Archive - March 2013

Toronto Star - Extracurriculars to return to Ontario elementary schools

March 27, 2013

Extracurriculars to return to Ontario elementary schools

For the first time since last September, all 1.3 million Ontario public school children face the return of extracurricular activities.

Sam Hammond, president of Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, sent an email to teachers late Tuesday night saying the union is confident the government is committed to dealing with concrete items of importance to members.

By:Kristin Rushowy and Louise Brown Education Reporters
For the first time since last September, all 1.3 million Ontario public school children face the return of extracurricular activities, after the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario reached a late-night deal Tuesday the union said promised to address items of "concrete importance" to members.

In a late-night email to teachers, ETFO President Sam Hammond said while talks continue with the province, "we are now confident that the government has demonstrated a commitment to dealing with concrete items of importance to our members . . . ETFO is suspending its advice to members regarding voluntary/extracurricular activities."

Premier Kathleen Wynne, who had said the return of extracurriculars was a priority, released a statement saying she was "happy to learn" of the development.

"I hope that elementary school students, teachers and support staff across the province will once again enjoy the activities and programs that mean so much to them . . . (the) news is a great indication of the hard work all parties are putting into the repair of this valued relationship.

"It shows our willingness to work together, to listen to one another's concerns, and to find common ground . . . "
* Province too cheap to take 'extra' out of 'extracurricular'

Wynne reiterated that there is no additional money, as issues "need to be addressed within Ontario's existing fiscal framework."
* Boycott challenged by two school boards

The news does not mean extracurriculars will automatically return, but it gives teachers who want to resume them the go-ahead. Just moments after the news got out, teachers took to Twitter and Facebook, with some saying they were "shocked" and "confused" about ETFO's change of heart.

* Wynne 'optimistic' about talks with teachers' unions

On Facebook, one teacher posted: "I actually am so dang happy to get back to business as usual - I miss my kids - my choir - my music - my reason for teaching!" While another posted "we lost. Our fight was for nothing . . . "

Another said he felt it was too late in the year to start up extracurricular activities.
"I think members are owed a big explanation of what has happened."

"Honestly, I am disappointed," wrote another teacher on the Facebook group.

"ETFO members agreed (for the most part) to stand together and fight. We stood proud while the public spoke disgusting words regarding our profession. We cancelled Christmas concerts, class trips, choirs, clubs teams . . . all at the direction of our union. Now they are backing down. This taxing and difficult year has been for nothing. We have made no difference."

The elementary teachers' union has been calling since September on members to take a pause from everything from field trips to teams, clubs, plays and fundraising events to protest the province's threat to impose a two-year contract that freezes wages for two years, reduces sick days from 20 per year to 11, and ends the longstanding practice of cashing in unused sick leave upon retirement.

By late fall, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation had joined the boycott and virtually all extracurricular activities for students in public English-speaking schools across the province ceased, even after the government, under former Premier Dalton McGuinty, followed through on its threat and imposed the contracts.

But both unions continued their boycott until shortly after the arrival of new Premier Wynne, whose promise to take a more collaborative approach to future talks won the end of the high school teachers' boycott.

But ETFO continued to advise members not to volunteer until Wynne could show some "concrete" change, although it is not clear what that meant. Talks continued between ETFO and government officials until the logjam broke late Tuesday night.

In the meantime, two small school boards - Upper Canada in Eastern Ontario and Trillium-Lakelands in cottage country - even took ETFO to the Ontario Labour Relations Board this winter to seek a cease-and-desist order to the boycott, which they claimed was an unlawful strike once the unions no longer were in a legal strike position. The board chair Bernard Fishbein has not yet released his decision.

Wynne added in her statement Tuesday night: "Our government has immense respect for the educators of this province and we recognize the important role they play in our children's lives and in communities across Ontario.

"Of course, we have been clear that this issue needs to be addressed within Ontario's existing fiscal framework. But I am confident that our government's commitment to fairness, consistency and respect in our conversations with ETFO and all our partners will continue to result in real work being done for the people of Ontario."

Toronto Star - Andrea Horwath’s NDP is following Rob Ford’s playbook on gridlock: Cohn

News / Queen's park

Andrea Horwath’s NDP is following Rob Ford’s playbook on gridlock: Cohn

Taking a page from Mayor Rob Ford’s playbook, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is rebranding herself as a tax fighter and road warrior rising to the defence of drivers.

Martin Regg CohnProvincial Politics, Published on Tue Mar 26 2013
Remember the war on cars? Or the gravy train Rob Ford rode to power at city hall?
Now car wars and the gravy train are sweeping Queen’s Park — courtesy of the mayor’s passionate new ally, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Taking a page from Ford’s playbook, Horwath is rebranding herself as a tax fighter and road warrior rising to the defence of drivers.
Perhaps you can’t imagine Horwath, who heads Ontario’s supposedly progressive New Democrats, standing shoulder to shoulder with coach Ford — who focuses more on football’s gridiron than fixing gridlock.

