An Open Letter to Stephen Lecce and the Ford Government

Updated on February 5, 2020
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, & LGBT advocacy.

The "Dynamic" Duo?
The "Dynamic" Duo? | Source

Shoulder Some Blame for a Change

Stephen Lecce and Doug Ford, you both should be ashamed of yourselves.

I am a parent of two daughters, ages 15 and almost 11, and a teacher with membership in the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation, though it doesn't really matter which union I'm a part of. My oldest is obviously impacted by the moves the OSSTF undertakes as a result of your poor performance at the bargaining table, while my youngest, who attends a nearby Catholic school, is impacted by job action by both OSSTF and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA). As a parent with an active social media presence, I am appalled by your ongoing blame game and complete lack of ownership of the current situation.

Let me be clear. When my kids screw up—which they do a lot because they're kids and they're learning—they, too, try and evade and avoid responsibility because it's easier to do that than admit fault. They have, however, learned that there is a degree of power and maturity if they step up, own their responsibility in whatever happened, and take whatever consequences that result. I don't see that from you.

You are deliberately feeding the Ontario public misleading information which has been disproven many times over. Mr. Ford, you've even said that you support teachers, but your problem is with "the head of the union." Notice you were quoted as saying union, not unions. I've no idea if that was simply a misprint or an actual quote, but if it was, in fact, you who said you had beef with the head of the singular union, why are you not addressing that directly with him or her? In addition, by making union singular, it makes it seem as though that you are discounting the other provincial unions. There's OSSTF, OECTA, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), and l'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO). Which union head, in particular, are you having a problem with, and why are you lumping all educators into the same realm as a result?

You both also need to keep in mind that, at least from what many of us saw in the media and from your range of press conferences and Twitter appearances on both of your accounts, you started unilaterally changing things before negotiations even began. You stated that class sizes would go up to a provincial average of 28 students to 1 teacher when it had previously been 22:1. You are trying to spin things so that the public believes that your current proposal of 25:1 is not an increase when in reality it's still an increase from the original 22:1 ratio. You are trying to say that the e-learning you want to cram down everyone's throat is also a concession, as well. Sorry, but when e-learning was a choice, and you are now saying that it would be mandatory, regardless of the number of courses, that isn't a concession.

You will not budge on your hacking of special education budgets, leaving teachers in these classrooms everywhere working twice as hard as they already do in order to ensure student safety. Several teachers have openly invited both of you on social media—anyone from your government, really—to come to an actually publicly-funded classroom and see what really happens. Where have you gone? For-profit daycares and private schools.

Mr. Lecce, you keep insisting that the bottom line is about wages. Your government unilaterally capped wage increases at 1 percent, which is being fought by several unions, yet happily accepted 20 percent increases to your housing allowance and I believe 14 percent overall wage hikes. Teachers who have gone through three strike days because your government won't concede on anything of substance have more than lost that one percent. If this was truly about wages, do you honestly think that teachers would continue to strike and lose money each day we're out?

Yes, we have to do what our union—you know, that collective agency that we're a part of?—votes to do. Every educator in a union voted, to a huge margin in favor of job action, to fight these heinous cuts. We were not afraid, as you, Mr. Ford, have said. Many of us have children of our own, some with learning challenges and some in need of special education supports which might be threatened because of your vicious cuts. We also have students who have significant financial struggles which means that these students could have problems accessing the technology required by your proposed cuts. We have students who have significant learning or behavioral challenges who need the special education support that you're wanting to take away.

It's important to note that no one has said cuts aren't necessary. Ontario is hugely in debt, and we all understand that. However, a poorly-educated populace results in an increased reliance on social services that might be in short supply. How is that going to drive Ontario's economy into something fruitful and productive?

However, there are other places to make cuts. Look at the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), whose responsibility it is to administer the tests that stress out countless students in Grade 3, 6, and 9, in addition to the Ontario Secondary Schools Literacy Test. This department is worth millions, serves no proper purpose other than to cause educators to teach towards a test, which leads students to prepare for weeks for information that they will probably do a "brain dump" of the second the test is done. There has been no real benefit shown to these tests, and yet, you insist on keeping them. Why?

