Submission on Bill 115 Putting Students First Act

Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)

September 6, 2012

The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) calls on the Liberal government to withdraw Bill 115, the misnamed “Putting Students First Act”, as unconstitutional, an attack on free collective bargaining, an attack on the local autonomy and democracy of elected School Boards, and an attack on quality public education in Ontario.

If Bill 115 is passed, it will open up an attack on the collective bargaining rights of all public sector workers in Ontario, threatening the labour, democratic and civil rights of all citizens.

In the event Bill 115 proceeds to a vote, we call on MPPs across all parties who support quality public education to defeat it.

The provincial government is not the bargaining agent and has no bargaining rights, and no legal rights to impose a collective agreement on either Ontario School Boards or the education unions that negotiate with them.  It is noteworthy that collective agreements were in force right across the province in August when the government drew up this Bill and began its disinformation and fear-mongering campaign that schools would not open September 3 due to imminent strikes and lock-outs.

In fact, if the provincial government had not interfered School Boards and education unions in the province would have been in negotiations in September working towards collective agreements.

The only crisis in education today is the one wholly manufactured in Queen’s Park by the Liberal government which has continued the policy of the chronic under-funding of education that was started by its predecessors the Harris Tories. The Liberals have followed the example of the Harris government and its Education Minister John Snobelen, and ‘created a useful crisis’ in an attempt to remove large sums of money from their education transfers over the next two years.

The real crisis is not in education, it’s in the spring budget where the Liberals undertook deep cuts to education, health, and social spending as recommended by Ontario’s bankers and corporations in the Drummond Report.  Some cuts made by the provincial government are even deeper than those proposed by Drummond.

Removing funding from education is not a vote-getter as the government well knows.  So the problem for the government was how to remove these funds without also losing public support.

Attacking unions and education workers as greedy, and counter-posing their wages, benefits and pensions to the full-day kindergarten programs being rolled out across the province, is the government’s cynical solution.

But it has back-fired as the results of the Kitchener Waterloo by-election are showing.  The public is rejecting union-bashing and attacks on free collective bargaining, quality public education, and local autonomy and democracy.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has warned that Bill 115 is unconstitutional and that the round-table discussions with OECTA and the French Boards took place under duress.

The ‘agreements’ were forced, and therefore not legal.

The unions in the education sector have stated they will challenge Bill 115 all the way to the Supreme Court, should it pass September 10th.

They could be joined by the province’s School Boards whose collective bargaining rights have also been eliminated, and whose authority over collective bargaining, budgeting, and in other vital areas is also attacked in Bill 115.

The government should withdraw Bill 115, and instead deliver the over-due and long-promised needs-based funding formula for public education, which would enable collective bargaining to proceed quickly and new collective agreements to be ratified.

Finally, we call on the government to heed the UN Human Rights Committee and end the discriminatory funding of religious schools in Ontario.   In fairness, as Quebec and Newfoundland  have already done, Ontario should phase out Catholic School funding and establish a single, secular, and quality public school system open to all – regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality.

Ending the duplication of two parallel school systems would save billions of taxpayer dollars over the long haul, generating needed funds for investment in capital repairs as well as programs and operating costs.  This will deliver a better quality education for all.

The government cannot ‘put students first’ if it puts teachers, educational workers, school boards, and democracy last.  We call on all MPPs to defeat Bill 115, if the government refuses to withdraw the Bill.

Respectfully submitted,

Elizabeth Rowley
Executive Committee
Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)

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