Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Teachers' Deal and Premier Pinocchio

The start of a new school year brings memories of Miss McTeague and Grade 3.

Miss McTeague was a hard taskmaster when it came to simple arithmetic. Like two and two equals four. And two times three equals six.

Also, Miss McTeague would wave a stern finger at us and warn that if we told fibs, even itsy-bitsy ones, our noses would grow like Pinocchio’s.

Premier Kathy and other members of her Ontario government obviously never attended Miss McTeague’s class. If they had, they would not be so inept at math, and more honest with taxpayers.

The Ontario government has negotiated a new three-year “net zero” deal with high school teachers. The deal provides a 2.5-per-cent wage increase over two years, an additional paid day off and more generous sick leave.

Also, the province gave up its demands for flexible class size. That means the government must spend additional money to hire additional teachers.

All that is a “net zero” deal with no additional cost to the taxpayer – at least in the minds of Premier Kathy and Education Minister Liz Sandals. So zero plus 2.5, plus more benefits, plus more teachers equals zero.

We’ve seen this “net zero” before. Back in 2013 Sandals said contract negotiations with teachers would not cost one cent more. Later, however, the government’s auditor-general said that negotiation resulted in not quite a “net zero” deal. In fact, it cost us $460 million.

Sandals says that net zero actually means that teachers are being given increases but the additional spending is being taken from other parts of their collective agreement.

“Any salary increases are offset in other areas within the collective agreement,” she has said.
Premier Kathy says, yes the teachers’ contract includes more compensation, but none of it will be paid for with “new” money.
Neither she, nor her education minister, will say where they will get the money to offset the new spending that makes for a “net zero” deal. Fewer textbooks? Turning the school lights lower? Who knows?
This is yet another example of politicians weaving words and phrases to make themselves and their political parties look good.
People have had enough of this nonsense. They want their political leaders to be straight up with them, to tell the truth no matter what the consequences.
What is wrong with saying: “We committed to not increasing our education budget. We were unable to do that. We negotiated the best contract that we could.”
Voters could look at that and decide whether the government had done a good thing or a bad thing. Many voters likely would say that teachers deserve to be paid whatever we can afford to pay them. Teachers are important, a damn sight more important than politicians.
Actually, what is most important at the moment is the federal election and Premier Kathy’s very public campaign to elect Justin Trudeau as prime minister. An Ontario teacher’s strike would have been disastrous to that campaign. And so would telling us that avoiding a strike will cost us all more.
This is another example of the ‘more services but no new taxes’ wet dream being experienced by governments across Canada.
You will witness that first hand if you do any fishing or hunting in Ontario this year. Service Ontario  has quietly added a $2 “service” fee to every fishing or hunting licensing transaction. An example: Ontario charges $22.26 for a licence to hunt small game. Add to that the new service fee of $2, plus HST of $3.15 and you get a total of $27.41. (Yes, there is HST on the service fee).
The new fee, not a tax of course, must be paid whether you deal in person with Service Ontario, by telephone, or online.
The government says the new fee will go to fish and wildlife management. We’ve all heard that one before.  
No new taxes, eh? If she continues to be less than honest with Ontario citizens, one day Premier Kathy will trip over her nose while jogging. And, people will start calling her Premier Pinocchio.
Miss McTeague would not be amused. Neither are Ontario taxpayers.

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