Why do the cuts have to be limited to education or health care, which seem to be your two favorite areas to cut? Your substantial salaries, the corporate tax cuts . . . any of these could have easily been cut by at least half of what you put through, and yet they weren't.

Enough of the blame game.

Enough of vilifying educators.

Start doing your job—actually working for the benefit of everyone in Ontario, not only your rich business colleagues—and get back to the bargaining table with a clear head. Realize what you're doing to your voter base, and get your crap together.

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    • profile image

      Dael 

      5 months ago

      Hi Chris,

      I have 3 friends who teach in the public system (none in the private) and the horror stories I hear from them about:

      1. Safety (one had a student who had to be taken to be evaluated, was given a diagnosis of "should be kept away from the public at large (in essence)" and was returned to the classroom without an educational and behavioural plan because there was no room for them in a long term institution. This child went on to destroy that teacher's knee by repeatedly kicking my friend in the same place multiple times a day, costing the health care system thousands of dollars to repair said knee).

      2. Class size: That same teacher is now in a classroom with 28 students, a 2-3 core group. So they are now teaching children for whom the "play to learn" program didn't work, who can't read or write at their grade level, teaching 2 curricula in a classroom with 26 IEPs. They get 90 minutes of EA support PER WEEK. Part of their class is writing the EQAO (which isn't a measure of learning so much as a statistic on teacher effectiveness, thus on their future earning capacity), and THE KIDS CAN'T (or can barely) READ OR WRITE.

      This teacher, who works in an economically challenged area of Ontario, makes sure that those students get food, love and support by making Christmas baskets, recycling clothing from their house, smiles and patience when they have none left. They don't do this for the money, they do it because they are trying to leave a legacy of educated children to take over from us when we retire.

      Another friend works in the French system in Toronto. Same stories but they work in a middle school where the children are bigger than they are, so the risk to their personal security is higher.

      I do and will stand with teachers. You're already facing horror stories of your own. Yes, money is important. However, personal security, proper support and teaching in a class room that isn't a circus is so much more important!

      Stay strong in the fight! I personally don't mind paying a bit more in taxes if it means that Ontario turns out better students who are ready to inherit the mess we are making.

    • Rupert Taylor profile image

      Rupert Taylor 

      5 months ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

      Jason from Whitby. I note that you have transferred my son to Mr. Happy’s parentage. I don’t know how Mr. Happy, who I’m sure is a fine fellow, feels about this, but I’m not thrilled.

    • profile image

      Jason 

      5 months ago from Whitby

      My apologies....it did appear that they were not being approved. I had responded and mine was not approved while others were. I assumed you had wanted more support than dissension. Have a great day.

    • Christina St-Jean profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris St-Jean 

      5 months ago from Canada

      For those who are believing I am censoring remarks: I am not. I do, however, teach full time and have two children of my own and as such, sometimes do not see the emails notifying me that someone has commented, so I don't always get to approve it right away.

    • profile image

      Jason 

      5 months ago from Whitby

      Let's try again. My last response to Mr. Happy never got approved.

      I don't discount the value of teachers or education but I am very tired of the rhetoric which you have very effectively regurgitated from the union talking points and Mr Happy has tried to support. It is no less misleading than the several point you try and argue. People reading this need to understand that the union has 1 purpose in this fight which is to serve the members. It is not out for the kids but they are an effective point of leverage and it sounds nice.

      So lets break down the arguments.

      First...let's not confuse some lost wages with the long term impact of higher and compounding wages over multiple years of a deal. 1% year over year is much more than what you are losing on your strike days. Let's also not continue to argue that a 1% increase is somehow an insult or a cut. You guys should be HAPPY with the 1% as many of those GM workers or people who are on rotating contracts would love to be in your shoes.