But you would be wrong. Horwath and Ford are shrewd political soulmates who understand the pursuit of populism — the cynical politics that appeals to people’s pocketbooks and generates popularity.

In fact, Ford could take lessons from the trailblazing Horwath, who is rebranding the NDP as the party of the extreme status quo: Stuck on gridlock.

With the GTA choking on cars and transit standing still, politicians are trying to get ahead. Ford wants to set drivers free, for free — no money down. Horwath, too, wants drivers to get a free ride, but wants to expand our transit network by making rich corporations pay.

She wants business to bankroll the $50 billion investment required to build transit and highways over the next few years, by eliminating the gravy train of corporate tax breaks. Oh, and she wants to extract more money from Ottawa, counting on the federal transit fairy to pay our way.

Just don’t expect “everyday families” — her euphemism for commuters behind the wheel — to pay a penny more in new taxes.

Never mind the politics of ideas, idealism, or collective action for the public good. This is the new politics — transactional politics — in which voters want government to cut taxes, eliminate fat. And hold the gravy.

Tory Leader Tim Hudak has long been a fellow traveller, counting on the gravy train and anti-tax crusade to propel him to power. Now, New Democrats are on board for the ride.

Horwath was at it again Monday morning, giving her best Rob Ford imitation at a power breakfast hosted by Toronto’s board of trade. It was a surreal role reversal — with the business lobby group making constructive proposals to raise money for transit and roadbuilding, while Horwath countered with political roadblocks and corporate gravy train sloganeering.

Closing tax loopholes is a good idea. But not if you use corporate tax dodges to dodge the tough decisions political leaders must make. We need to raise real money — not pocket change — to invest in major transit and highway projects.

The NDP’s pitch is a pale echo of the Tory tax dodge: Like Horwath, Hudak also professes to hate gridlock, but conveniently insists he can’t countenance any new taxes to pay for transportation until all other government waste is eliminated. That, it seems, is his action plan.

For the business community, which can sense gridlock gobbledygook a mile away, both Horwath and Hudak are stalling for time. The board of trade, however, recognizes that traffic jams are a waste of both time and money.

That’s why the board issued a measured report last week calling for a parking tax, regional sales tax, gas tax and tolls for express lanes to help raise the needed funds. Horwath’s answer, over her morning coffee, was a non-starter:

“The prospect of a new sales tax or an additional tax on gasoline hitting the household budget is alarming,” she lectured the crowd.

People won’t stand for “a plan that’s imposed on unwilling and resentful citizens,” the NDP leader said with a straight face — after spending much of the morning, and the past week, stoking that resentment.

“I have real concerns about hitting everyday people in the pocketbook yet again, because people are struggling,” she argued. Funny, that’s Ford’s favourite line. Hudak’s, too. Perhaps 30 years from now, when people are no longer struggling and government isn’t wasting money, they’ll all flash us the green light to build the transit network that we’ve neglected for the past 30 years.

Horwath waffled and wilted under questioning. A dedicated revenue stream to finance transit and roadbuilding? “I would say 50/50 on that one.” The NDP’s plan? We need a “broader conversation” as Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency, prepares its own report. “Sorry if that’s disappointing for this morning,” she told her audience.

And with that, Horwath left her breakfast on Bay Street for a mid-morning encounter with Kathleen Wynne in the legislature, where she put the new premier on notice: “Everyday families in Ontario cannot actually afford more Liberal taxes that hurt their family budget.”

Coach Ford could not have put it any better.

The Kingston Whig-Standard - Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

Tue Mar 26 2013

Column: Letters to the editor
Extracurriculars aren't a teacher's job What don't parents get? On CBC's Ontario Morning, Wei Chan provides a forum for parents in Ontario to complain about the lack of extracurricular activities for their children in the public school system; enough already.

It is not a teacher's job to provide activities for children after their work day is done. If they choose to volunteer, then they are doing so out of the goodness of their hearts. If they choose not to volunteer, then they are siding with models of education found elsewhere in the world where teachers are not simply expected to provide extracurricular activities for their students, or, they get paid to do so.

Perhaps they choose not to volunteer because they prefer to spend those hours with their own families. Or perhaps they just don't feel that they have the time, given the workload most teachers have outside the classroom. The current government has extinguished the goodwill present in most teachers. The products of that goodwill, i.e. volunteering for extracurricular activities, have been withdrawn as the only way left for teachers to protest the conditions imposed under Bill 115.

