Since the announcement of the Ontario provincial budget, Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Minister of Education, Laurel Broten, have become fascinating studies into what Orwell called the political use of language. It is language frequently involving demagoguery, fueled in this case by the knowledge that teachers are widely envied and despised, despite the vital role they play in society.
Take, for example, the Premier's call for a 'voluntary' pay freeze and elimination of the retirement gratuity. How 'voluntary' can it be when the province promises to legislate it if teachers don't capitulate? (BTW, although I suspect that no one really cares, the retirement gratuity is usually seen by teachers as partial compensation for the fact that they have no benefits in retirement and must purchase expensive private coverage).
My own former federation, OSSTF, has had a very muted reaction to these ultimatums, not surprising since it has essentially devolved into an opportunistic political entity itself. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, on the other hand, has shown real spine; it walked away from the 'negotiating' table. After all, since government by fiat seems to be McGuinty's choice, what is there to negotiate?
It is this principled move that has led to the government's use of some of the demagogic arrows in its quiver. Designed no doubt to both shame teachers and inflame the public, Laurel Broten, Dwight Duncan and Dalton McGuinty has all very publicly proclaimed they will not sacrifice full-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes to the implied greed and selfishness of the teachers.
The latest escalation in this campaign of intimidation is reported in today's Star, as Broten threatens elementary teachers with 10,000 layoffs unless they accept a pay freeze..
So can a government really have it both ways? Can it claim to be negotiating while very clearly telegraphing that there is nothing to negotiate? Are McGuinty and company afraid of the loss of support from the education sector, or do they feel that loss will be more than compensated for by a public that sees teachers as rather tiresome and perhaps even disposable commodities?
Time will tell.