      Let's also not complain about the long hours of work which you do. As with most salaried positions, people often work more than a typical day. While there are several example of teachers like you and MR Happy's son who work extra hours, there are also those who don't.

      One of the biggest arguments which is often is that cut vs corporate tax breaks. To an economist or anyone in business, this one always makes us laugh. It is false logic. Let me explain. The economy (outside of the public sector) works on supply and demand. Business have the ability to locate and provide their services some many cities, regions and countries. Especially in the world today, with free trade and reduced barriers, you can be located in a different country without much risk. So...here is where the math comes in. The government gets more revenue from employment than it does from Corporate taxes. Read that again! What pays your salaries.(taxes) are generated by economic activity and note corporate income taxes. What you want is to make business locate in your communities so it provides jobs, which in turn provides economic activity. Personal Income tax, Property Tax, Sales Tax, Employment taxes, service fees, tolls....these are where the government is getting the bulk of the money. You want to entice companies to come to your country. So for god sake stop harping on corporate tax cuts, it is a ridiculous argument.

      Now MR Happy called my argument about not having any more money Bull$%^&. Don’t be fooled by his passion, misplaced as it is. This province is struggling and is in debt. We have been left that way by years of spending more than we get in on things which make us feel better but are going to impact our kids for generations to come. The problem is you are not willing to realize your part in this vicious cycle. When I say the unions extort the government, how else would you describe it? GDP is falling, manufacturing is dying, the bar is being lowered all around us EXCEPT for the public service. That continues to go up, sometimes we might get lucky and there is a freeze for a year or two but then the liberals come in and boom making up for the few years of freezes so we are right back into it. Look…it is not just the teachers who aren’t satisfied with reasonable increases, all the public sector unions play the same game. That’s why you’ve never seen a union say, “ no it’s ok, we’re good with 1%”. They will never be happy unless they get more than what was offered.

      So now about e-learning, another self-serving point. This one is very easy to see through. E-learning courses, reduce the number of teachers which a union cannot allow to happen. This reduces the dues and thereby revenue. Don't be fooled, unions are a business. Teachers.....what sector of the economy has not been changed by the internet. Job reduction is a reality, get over it. Most kids live on their phone, computers and a few online courses will not damage them forever. In the world we live in, this should be embraced so we can take those savings and put them towards where they are needed. I have no issues with the arguments of resources needing to be redistributed to support the special needs and other areas but i find it disgusting when you use those same arguments to line your pockets. I know many many people who work on commission, contract and non-guaranteed jobs without pensions or 2 months off who would kill for a 1% increase.

      What is more disgusting is the almost republican strategy of disinformation and spin to suggest this is about the kids.

      So please…..stop the spin about how this is all about the kids. The silent majority don’t by it.

    • Rupert Taylor profile image

      Rupert Taylor 

      5 months ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

      Chris. Thank you for this. Allow me to tell you about my son.

      He is a child and youth worker in a high school. His calendar is always full providing counselling to teens, many of whom are in crisis.

      He is paid for 37 hours a week but regularly works 50 hours a week because he also helps out with the school breakfast program for teens who arrive hungry.

      He also volunteers to work with students putting on their annual music concert. So, some weeks he puts in 70 and sometimes 80 hours. He coaches singers and musicians for more than 20 bands and runs the sound system during their performances. He does this because he wants to make a difference in the lives of the young people with whom he works.

      The funding cuts, made necessary because of tax cuts to the wealthy, are going to cause great harm to the province’s students. Perhaps, the long-term goal is the same as in the U.S.- create a pool of poorly educated people who can always be persuaded to vote against their own best interests and elect right-wing candidates.

      Have you noticed that the country's elite private schools are NOT trumpeting how their class sizes are getting bigger or that some courses are taken through e-learning modules? Wonder why that would be.

    • profile image

      Jason 

      5 months ago from Whitby

      Are you deliberately sensoring comments to this post? Sure seems like it since mine are not getting approved.

    • profile image

      Jason 

      5 months ago from Whitby

      Mr. Happy.

