Teachers to focus on lobbying over Bill 160
By Sara Marett
As the morning bell rang, recess ended yesterday for Ontario's 2.1 million public school students as teachers returned to the classroom after a two-week long province-wide strike.
Ontario's five teachers' unions decided over the weekend they would send their teachers back to work as negotiations with the government over Bill 160 collapsed. Their united front was questioned, however, as three unions made the initial decision Thursday night and the rest followed suit by Sunday.
The teachers have been striking since Oct. 27 over Bill 160 which includes reform to such areas as increased teaching time and less preparation time for teachers, control of education tax rates and replacement of some teachers with non-certified professionals.
Peter Chapman is the district president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, the last union to decide to send the teachers back. "We felt obligated to be united with the other unions on this decision," he said.
This should not be interpreted as the end of the protest our strategy has just changed and if anything it will intensify, Chapman said. "It is not yet time to throw away the picket signs."
Eileen Lennon, president of the Ontario Teachers' Federation, said each affiliate made their own decision to send their teachers back to work. "Everyone is still united on Bill 160 and we will continue to protest until it is changed," she said.
Lennon explained the unions will now focus on lobbying the Members of Provincial Parliament, those who will vote on the bill. "If it does get passed, the government can count on further political action from the teachers," she said. Lennon added the unions are investigating a court challenge to prove the bill is constitutionally invalid, but it is too early to say if this will be done as the bill must first be passed.
"It is obvious that negotiating does not work with this government and we will now try to bring change from within the caucus," Lennon said.
Ministry of Education spokesperson Karen Dillabough explained Bill 160 will go before the House of Commons for its third reading and final debate Nov. 17.
Meanwhile, the teachers will continue this week to picket the offices of London's MPPs to make sure changes to the bill occur, Chapman said.
London MPP Bob Wood said he supports the bill and thinks it is a step in the right direction for educational reform in Ontario. He said he is willing to listen to what parents, teachers and students have to say about the bill in order to put in place good legislation.