Guelph Mercury - Sandals should encourage focus on solutions

Tue Mar 26 2013

Doug Cook
Since the change in Liberal leadership, talks between the Ontario government and elementary teachers have improved.

It is important to maintain that positive momentum and conduct discussions in good faith.

However, Education Minister Liz Sandals told reporters March 19 that she's not sure what the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario wants anymore, despite several meetings having occurred following the selection of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Good faith bargaining requires active listening and intentionally seeking an understanding, things Sandals needs to work at if she is still not sure about the elementary teachers' federation's concerns.

Sandals also believes that elementary teachers, given time, will resume extracurricular activities on their own. She is indicating that she does not really have to seek a resolution to labour unrest; she merely needs to wait it out.

Good faith bargaining, however, requires positive intention and active engagement to resolve issues.

Not listening and patiently waiting for the intensity of the issue to fizzle will not address the fundamental concern teachers have raised - a respect for grassroots voice in a democracy.

Ontarians are intently watching the new Liberal leadership team and want a restoration of civility and respect in the education sector. Elementary teachers, as do all citizens, deserve to be heard and want good faith bargaining.

Sandals said additional meetings with the elementary teachers' federation are scheduled. She needs to encourage a focus on solutions and follow through on the positive tone established since she came into office.

Cambridge Times.Ca - Hold line on volunteering, advises ETFO

Bill Jackson, Times Staff

Mar 25, 2013 - 4:38 PM

Hold line on volunteering, advises ETFO

While extra-curricular activities might be trickling back in some public schools, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario says its advice to members hasn't changed.

Earlier this year, the union urged teachers to refrain from voluntary activities after the government imposed non-negotiable contract conditions on its members, including a wage freeze and a reduction to their number of sick days, as well as the cancellation of a program that allowed teachers to bank sick days and cash them out upon retirement.

Greg Weiler, president of the ETFO's Waterloo local, says it's up to teachers themselves as to whether they volunteer or not, but the union's advice won't change unless it sees something "concrete, now" from the Ontario government.

In a press release, ETFO president Sam Hammond said to regain confidence of its members it's going to take "real actions" that address "key issues" in light of the "very flawed process that resulted in the loss of members' fundamental democratic rights".

After imposing two-year contracts on public school teachers earlier this year, the Liberal government, now led by Premier Kathleen Wynne, has promised a better process for future negotiations. But there are contract conditions to be imposed next year as well, and concessions could involve a variety of things, Weiler said.

"Obviously the difficulty for the government is the perception that if they change anything else at this point that they're giving into the union," he added. "We have this deadlock where the government is in a box...and we're kind of in a box in terms of we've said to members, 'The only thing you have available to make a choice about is what you do voluntarily.'"

Education Minister Liz Sandals said she expected some teachers to return to extra-curricular activities, such as planning Grade 8 graduations, following the March Break.

"We have seen gradual progress with extra-curricular activities returning within our schools, and I am optimistic that we will continue to see more and more of these activities return in time," she told the Times via email.

"I think there's some optimism or some hope that by the time we get to the beginning of April that there will be something changed at the provincial level," Weiler said. "That's kind of the point where, if you're looking at (events) that will happen at the end of the school year, the planning for that sort of thing has to start. If we're not doing anything by the end of April, it's going to be difficult to put things into place later on."

In February, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation recommended that its teachers stop boycotting extracurricular involvement, however many of them still haven't returned to coaching and organizing after-school events. Sports teams and proms have been thrown into uncertainty.

GLOBE AND MAIL - Wynne signals Taxes and Tolls will pay for Toronto's First Transit Expansion

March 26, 2013

Wynne signals Taxes and Tolls will pay for Toronto's First Transit Expansion

Adrian Morrow, Globe and Mail
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has stepped up her push for new taxes or tolls to pay for public transit expansion, warning that without such measures, badly needed infrastructure will never see the light of day.

And she broadened her transportation-building ambitions to include roads and bridges across the province.

There are tolls, there are taxes, there are fees. There are a whole lot of names, words for these mechanisms. Tools is the word that's being used and I'm not using it as a euphemism. I'm using it as a catchphrase for all the different ways that we can raise new revenues," she said. "The reality is, we need more money than we've got in the provincial treasury in order to build transit."

Ms. Wynne and her government have previously pledged dedicated funds for transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, but her comments Monday were one of the first times a high-level politician has been specific on what this could entail.

She also pledged to put in place dedicated funding to build and repair infrastructure for drivers. The money could come from existing dollars or from a new revenue stream.

The Liberals have tasked provincial transportation agency Metrolinx with drawing up a detailed strategy to pay for a $50-billion network of new subways, light-rail lines and dedicated bus corridors.