      So the truth is now trickling out. "financial slavery"? So it is about money and not the children the rhetoric is suggesting. Look, i don't begrudge anyone from a reasonable living but it is not slavery to work 10 months a year and retire at 55 with full pension. If you need to make ends meet, go out and work to 65 like most of us will need to do. Your guaranteed job is the gold standard these days. I can count on 1 hand the number of times i've heard of a teacher losing their job. Most people would love to have that reality. I know several teachers closing in on their retirement who are doing very well. They will retire with more than most of you out there so don't cry for them. Do i think support workers are entitled to more....YES! Do i think that the teachers unions are using them to further their own agenda...YES!

      Also...please stop telling me about the 95% of teachers voted for the strike. This is more SPIN. How about we get the real numbers released. How about all those who chose not to vote out of fear of reprisals for voting to not strike. Or the fact that the vote totals are not public record to prove those numbers in the first place. We have all heard of the pressure the unions put on the members.

      We almost agree on the fresh ideas and i certainly think taking from other regions and countries could provide some assistance. I will point out that the wealth of many European countries far exceeds that of Canada. The tax base they draw from and relative small size of geographical region allows them more efficient use of their tax dollars. This allows for them to invest where we can't. This in fact backs up my criticism of the unions push against online courses. The self serving argument behind objecting to online courses is transparent. This reduces the need for teachers and therefore union dues. No section of society is not somehow impacted by technological progress. Why should education not follow suit? Please don't tell me kids cannot handle online learning. When most of them leave high school, they will either go to post secondary education which had infinitely less supervision and more emphasis on self supported learning or they will work in the real world governed by computers, the internet and expectations to perform. E-learning is a good thing for our kids, what we should be arguing about is how to improve it, invest in it and deliver it to everyone fairly.

      Now about your point on "no more money" Clearly you have not taken or taught an economics class. The government make a VERY small portion of its' revenue from Corporate taxes. The money comes from economic activity and employment taxes. Jobs are the largest source of revenue....those same jobs which pay your salaries in the public sector. Jobs are supplied by employers who have a chose where to locate and which city, region, state and country to call home to provide those jobs. It is simple math, even you can get. If it is cheaper to operate elsewhere and there are no incentives to operate here, why locate here. The tax breaks you rail against are the only reason why companies are here in the first place. Let's see how you like it when there are no private sector jobs to pay your public sector salaries. And if you have issue with those handouts, start with the Federal government giving money to companies like Loblaws for new fridges, which they didn't need and could afford if they did. Every government makes stupid decisions with money so i won't argue that point to strenuously but in this case a 1% raise is NOT A CUT!

      I find it funny that so many of you claim to be educated but fall for so much rhetoric the unions put out. Tell me how long those same union leaders would stay in their jobs if they said, "no were don't need raises". Please....you'd vote them out.

      Lastly....you can stick your elitist attitude suggesting that spelling to grammar somehow detracts from anyone's argument.

      BTW....i hate trump so let's not confuse the issue. He is a poor excuse for a human being let alone a president. I am for fiscal conservatism to protect the future for my gay daughter and other children which i love very much.

      Sir...your comments here are no less mind-blowing that you can so easily fall for the union rhetoric or is it perhaps you are a teacher striving for your personal benefit and not the greater good as the argument seems to claim. Are you a teacher? or perhaps you are a union staffer paid to write supportive posts to mislead the public.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      5 months ago from Toronto, Canada

      "extorting the government for money" - that is outrageous and I am seriously holding back some very bad words here. Having decent wages in a city where morgages and rent prices are through the roof, is not #$%^ing extortion. You want people to live in financial slavery?

      "We need truly fresh ideas" - Sure. I left a link in my previous comment about Finlands's educational system, which is arguably the best in the world. It is fully funded by the government there, with very few "private school" and even those are not the "elite" type of private school which exist in North America.

