For a guy who dropped out of Humber college after two months Doug Ford seems to have mastered the art of public relations. Somehow he has managed to put the teacher unions back on their heels in the messaging department. In the past, the teacher unions could say just about anything they wanted in their never ending disputes with the government of the day, and the response if any, would be a standard recitation of talking points. The strategy was ‘don’t do anything to anger the teacher unions’. But not Ford, he has managed to create a narrative where teachers are great..CHAMPIONS, even… but alas, their unions are noisy troublemakers offering only criticism, never solutions.
It’s a simplistic narrative, probably full of exceptions, but if recent polling is any indication it’s getting some traction with the public. We thought, given the torrent of radio ads from the unions, and the daily pronouncements from the leader of the teacher unions’ political arm, Andrea Horwath, that they actually had an alternative plan to offer. So we sent an identical set of questions to the four teacher unions and Andrea Horwath’s press secretary, namely:
How many extra teachers would address your concerns about class sizes?
Any estimate as to cost?
When the situation ends, what would happen to these teachers?
Two of the unions—EFTO and French teachers did not reply. OSSTF boss Harvey Bischof was kind enough to actually call back. He said he was generally satisfied that all of the designated (largely big-city) school boards were holding class sizes to 15, although he was concerned about some of the outlying boards where they were returning to full class sizes. The Catholic teachers responded with an email that said it was difficult to estimate the number of teachers that would be needed but that the Ford plan was clearly insufficient. Horwath’s office did not respond.
So between the four unions and the NDP, no alternatives, no plan, other than ‘it isn’t enough.’ Lots of radio ads, lots of Andrea riding around on a school bus visiting schools, but not much substance. Let’s make no mistake, this Ford back-to-school plan is a step into the unknown. It could backfire. Ford has been accused of cherry-picking the advice he takes on returning to school, but so are his critics. The fact is that even the experts don’t know with certainty how this is going to work. For parents and students, though, it would have been more helpful during this time of extreme crisis, that the unions and the NDP abandoned their entrenched positions temporarily, at least, to be part of the solution.