The agency will report back this spring, after which the Ms. Wynne must implement the plan, navigating the divided views of politicians at Queen's Park and the municipal level.

The Progressive Conservatives have argued money could be found by eliminating spending inefficiencies, but the party has left the door open to new methods of raising funds.

The NDP opposes road tolls or a gasoline tax, arguing such measures are too great a hardship for drivers, a position Leader Andrea Horwath echoed in a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade Monday.

"We don't want to see a burden, an unnecessary burden or an unbearable burden, put on the backs of everyday folks," she said afterward.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford takes a similar stand as Ms. Horwath. He maintains new taxes are unnecessary and government can find the money by other means. Asked last week about transit revenue tools, he replied: "I told you before, I don't support any of that."

Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, by contrast, has lobbied Queen's Park for a transit tax.

"If you don't want tax increases, you're not going to get the service. It's as simple as that," she told reporters last year.

The Premier's position is in sync with that of transit advocates and the business community, both of whom have long called for a steady source of money to ease gridlock.

Paul Bedford, Toronto's former chief planner, applauded the Premier's comments when told of them Monday.
"Good on her. She's showing leadership and that's what's needed," he said. "I think she's telling the truth and people want to hear the truth."

The board of trade proposed four ideas last week: sales and gasoline taxes, a parking levy and tolls that would allow lone drivers to use high-occupancy lanes.

Ms. Wynne, for her part, said that when Metrolinx presents its report, she will be ready to pick revenue tools and put them in place.

"I'm not afraid of making that decision," she said. "If we don't make that decision, if we don't come down on the side of more transit in the GTHA, we lose an opportunity and we're going to short-change another generation of people living in this region."

GLOBE AND MAIL - A Cautious Prime Minister Picks his Fights Carefully

March 22, 2013

A Cautious Prime Minister Picks his Fights Carefully

John Ibbitson, Globe and Mail Columnist

Stephen Harper has chosen the path of potential confrontation with premiers, native chiefs and union leaders because he believes he has time to take risks and still win the next election.

He is gambling that his conservative constituency - the four-in-ten Canadians who expect their federal government to balance the books, cut taxes, keep the streets safe, and little else - will stay with him regardless of any tempests.

If there are risks, then they are risks the Prime Minister is willing to take.

The budget is, in some ways, a cautious document. It seeks to protect the jobs of manufacturing workers in central Canada, where most of the population can still be found.

It tackles no entitlements - pensions or health care or any other core values that could rile centrist voters.
But those close to Mr. Harper say he has grown deeply frustrated with the chronic inability of provincial governments to match federally funded training programs to the needs of employers.

And so now Ottawa, not the provinces, will have the primary say in how labour training is delivered, through a new jobs grant that employers can access if they promise to match federal and provincial contributions.

The Parti Québécois government was howling within minutes of the news.

"It is a direct attack against Quebec and it is nothing less than economic sabotage," protested Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau.
"I imagine that Mr. Harper succeeded in getting elected without getting a majority of seats in Quebec . and that he has decided to please his electoral base elsewhere in Canada," he added.

There is truth in this. But Mr. Harper is gambling that an angry premier or two from east of the Ottawa River is hardly a mortal political threat.

If that weren't enough, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty intends to press ahead with a national securities regulator, despite opposition from most provinces.

And the government is folding the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) back into Foreign Affairs. But the international aid community is hardly a core constituency.

And though Mr. Harper has in the past sought conciliation with first nations - offering the residential schools apology, signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, meeting repeatedly with native leaders and consulting them on the coming First Nations Education Act - the budget makes job training for natives on reserves contingent on them accepting a form of workfare.

"Rather than a hand up, we're getting a hand across the face," fumed Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

But to say most aboriginal Canadians don't vote Conservative is more than an understatement.

As for public-service unions, the language is vague: "The Government will be examining disability and sick leave management, with a view to ensuring that public servants receive appropriate services that support a timely return to work."

The meaning, to many, is clear: the Tories want to claw back bankable sick days, a concession that public-service unions want no part of. The chances of a strike by public servants next year, when most contracts expire, has increased measurably.

But Conservative governments in the past have taken on the unions and prevailed - not in spite of enraged public servants, but because of them.

There are risks. Demonstrations, strikes and confrontations can weary a population, who then vote for the party that promises peace.

But the Conservatives believe in the importance of retooling the work force, as new economic sectors expand, old ones contract, and boomers get ready to retire.

Too many seasonal workers are unable or unwilling to get the training they need for new jobs. Too many students graduate with degrees that encourage critical thinking in every area except how to land work. Too many first nations youth lack education and training to take advantage of natural-resource industries that are often right next door to the reserve. Immigration can only go so far in filling the gaps. The native-born work force needs to be retrained to fit an evolving economy. The Conservatives are willing to expend political capital to make that happen.