      "Get it through all your heads....we have no more money" - That's straight-up bull$%^&. We have billions of dollars to give subsidies to multinational oil corporations. Billions!!! Every year ... to companies that already have billions. But for our educaiton, or healthcare suddenly we don;t have money. Gotta be kidding me. How about "get it through your head" that education is an investment in our children for the future. Or, they can always sell some crack, or sit on welfare when they don't have a job later in life.

      "And please forgive me if my rebuttal is not grammatically correct." - See? This is yet another reason we have to invest more in education. People have to be able to communicate well with each other because we live in dense societies where people have to work together and understand each other clearly. Sigh ... Your comment here is so insulting and lacking foresight, it's mind-blowing.

    • profile image

      Jason 

      5 months ago from Whitby

      Personally tired of the "spin" on both sides. If I have to listen to another publically funded propaganda commercial from a teachers union telling us it is "all" about the kids, I will scream. Where is the opposite commercial about the reality of our financial position in this province or the fact that eLearning in a growing reality around the globe? ...yes publically funded. Teachers are paid by public funds, funds we are running out of thanks to decades of liberal mismanagement due, in large part to the support of the teachers.

      People if you think this is anything more than money, wages and extorting the government for more money, you are mistaken. Unions only exist to benefit their members. If they truly wanted to help the kids, they would conceed their part in the inflated budgets and take a 10% pay cut to put towards all these much needed support mechanisms.

      I do feel for those special needs children caught in the middle of this fight. I feel the system as a whole is broken when it comes to the narrow approach to supporting them. We need truly fresh ideas such as having volunteer support allowed within the class. This is not supported by the unions as there is no union dues involved.

      Get it through all your heads....we have no more money, unless you want to saddle these very same kids you say you care about with a generational debt.

      And please forgive me if my rebuttal is not grammatically correct. That type of insult undermines your credibility. There is already too much of this in the world. Just because someone does not communicate grammatically to your standard, does not means their argument is any less real.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      5 months ago from Toronto, Canada

      "Which union head, in particular, are you having a problem with, and why are you lumping all educators in the same realm as a result?" - They're vague on purpose. That way they can spin their words easier when questioned.

      "25:1" ratio is bad. Even "21:1" is rough, in my opinion.

      It just happened that about an hour ago I watched a report from ABC Australia about Finland's educational system. I knew from before that the Finnish educational system is one of the best in the world and I always enjoy seeing reports about it. It's a pleasure to watch them. Here's the link if You wish to give it a look. It's just under seven minutes long: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xCe2m0kiSg

      "Every educator in a union voted, to a huge margin in favor of job action" - That's why it is ridiculous when they say that they support teachers but just have issues with the Union head. Teachers voted for the strike. It's not like some Union leader forced them to vote, or voted for them. Sigh ... these twisting, spinning, scoundrels. How the #$%^ do they sleep at night? That's my question.

      "Ontario is hugely in debt, and we all understand that." - We do undertsnad that but no cuts to education and healthcare. Education is our investment in children for the future and healthcare keeps us going. These areas we have to improve, not cut.

      "a poorly-educated populace results in an increased reliance on social services" - And crime. People go out and create their own jobs, if You know what I mean.I speak from experience.

      "do a "brain dump" of the second the test is done" - Haha!! Yes, indeed. How much useless #$%^ I learned in public school and high-school is ridiculous. University I appreciated because I chose every single one of my courses. I picked things that were interesting to me and I went to class because I wanted to, not because I was forced to.

      Anyway, they can do away with those departments dealing with the standardized testing but the money should be shifted in improving school's infrastructure and the educational system in general. If You are anything like my sister, I bet You often pay out of your own pocket for school supplies. That should not happen (as a quick example).

      "Realize what you're doing to your voter base" - They're not doing anything to the voter base because so many voters are clueless. How many thousands of years do people need to live to understand that if we vote conservatives it's always the same drill: the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. Social programs get cut and the rich get tax-cuts.Is this so hard to understand? Why are common people voting conservative when it is against their own self-interest? Another sigh ...

      Best of luck! We'll need it.

    • profile image

      Donita Ruppert 

      5 months ago

      This is well said. I hope someone in this government reads this.

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