Citizens for Local Democracy

Newsletter No.20, November 1997

1. First they took our city government, then our hospitals, now our schools, next.....
Stop Bill 160 and protect democracy

The big issue around Bill 160 is democracy.

You can't have a public education system unless you have a democracy, and Bill 160 tries to take that away.

The `public' part of public education means two things. It means the public pays taxes to ensure there's a good education system. It also means the public has the opportunity to be informed about educational issues, express opinions, and then be seriously listened to before decisions are made (usually by locally elected school boards) about schools, teachers and the education of children.

That kind of dialogue and discussion is exactly what the provincial government is trying to ensure will not happen. The government wants to cut a further $700 million from our education system, and to do that it is slashing democracy so people can't talk back.

Bill 104 started this process of curtailing democracy in our schools, and Bill 160 takes it to the limit. Bill 104, titled The Fewer Schools Board Act, was passed last Spring. It pushed all school boards in Ontario into trusteeship, and removed all substantive decision-making powers (about taxing, spending, and staffing) from locally elected school boards and gave those powers to the Education Improvement Commission appointed by the Harris government.

In Metro Toronto Bill 104 abolished the six local schools boards and created one gigantic board with 300,000 students and 550 schools - a single school board larger than the school system in five Canadian provinces. And to ensure that the 22 members elected as school trustees would be ineffective and unable to fairly represent parents and citizens, the government has legislated that trustees can be paid no more than $5000 a year.

Now the Harris government is pushing ahead with Bill 160. This legislation centralizes all decisions in the Cabinet of the Harris government. The public will have no chance to learn about or have input into any decisions about schools. There is no local decisions left in the education system - the local school boards will have no power to spend money.

Harris talks about how teachers should not act so quickly while he rushes Bill 160 through the legislative process at breakneck speed. Only a few of the thousand people who have asked to be heard on the bill will be allowed to make presentations to the government, and the government expects to give the bill Third Reading by mid-November. The government is ensuring that the means and the end are the same: the education system is being put beyond the reach of the public.

Thank goodness teachers are standing up to this assault on our democratic rights.

The Harris government is attacking democracy in many sectors of our society. It started with the megacity legislation (Bill 103), when it created the megacity in spite of a referendum where 76.3 per cent of the population said it was opposed. Bill 103 threw the six local government in Metro Toronto in trusteeship, and gave power over decisions about staffing and spending to its appointees on the Transition Team and the Financial Advisory Board.

The Harris government continued its attack with the appointment of the Hospital Restructuring Commission, an appointed board which ordered that 11 hospitals in Toronto be shut down, including the world famous Women's College Hospital. When people objected to this major change to their health services, the government said there was nothing it could do since the Commission was an appointed body with the power to do what it wanted.

Now the government is continuing to use this same frightening tactic on our schools. We can't let this happen - for our sake, for our children's sake. We can't trust any leaders who destroy democracy for what they say are `important' reasons.

2. Education reform anyone?
If you're looking for a few principles to guide changes and reform in the education system, try these on for size:

  1. There must be no adverse impact on students and programs.

  2. Every student in every Ontario classroom must have a qualified teacher.

  3. Locally elected school boards must maintain their right to make decisions, and levy and spend taxes to meet the educational needs of their students.

  4. Teachers are entitled to engage in free and collective bargain around all terms and conditions of employment.
These are relatively modest principles on which to hang educational reform *, but the Harris government promises to break each one with Bill 160. Here's the Harris agenda of `reform':

H1. After many denials, the government has finally been caught out: it's goal is to cut a further $700 million from the public education system during the next school year, on top of the $500 million cut during the past two years. This will result in cuts of teachers and programs, with very adverse impacts on students.

H2. Bill 160 allows the government to hire anyone it wants, no matter how unqualified, to teach students. The quality of the teacher - and the education of children - gets settled by that old game, The Price is Right.

h5. Bills 104 and 160 strip from local school boards all decision-making power, including the power to raise or spend money, and the power to make staffing decisions. There is no local control over local schools. All power is centralized in the office of Mike Harris and his Cabinet colleagues.

H4. Bill 160 terminates existing collective agreements between school boards and teachers' organizations, and states that the Cabinet will make decisions about the terms and conditions of employment.

* These principles are taken almost word for word from the brief of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation on Bill 160. Because OSSTF and other teachers' organizations are willing to stick up for these kinds of principles, the Harris government is taking them to court to seek injunctions against them. If Harris wins, we know what will happen next: Harris will implement his damaging principles.

3. Bill 160 - The Ugly Details!
Bill 160, introduced in the Legislature on September 22, is a complex and complicated piece of legislation. It is 219 pages long, and amends 37 different statutes which are now law in Ontario.

The bill is not accessible to the average person concerned about education. The government book store sells it for $31.50 plus taxes - not a small outlay for someone who wants to find out what the government is doing - and the text consists of convoluted legal language at its zenith.