And besides, it's only 2013. The government has two years to work through any blowback from those opposed to this budget.
By 2015, the deficit will have become a surplus, with money available to deliver tax-cut promises from the 2011 Conservative election platform.

And all that opposition? Just so much noise - at least as far as Tory voters are concerned.

TORONTO STAR - Federal Budget points to Conservative's Tax and Spend Strategy

March 22, 2013

Federal Budget points to Conservative's Tax and Spend Strategy

Thomas Walkom National Affairs
OTTAWA - Jim Flaherty is the Conservatives' conservative. His enemies know him as Stephen Harper's hit man. His friends see in him a paragon of fiscal virtue.

That's why it is so interesting, and not a little odd, that the federal finance minister has just come up with something conservatives should hate - a tax-and-spend budget.

A tax-and-spend budget with an eye to the next election.

Forget the fuss over Flaherty's proposed job $300-million training scheme. At best, this so-called Canada job grant won't come on line until next year.

More important, the ambitious training plan - which would provide eligible businesses with a grant of up to $10,000 per worker in government subsidies - is dependent on the provinces' signing on.

At the best of times, this would be a recipe for stalemate. Provincial governments are jealous of their constitutional prerogatives, including jurisdiction over education. They've spent much of the last two decades wresting control of training from Ottawa.

They won't be anxious to give this control back simply in order to give Harper a boost in the polls before the expected 2015 federal election.

So what is this budget about?

First, it's about cutting back the federal civil service. The Harper Conservatives have been on this track since 2006 and this budget quietly continues the trend.

There aren't many details. But Flaherty has served notice to federal workers that sick leave and pension benefits are to be targeted.
Buried deep in the document is also a pledge to "propose changes to the labour relations regime."

Exactly what this means is never spelled out. But some Conservative backbenchers are already calling for so-called right-to-work laws that would make it illegal for unions to require dues from all the workers they represent.

Second, it is about making a pitch to voters in the hard-hit industrial heartland of southern Ontario.
To that end Flaherty has extended some manufacturing tax breaks and agreed to continue funding a federal development agency in southern Ontario that hands out industrial grants.

More important, he has extended for another 10 years a multibillion dollar program designed to rebuild infrastructure like bridges and sewers.

Spending at a time of economic weakness isn't a bad idea. In fact, it is rather a good one.

But spending also makes it harder for the government to deliver on Harper's promise to balance the books by the election of 2015.
Which brings us to the third part of this budget - taxes.

The only possible way that Flaherty can spend more money and still meet his deficit targets is by pulling in more tax revenue.
Raising taxes in anathema to Conservatives. So Flaherty says he is "closing tax loopholes" and making the system fairer.

In some instances that is exactly what his budget proposes to do, by for instance cracking down on dodgy charities.

But he's also scaling back breaks that some voters might think are reasonable. He's insisting that hospitals add HST to the already stiff parking fees most charge patients and visitors.

He is scaling back the tax deduction claimed for certain kinds of corporate dividends.

And he's counting on auditors from the Canada Revenue Agency to collect an additional $550 million a year in penalties from those deemed tax deadbeats.

Adding all of this together produces an interesting result.

Over the period leading up to the 2015 election, the Conservatives promise to raise an extra $1.9 billion in taxes and tariffs.

Over the same period, they say they will spend, in net terms, an extra $1.7 billion of that new revenue.

Tax and spend. It's a strategy that used to work politically for the Liberals. Flaherty is betting it will work equally well for the Conservatives.

Richmond Hill Liberal - I support my union, beats the alternative

Thu Mar 21 2013

Re: Union can't compel me to stop volunteering, March 9; 'I'm embarrassed by actions taken' by union, March 14.

The open letter by teacher Susan Beattie and article about teacher George Thomas are one set of perspectives.

I offer another.

I support my democratically elected union bosses and the path we are on, as do well over 92 per cent of my Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario colleagues in a vote taken in December.

Democracy and unions aren't perfect, but in the words of one of my sons who worked for a bully boss, it beats the hell out of being told when you can go to the washroom.

Sticking together is one way to take on a bully who hides behind a lot of respectable talk. Bill 115 and imposed contracts are bullying tactics.

Belonging to a union and sticking together has a lot of benefits, including raising standards so that many - including non-union workers - benefit from a more egalitarian democratic society.

The North Bay Nugget - Teachers will not face repercussions

Sat Mar 16 2013

Elementary teachers will not face repercussions if they decide to resume extracurricular activities following spring break.

According to the president of the Near North Teachers local, repercussions have never been in the equation.

The union has not been in a legal position to impose any repercussions on those who volunteer since contracts were imposed on us," stated Dave Bartlett in an email sent Friday. "... it's a misapprehension that there has been a boycott and the union is ordering members not to do extra curriculars."

