Teachers in Ontario have been on the frontlines of the fight against Doug Ford’s war on public education. From work-to-rule campaigns to rotating strikes, teachers have been engaging in job action designed to bring the reluctant Ford government to the bargaining table.

Here are the main reasons why they are taking to the picket lines.

1) Cuts to Education Funding

The disputes between teachers and the Ford government all come back to education funding. Central to Doug Ford’s plans for Ontario is a shakeup of the education system.  

While the government has increased overall spending, per-student spending is down. According to the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario, education costs increase by approximately 2.7 percent every year. The previous government had been increasing spending by 3.3 percent annually to keep up with inflation. Under the Ford government’s plans, spending increases have been cut to 1 percent a year.

In order to trim education funding, Ford needs to increase class sizes, eliminate certain programs, get rid of thousands of teachers, and limit any increases to the remaining teachers’ wages.  In one way or another, everything comes back to Ford’s refusal to invest adequately in Ontario’s education system.

2) Wage Increase

The Ford government would have you believe that this is the only reason why teachers are striking. Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s strategy has been to paint teachers as well-off public employees that are only interested in getting higher wages.

A two percent wage increase is indeed one of the disputes on the negotiating table, but it is not the only one. The Progressive Conservative government, on the one side, has insisted that they will only offer a 1 percent increase. Teachers, on the other hand, are fighting for a 2 percent increase – a number that would cover the rise in the cost of living.

When inflation – the increase in the cost of living – exceeds the increase in wages, you’re effectively left with less buying power. Put more simply, an effective cut in their real wages is what teachers are refusing to accept.  

3) Collective Bargaining Rights

The teacher’s fight to break the 1 percent increase goes beyond just compensation. Doug Ford’s government recently passed a bill that would see all public sector workers’ wages capped at a one percent increase. Bill 124 has faced heavy criticism for its potential to infringe worker’s right to collective bargaining.

All four teacher unions are launching charter challenges against Bill 124. Not caving into Ford’s demands that they accept a one percent increase is part of this fight to defend their collective bargaining rights.  

4) Class sizes

The Ontario government, despite public outrage, is moving forward with its plans to increase average class sizes. Both elementary and secondary school teachers have noted larger class sizes already, with more on the way. As a result, courses were canceled, and students were faced with fewer options. Some student’s plans for graduation were even thrown into disarray.

While the government has mulled rolling back the size of the increase, there is reason to be skeptical. Their initial plans had stated that the average class size for Grade 4 through 8 would only rise by one student over four years. However, in the past year alone, Grade 4 to 8 class sizes have already increased by an average of 0.7.

5) Teacher Lay-offs

Larger class sizes mean fewer teachers employed by school boards. Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office estimates that Ford’s plans will result in over 10,000 fewer teaching jobs by the 2023-2024 school year.

Many teachers have already been let go and their stories are heartbreaking.  Not only are teachers concerned about their continued employment, they see this as an outright betrayal. The Ford government had promised that not a single teacher would lose their job.  

6) Mandatory E-Learning Courses

One of the central disputes between secondary school teachers and the PC government is around the latter’s plan to introduce mandatory online courses. The plan is meant to cut costs but could just as easily cut corners. 

Education experts have criticized the plan for the number of barriers many students will face. Lower-income students, students in rural communities without reliable internet and students with special needs, are all faced with a huge disadvantage when online courses are mandatory.

Secondary school teachers, while not opposed to e-learning in general, see mandatory online courses as bad policy.

7) Full-Day Kindergarten

Elementary school teachers want the Education Minister to commit to keeping Ontario’s full-day kindergarten model intact. Despite saying that his government wants to strengthen the current model, Minister Stephen Lecce has refused to put it in writing during negotiations.

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