Gananoque, Ontario Attacks on public sector workers, especially teachers, has become as popular in Canada as it has become in the United States, especially in the country’s largest province, Ontario. Ironically, many teachers’ unions have been supportive of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal (which is really not liberal, friends) government for over almost the decade they have been in power, but as bargaining for a new collective agreement intensified, they were sucker punched badly on a one-two combination. The Liberals, smarting from a projected 15-Billion dollar deficit, have waved the red-ink flag as the excuse to hammer public sector teachers. On one hand they bypassed the bargaining process and have introduced legislation freezing teachers’ wages, clawing back sick days, and fast-tracking newer and substitute (i.e. cheaper!) teachers over more senior educators, and on the other hand they managed to get the unionized Catholic school teachers to sign onto their so-called “road map” agreement.
Much of this dispute came to a head hours before I flew into Toronto as the results were fully absorbed in a Kitchener-Waterloo by-election called by the Liberals to attempt to achieve a majority to enact some of these policies. Chalk one up to the New Democratic Party (NDP), the energized unions, and other progressives who came together and decisively won in this riding and pushed out the Liberals who had held the seat for 22 years. The Progressive Conservative leader claimed he was beaten by a “tsunami of union bosses,” and even though that is clearly not the case since the voters administered this tail-kicking, it would be inspiring if it were the sign of a full scale turnaround.
Meeting with the ACORN Canada staff, some of whom were from the Kit-Wat area, and hearing from ACORN members and volunteers who had helped in the voter turnout efforts, the results coming in from CSS precincts where they had worked saw results as high as 60% for the winning candidate, Catherine Fife, likely leading much of the numbers polled. Kitchener-Waterloo has become the Canadian Wisconsin, but this is one where the victory was clearly for public sector employees and the citizens and community that appreciate their contributions and has delivered a decisive setback to these vicious attempts to rewrite labor relations in Ontario.