Bartlett said the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has recommended their members not resume volunteering without giving it serious thought because the government has not offered elementary teachers anything concrete yet.

But no sanctions," he said.

Southern Ontario media agencies reported Friday that some elementary teachers are planning to return to their coaching duties once school resumes on Monday.

Bartlett said some local teachers may resume activities, however how many will remains unknown.

Likely there are many who would like to resume extra curriculars, but would prefer they could do so with a clear conscience.

Most local ETFO members have not resumed their volunteer activities," he said.

ETFO's position is the same as it was a month ago. The government has started talks in a positive direction, but there has not been concrete action enough to warrant a recommendation that teachers resume their voluntary activities."

The main reason -- Bill 115. The province passed Bill 115 in September despite widespread opposition from educators. The bill, titled Putting Students First Act, includes a wage freeze for two years, reduction of benefits and provides the government with tools to prevent or end a strike.

Extracurricular activities resumed in Ontario's secondary schools last month when the Provincial Council of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation voted to recommend to members to suspend their political action.

From December to February, teachers participated in province-wide sanctions.

They were no longer participating in extracurricular activities, as well, arrived to school 15 minutes before school starts and left 15 minutes after classes ended for the day.

GLOBE AND MAIL - Ontario elementary schools lack phys-ed staff

March 18, 2013

Ontario elementary schools lack phys-ed staff

Fewer than half of Ontario's elementary schools have a health and physical-education teacher, raising questions about efforts to stem rising obesity rates among schoolchildren.

In a survey of elementary and high-school principals released Monday, advocacy group People for Education found than only 45 per cent of elementary schools have a specialist health and physical-education teacher, and the majority of them are part-time. At the same time, educators say they are struggling to fit 20 minutes of daily physical activity, as mandated by the province for Grades 1 to 8, into a packed school day."We're doing really well getting the marks up, but not so well on the health and well-being front," said executive director Annie Kidder.

Schools are the ideal place to promote physical activity and healthy eating. Many have started serving healthier foods in cafeterias, and bolstered their physical education curriculum. Yet, obesity rates are still climbing: One in three school-aged children is overweight or obese,
according to Statistics Canada.

Ms. Kidder said Ontario has many programs in place to encourage healthy lifestyles among children, but there's a lack of co-ordination and specialization. "It's one thing to just have curriculum and say 'Here, everybody deliver this.' It's another to really, truly have the expertise
to think about kids' health and understand all of the components of health," she said.

The People for Education report noted a study of students in the Toronto District School Board that found fewer than half of them were provided with daily physical activity every day and none were receiving the full 20 minutes.

Mark Tremblay, director of healthy active living and obesity research at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, said there are huge discrepancies around physical education between provinces. Manitoba is the only province with mandatory physical education
through to the end of high school. Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have daily physical activity policies.

Dr. Tremblay said that as a former chair of the parent school advisory committee in New Brunswick, he saw many schools raise money to hire a physical-education teacher.

"We never do that for math teachers or language-arts teachers or even the librarian. Who decided that physical and health education is a basement dweller?" Dr. Tremblay asked. "It seems particularly misaligned given the world in which we live in and the trends that we're all aware of."

Dr. Tremblay said physical education should be a high priority. "You can think there isn't room in the curriculum for it, but the evidence suggests that if you do that daily physical activity and if you do quality physical education, your kids are going to benefit not only physically, but in their academic scores," he said.

The People for Education report also found that a quarter of elementary and high-school students don't have access to mental-health services.

The full survey, which will be released in May, was distributed across Ontario and saw a return rate of just over 20 per cent, or about 1,000 elementary and secondary schools.

The Globe and Mail - Ontario nearing deal with teachers on pension-spending restraint

March, 5, 2013

Ontario nearing deal with teachers on pension-spending restraint

Ontario is closing in on a deal with teachers to overhaul their pension plan, in what would be a landmark agreement for governments struggling to contain the costs of public-sector pensions.

The agreement would freeze pension contributions for five years, sources told The Globe and Mail - meaning a greater proportion of pension-fund shortfalls would come out of teachers' future benefits instead of provincial coffers.

If finalized, the agreement with one of Canada's largest funds would be a significant development in the battle to limit government exposure as the country confronts a looming pension crisis, which is being accelerated by an aging population and sluggish investment returns.

Governments at all levels are trying to reduce the cost of public-sector retirement plans that are ultimately paid for by taxpayers - many of whom have less generous employer-backed pensions or none at all.

Sources on both sides of the table said a deal has not been signed, but they confirmed that negotiators have been in advanced discussions, having recently returned to the table. Talks had fallen apart at the height of labour unrest between Ontario and its teachers' unions.