The government has not provided any explanatory material in support of the legislation, and is pushing it through the legislative process at breakneck speed so that it will be given Third Reading before the end of November. Apparently the government has no intention of being upfront and forthright about what it is trying to do.

Not all of the bill is bad. There are many `housekeeping' amendments which could have been introduced with the general approval of the two Opposition Parties. But since there are a number of extremely contentious sections hidden among these `housekeeping' sections, the whole of the bill is suspect. Many fear that what first seem to be `technical' amendments may contain tricks that the government refuses to acknowledge.

The general drift of the bill is centralization. All important decisions are taken away from local school boards, where they have resided for almost 100 years, and are given to the Cabinet, a body which meets in private. In fact, all Cabinet members must swear an oath that they will not reveal what discussion they had at Cabinet meetings. Thus the legislation moves away from open decision-making by locally elected school boards to closed decision-making in secret by the provincial Cabinet.

For instance, Section 170.1(3) states the cabinet may make regulations:

a) governing the size of classes in schools of boards and governing the method of determining the size of classes;

b) fixing the minimum amount of time during which a teacher must be assigned during the instructional program on a school day to teach classes or to teach subjects to pupils;

.... and

d) designating positions that are not teaching positions and duties that are not teachers' duties and prescribing the minium qualifications for a designated position or for performing designated duties.

These are all important issues that previously have been debated publicly before being decided through negotiation. This bill gives the government the power to unilaterally decide them and permits the government, in Sections 170.1(3)(f) and 170.1(5), to define words and terms in any way it wants.

The problem is that the government can't be trusted to use common sense or reasonableness when it comes to defining words. When it recently amended the rules of the Legislature to speed up passage of its legislation, it stated that sitting past 6 pm was deemed to be the same as sitting for another day in the legislative procedural calender, allowing it to move ahead at twice the speed.

One example of the dishonesty the government can be expected to use is seen in the title of this bill, which is called `An Act to reform the education system, protect classroom funding, and enhance accountability...', when it is clear that the legislation accomplishes the exact reverse.

For all the government's talk about class size, the only reference in the legislation to this issue is in the subsection already noted. The bill gives no idea of how the government will decide on this issue, or what formula it will use to make it appear that class sizes are getting smaller when everyone knows they are getting much larger.

The bill requires that school board must comply with Cabinet decisions about class size. (Sec. 170.1(1).)

The legislation gives unfettered power to the Minister of Education. As with many other pieces of legislation (including Bill 104), the government states that nothing it does is subject to review by the courts. Section 257.40(1) states:

...the Minister has exclusive jurisdiction as to all matters arising under this Division [relating to the financial supervision of school boards] or out of the exercise by the board or any person of any of the powers conferred by this Division, and that jurisdiction is not open to question or review in any proceeding or by any court.

This legislation smacks of what is expected in a totalitarian state where the rule of law is denigrated. One fears for the worst when the government tries to limit access to the courts. It is ironic that the government is seeking the help of the courts (through an injunction) to stop protests against legislation which tries to limit access by the public to the courts.

The bill gives the Minister of Education power to tell a municipality what the mill rate will be for educational purposes (Sec. 257.12(1).) This is a radical change: until this time, local school boards determined what would be spent on education, and they would tell municipal councils how much should be raised through the property tax. Bill 160 states that the Minister will order municipalities to set a specific tax rate. The loss of local control over education is complete.

4. What's next
The government placed Bill 160 under a time allocation motion, which substantially limited the chance of members of the public to comment on it. The government allowed but two days of hearings in Toronto, and six hours apiece in St. Catharines, Chatham, Sault Ste Marie, Thunder Bay, and Ottawa. The last day of hearings was October 29. The committee is permitted only two days of clause-by- clause debate on November 17 and 18 before the Bill must, by government order, be reported to the Legislature.

In the interim - November 10 - is the municipal election. Few candidates have stood for school boards, given their emasculation by the Harris government, but in each ward there is usually one strong candidate willing to speak up against the harm Harris is doing to the education system. It is important these good candidates be sought out and supported.

Since the fight around Bill 160 involves the same principles of democracy as the fight against the megacity, it is also important that good councillor candidates be elected in each ward. Citizens for Local Democracy has produced report cards on candidates running for council in each of the 28 wards, as well as candidates running for mayor. These can be obtained at the Monday evening meeting on November 3, or by calling the Hot line at 977 8736.

This newsletter is produced by Citizens for Local Democracy, and is paid for by individual donations.

Citizens for Local Democracy meets in downtown Toronto on Monday evenings, 7.30 pm. To determine the location of the next meeting, please call our Hot Line, which contains up-to-the-minute news about issues related to local democracy, and suggests ways in which individuals can work individually or together on these issues.

OUR HOT LINE NUMBER IS (416) 977 8736
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A new online discussion was launched this week called C4ED-L (Citizens for Education) - a name not a group :-)

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To read the messages posted so far go to:

Please distribute this newsletter to your friends and colleagues and ask them to speak up.


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