawa to London to work with other OSSTF dissidents to try and encourage the good citizens of London to vote for another party than the Liberals. I hoped to remind them that the Liberal Party of Ontario intends to continue to fund an austerity agenda by cutting funding to public services like education. I wanted to tell other public servants that Kathleen Wynne has pledged that any improvements to salaries and benefits (even cost-of-living increases) will have to come from program spending. Above all, I wanted to convince voters that the Liberal Party is not the progressive alternative to the Harris PCs that warranted our support over a decade ago.

Well, I'm just one person with a few like-minded allies, so there wasn't much I could do, other than try to get my message out to the voters. This is Canada after all, a democracy where our political freedoms are cherished and respected. Well, let me tell you, you have some staffers in your office that don't seem to have much respect for democratic freedoms at all.

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 27th, I arrived with some fellow OSSTF members to leaflet cars in the parking lot outside your campaign office. I'll attach the text of the leaflet below, but suffice to say the message can be summarized as "Don't vote Liberal, because other parties deserve your support more." You should ask your campaign office workers how they reacted to political action from your opponents. If you really do respect the democratic process, I think you'll be disappointed with how your staffers treated OSSTF members - people who's rights you were fighting for for decades.

Anyways, I did the best I could. If one of the hundreds of leaflets I passed out made even a shred of a difference when it comes to how people will vote, I'll have deemed my action a success.

I hope no idea what directions my union will take now that you are gone. I can only hope that your response to the attacks on our rights will be seen as a blueprint for how NOT to respond when a government decides to attack education workers and their collective bargaining rights. And, I can only hope that, come this Thursday, when Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government faces five by-elections, that every single Liberal candidate is defeated, including you.

Andy Wilson
OSSTF member, Ottawa.

Text of the flyer that was distributed outside Ken Coran's campaign office in London:


  • Don’t like austerity? DON’T VOTE LIBERAL.
  • Don’t like public services being cut to pay for low corporate taxes? DON’T VOTE LIBERAL.
  • Don’t like Bill 115 and restrictions on collective bargaining? DON’T VOTE LIBERAL.

  • The Liberals are not the progressive alternative to the Conservatives they used to be.
  • Other candidates are more deserving of your vote.
  • Show the Liberals that they cannot take your support for granted!

Monday, July 8, 2013

OSSTF, Let's Talk Politics

As I've come to learn more and more about my union, I continue to find myself frustrated with its approach to politics.

Even after the Liberal Party of Ontario took away our bargaining rights and stripped our contracts, there is still support in OSSTF for the party - even support for Liberal candidates in Ontario's current by-elections. I strongly believe that recent history indicates that OSSTF members should seriously re-examine their "Anything But Conservative" election strategy. If we don't, we might find ourselves continuing to be complicit with a government that hurts public education and ignores collective bargaining rights.

Playing strategic got us to where we are. Since the Harris years, as far as I know, OSSTF mostly supported the Liberals, and, where the NDP had the upper hand, they received OSSTF's support instead. Basically, OSSTF chose Liberal or NDP candidates to support - whoever was going to beat the Conservatives.

And that strategy worked. Enough seats went Liberal, and in some places some went NDP, and OSSTF managed to negotiate collective agreements successfully for a decade. 

But then the Liberals decided to take a sharp turn to the right. The tired government, mired in multiple scandals, took a gamble that attacking education workers and their decent working conditions would undercut the appeal of the Conservatives. It didn't work, but the government stuck to its guns and used Bill 115 to impose contracts on education workers anyways.

And now it's by-election time again, and the old "better a Liberal than a Conservative" mindset seems to prevail in OSSTF. I just don't get it.

I suppose it's a strategy born out by fear - but let's examine that fear. Hudak stands for a lot of things that would obviously be incredibly disastrous for public education and union rights. If he were to secure a majority government, he could cut programs and enact politics that will cause lasting harm to workers and students for years to come. Fighting back against such assaults would involve a campaign of the magnitude OSSTF hasn't engaged in in years. It would be a massive undertaking involving the mobilization of education workers province-wide. And it would be costly; OSSTF would drain its strike fund, and workers would most likely lose multiple days of pay through participating in "illegal" strikes or political protests. It would be hard, and there would be costs.

Who knows, maybe OSSTF's political action can avoid the inevitable and stave off a Conservative government for another decade. But what's the cost of a continued "Anything but Conservative" strategy, even if it's rewarded with more Liberal governments? 

The cost of such a strategy is saying that we are so frightened of the Conservatives that we will support the Liberals even after they use an illegal law to strip our contracts. Kathleen Wynne will understand that she can get away with such behaviour in the future and still enjoy our support. All she has to do is raise the spectre of a Conservative government, and we'll settle for wage cuts, stripped benefits, and the restriction of our right to strike. 

If you've followed my analysis so far, you're likely now asking something like, "Well, ok, the Liberals should be punished, and they should know that our support is conditional on things like respect for the collective bargaining process. But, what are we to do? If we don't support the Liberals, what do we do instead? How do we work to avoid a Hudak government?"

The answer to such questions is: "I don't know." I just want education workers to start having this discussion.  How do we take into account the threat of a Conservative government, while at the same time draw a line in the sand with the Liberals and let them know that they won't get our support until they respect our rights to collective bargaining?

Whatever we decide, and there will be different decisions across the province, I hope that education workers consider more than the fear of a Hudak government that might never come to be.

And at the end of the day, despite OSSTF's support, the Liberals may well lose in a future general election anyways. And then it'd be time to have a different discussion: how to resist a Conservative austerity agenda, rather than how to help enable a Liberal one.