For Ontario, in particular, limiting how much it spends on pensions is especially urgent in light of its $12-billion deficit. Similar deals to freeze contributions were reached in late 2012 with Ontario unions representing health-care workers, civil servants and community-college
employees, but the $117-billion Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan - which covers about 300,000 current and former teachers - represents much greater cost pressures.

Last year's Ontario budget allocated $1.46-billion to match teachers' contributions to their plan in 2012-13 - a number that has risen steadily in recent years because of funding shortfalls. Since 2006, both government and employee contributions have gone from 8.9 per cent of teachers' annual income (above maximum pensionable earnings under the Canada Pension Plan) to 12.75 per cent; that percentage will rise to 13.1 per cent by next year, under an agreement reached prior to the current negotiations.

The province and the unions said a recent agreement to stop guaranteeing that benefits will receive some inflation protection has eliminated the $9.6-billion unfunded liability as of Jan. 1, 2012.

But Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan CEO Jim Leech has said he expects the plan to show a deficit, albeit a much smaller and more manageable one, when it next reports its results for the latest year - and bigger shortfalls could arise again in the future.

If so, the effect of the deal in the works would likely be to further reduce benefits, rather than asking either the province or teachers to pay more.

If the deal mirrored the agreements with smaller unions last fall, future benefits that plan members would receive could be cut by as much as 20 per cent before contributions were put back on the table.

Such an arrangement would more or less follow the recommendations of last year's governmentcommissioned report by economist Don Drummond, who singled out the teachers' pension as unsustainable.

"Further increases in contribution rates would affect both parties' ability to pay," Mr. Drummond cautioned. "For the province, it would mean fewer financial resources to fund other programs. For individual teachers, it would mean lower disposable income and more personal financial
resources to fund current benefits."

Some teachers would welcome restrictions to further contribution increases, because the amounts coming off their paycheques are already unusually high. But the fact that benefits already earned would not be affected could contribute to worries among younger teachers that they are paying for generous pensions they themselves won't be able to enjoy.

As a result, there is no guarantee that union members will ratify the deal likely to be sent to them soon. But their leadership appears to be counting on an awareness that too much push-back could lead to future governments taking a harder line.

Seeking to capitalize on the perception that the public sector has been shielded from economic realities facing other Ontarians, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has proposed that employees be moved from defined benefit to defined contribution plans, and that the retirement age be raised.

While Kathleen Wynne's governing Liberals have stopped well short of those sorts of changes, sources familiar with the negotiations suggested that the prospect of Mr. Hudak's party winning office may have helped bring the teachers back to the table to strike a deal now. And even the

Liberals hinted in last year's budget that they might legislate pension-spending restraint if unions did not co-operate - another prospect that might have weighed on negotiators' minds.

Governments in Canada have adopted various measures aimed at limiting public-sector pension costs. New Brunswick has perhaps gone the furthest, moving toward a hybrid system in which base benefits are protected but additional ones are subject to market forces; others have settled for pooling plans in hopes of finding efficiencies. All concerned will likely be monitoring the impact of deals struck in Ontario.

Toronto Star - Poll suggest Wynne’s Liberals would win another minority government

March 5, 2013

Poll suggest Wynne’s Liberals would win another minority government

A Forum Research survey estimates Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals would again win 53 seats in the 107-member house with the Tories taking 36.

Robert BenzieQueen's Park Bureau Chief,
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals would win another minority government if an election were held now, a new poll has found.
In her first three weeks in office, Wynne has brought the Liberals back into a tie with Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives and a statistical dead heat with Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats.

The Liberals and the Tories are each at 32 per cent while the NDP is at 29 per cent and the Greens are at 5 per cent, according to the Forum Research survey.

“It’s putting the opposition on the spot, because (Wynne) seems to be gaining strength,” Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said Monday.

“She’s off to a good start, there’s no way around it,” he said, noting the Liberals languished in third place for much of the past year under former premier Dalton McGuinty.

Because of voter concentration, Bozinoff said such results would likely translate into a Liberal minority government with a tally identical to the October 2011 election.

Forum estimates the Liberals would again win 53 seats in the 107-member house with the Tories taking 36, down from 37 in the most recent election and the NDP with 18, up from 17 in that vote.

“You can see in the poll how efficient the Liberal vote is. The NDP’s vote is really inefficient — it’s all heavily piled in downtown areas so it’s hard for them,” the pollster said, adding the Conservatives must improve their standing in and around Toronto to win.

