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Ford engages teacher unions in war of words

The head of Ontario’s teacher unions appear to have been taken aback as  Ontario Premier Doug Ford  ratcheted up his war of words with Harvey Bischof the head of one of Ontario’s largest teacher unions. Ford told reporters that he would rather listen to doctors and epidemiologists than someone “with a degree in English literature who thinks he is a doctor.”  He accused the teacher unions of fighting with every government that God created.” Ford’s approach of trying to make a distinction between the front line teachers and their union leadership is a departure from previous governments who tended to remain silent during disputes with the unions, allowing union leaders full control of the messaging.

Ford reiterated is insistence that Ontario has the safest back-to-school plan in Canada adding,  “They’re (unions) playing politics, we’re pulling out all the stops.

“I’m begging now for the teachers’ unions to work with us,” Ford said Monday. “We’ve worked with every organization, every labour organization, every single group in the entire country (of) all different political stripes…. 99.9% of everyone’s getting along except there’s one group — it’s the teachers’ union.”

The unions have said that the plans fail to institute specific standards “around physical distancing, cohorting, ventilation, and transportation” and have vowed to file formal appeals with the labour relations board over what they say is a violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Ford, meanwhile, has accused the unions of being unreasonable and has said that his “patience is running thin” with their rhetoric.

Speaking with reporters during his daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, Ford took his criticism one step further, singling out Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation President Harvey Bischof.

“I will listen to the docs and the health and science all day long as opposed to some head of the teacher’s union that has his degree in English literature as Harvey does,” Ford said. “I think the parents would rather us listen to the doctors as opposed to some guy with a degree in English literature who thinks he is a doctor.”

Bischof, who has an English literature degree from Trent University as well as a Masters of Arts and Bachelor of Education degree from Queen’s University, has been outspoken about the government’s return to school plans in the past and last week took to Twitter to accuse Ford of “belittling educators.” The Bay Observer spoke with Bischof last week and at the time he seemed to suggest that his members were going to try to make the current system work, noting that in the higher risk areas like Hamilton and the rest of the GTHA class sizes were pegged at 15 students.

He has also stressed that teachers only want the same safeguards as other frontline workers, such as a minimum of two metres of physical distancing in the classroom.

“Why don’t they pitch in? Why don’t they be positive?”Ford asked.The Ford government has allowed school boards to dip into their reserve funds to hire additional teachers and reduce class sizes but many boards, including the TDSB, have said that it will still be impossible to guarantee two metres of physical distancing in its classrooms.

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