GUELPH — Teachers from local secondary and elementary schools came together in a rally in front of the local provincial parliamentarian’s office to make it clear that cuts to education by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is detrimental to educators, students and families.
Some 30 to 40 educators from the local sections of the Catholic Teachers’ Association, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation flew union flags and marched along the sidewalk at Woolwich St. and Eramosa Rd. in cool temperatures.
Though it was in front of Member of Provincial Parliament Mike Schreiner’s constituency office, representatives from each of the present unions told The Guelph Post that they were specifically protesting the moves by Ontario to slash funding and enlarge class sizes for all school boards.
Organizer Mark Bernardine, Catholic Teachers Association president, said that he had about 22 teachers in the Wellington Catholic District School Board “declared redundant” due largely to changes in class sizes, explaining that the positions are not being filled after faculty retire.
Bernardine said that a lot of the pink slips were being given to technology teachers, which he indicated was counterintuitive to the idea of Ontario being “open for business” in terms of the future economy.
In a plan called “Education that Works for You” that was unveiled on Mar. 15, the Ontario government outlined three goals to modernizing classrooms, learning and health and physical education. Included in the plan is mandatory online classes and increasing class sizes that could result in over 3,000 educators losing jobs.
Despite the rally taking place in front of Schreiner’s office, Ivy Woods, chief political officer of the local Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, told The Guelph Post that the Green Party leader was fully supportive of their cause, saying that he stands up for well-funded education in the provincial legislature.
Schreiner was present for most of the rally, mixing with those that came and handing out Timbits before he gave a speech to attendees, thanking teachers for standing up against the cuts. The Green MPP was elected last year in June 2018 when the PC Party swept to power after over a decade of Liberal rule.
“I know all of you are here because you really put kids first,” the lawmaker said, raising his voice to be heard above the win and busy Woolwich St., saying that “it is flat-out wrong that average class sizes will be 28”, which he said is “unfair to our kids”.
Jennifer Hesch of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said she also appreciated the support of Mike Foley, an UGDSB trustee elected last fall and a former New Democrat candidate, and long-serving Upper Grand chair Linda Busuttil.
Ward 3 Councillor Phil Allt, a former teacher, also stood up to give a speech to the rally where he recalled similar rallies in 1997 under Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris.
“Teachers, you matter,” he said to cheers from those gathered around him, saying that the “common sense is with the teachers and with the educators in Ontario”, encouraging them to “stand strong and teach kids that the greatest weapon that they have is a solid education delivered in the public education school system.”
The Ford government has come under fire by other political leaders in Guelph. Earlier this week, Mayor Cam Guthrie criticized Ford’s government for “downloading by stealth” services that are currently funded by the province.
Reporting by Eli Ridder.