“The Tories are not making traction in the 905 . . . and the 416 is just a writeoff for them. They’ve got their work cut out for them.”
Forum’s interactive voice-response phone poll of 2,773 people was conducted between last Wednesday and Friday and is considered accurate to within two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

In terms of personal approval, Horwath was at 44 per cent with 25 per cent disapproval and 31 per cent with no opinion; Wynne was at 34 per cent approval, 32 per cent disapproval, and 34 per cent unsure; and Hudak was at 24 per cent approval, 51 per cent disapproval, and 25 per cent uncertain.

Bozinoff noted the New Democrats have tapped into one possible election-winning issue: reducing auto insurance premiums by 15 per cent.

Last Friday, Forum polled 1,033 people and found 58 per cent supported Horwath’s plan to trigger a vote if Wynne does not move to cut rates. Less than a third — 33 per cent — disapprove of the NDP threat and 11 per cent didn’t know.

That result is considered accurate to within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20, due to the smaller sample size.
“Horwath . . . has clearly struck a chord,” said Bozinoff, cautioning that whichever leader sparks the election would be “blamed” by the public for causing a $92-million vote less than 18 months after the last one.

“You’ve got to be careful — everyone remembers Peterson,” he said, referring to former Liberal premier David Peterson’s ill-advised early election call in 1990 that cost him power.

In Friday’s poll, Forum also found 56 per cent want a public inquiry into the Liberals’ politically motivated cancellation of gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville with 26 per cent disagreeing and 18 per cent unsure.

As well, 46 per cent support the teachers in their dispute with Queen’s Park compared with 40 per cent backing the government and 12 per cent endorsing neither and 2 per cent not knowing.

But 73 per cent hailed as “satisfactory” the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation’s deal with Wynne to return to doing voluntary extracurricular activities. Only 18 per cent weren’t satisfied and 9 per cent unsure.

Conversely, 62 per cent are unsatisfied with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s decision to keep withholding clubs and sports from students. Just 30 per cent are satisfied with ETFO’s ongoing protest against Liberals’ freeze of wages and rollback of perks like bankable sick days.

Toronto Star - Ontario Tories impose campaign spending limits

 March 1, 2013

Ontario Tories impose campaign spending limits

Robert Benzie Queen's Park Bureau Chief
As Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak pushes for an election, his party's self-imposed spending limits guarantee Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals will have a bigger campaign war chest, the Star has learned.

Hudak, who faces some dissension in his ranks despite the Tories' lead in public-opinion polls, has been told by PC brass he cannot run a debt of greater than $8 million.

Because the Conservatives still owe $5 million from the October 2011 election, the new cap means they can incur only an additional $3 million in debt.

That severely restricts how much they can spend in an election they hope to trigger within weeks by toppling the minority Liberals - if they can convince NDP Leader Andrea Horwath to join them in defeating the government.

Although the party this week approved Hudak's request for a line of credit of up to $12 million from a syndicate of banks to fund the campaign, an internal memo to members warns of belt-tightening behind the scenes.

"At our recent meeting, the executive put in place an $8 million debt ceiling for the next campaign, in order to ensure our continued viability following the election," said a letter from PC president Richard Ciano.

"The executive is also ensuring that our party keeps its fiscal house in order - just like we are demanding the government to do. We are raising money but we remain over $5 million in debt from the last campaign."

Conservative sources said the unusually candid email to 40,000 party members discussing internal finances is "a slap in the face" at Hudak, who has worked hard to improve Tory fortunes since losing 2011 election to then premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals.

"At the executive meeting . . . one of the members put it right on the table and said: 'If we believe that Tim can win this election then let's give him the money. But if anyone thinks he can't, then we have to protect the party.' And the vote speaks for itself," an insider said.

"It's the executive saying we have to safeguard the future of the party," said another Conservative. There were about 25 people at the executive meeting and insiders said the discussions about election financing were heated, but the decisions were unanimous.

In an interview Thursday, Ciano said the cap merely shows "we've learned the lessons of the past."

"We know that a big debt can cripple a party after an election," he said, emphasizing the party is strongly behind Hudak and his missive was just keeping members in the loop.

The Conservatives are haunted by the more than $10 million debt they were saddled with after the 2003 election, which saw them close their party office and lay off staff after then premier Ernie Eves lost to McGuinty and the Liberals.

Hudak's defenders stress fundraising is going well, with a major event scheduled for April 9 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where tickets will go for up to $15,000 per person for a seat at the leader's table. Other tickets sell for between $1,200 and $3,000 a plate.

The Liberals and the New Democrats each owe less than $3 million from the last election and are also raising money.

A senior Liberals confided the governing party could easily have $12 million to spend on campaigning this year, meaning the Grits will outspend the Tories, who may ultimately have just $7 million or $8 million.

"Certainly, there's a chance that we'll be outspent," admitted a Tory operative, noting an election this spring or fall would likely result in another minority government.

"So we could be back at this again next year."