Perspectives

Teacher voice in political activism

By Francine Filion
November 8, 2011

Photo : Education International

Within a five-week period this fall, voters in the Northwest Territories (Oct. 3), Prince Edward Island (Oct. 3), Manitoba (Oct. 4), Ontario (Oct. 6), Newfoundland and Labrador (Oct. 11), Yukon (Oct. 11) and Saskatchewan (Nov. 7) went to the polls. Since education is a provincial and territorial responsibility, it comes as no surprise that teacher organizations flexed their political muscle to promote the election of pro-education governments. Some Member organizations took a soft approach in their election campaigns while others opted for a hardline approach to draw attention and generate discussion. Although resources and campaigns varied from one Member organization to another, the key message remained a common denominator: students at the heart of public education.

In many jurisdictions, Canadians re-elected education-friendly governments. In Manitoba, the NDP government was re-elected to power as was the Liberal government in Ontario and Prince Edward Island. This augurs well for education because these governments have invited and heard the teacher voice during their terms in office. This is not to say that things were always perfect, but labour peace did reign overall.

In Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador, the Progressive Conservatives won renewed majorities. CTF Member organizations in these jurisdictions are hopeful for an open dialogue and for the development of a positive working partnership with these governments. After all, strong collaboration between ministries of education and teacher unions is conducive to positive learning and teaching outcomes. That message was resoundingly clear at the first International Summit of the Teaching Profession which was held in New York last March to which CTF was invited along with other education leaders from around the world. Throughout the summit, Canada emerged as having one of the most successful education systems in the world, thanks, in large part, to its highly educated teaching force, to the importance placed on professional development, to ongoing positive relations between ministries/departments of education and education stakeholders, and to the broad understanding of the importance of public education in building Canadian society. Therefore, one can understand the rationale behind the political activism by teacher organizations to ensure that the Teacher Voice is heard at the policy-making level to benefit public education.

Political activism doesn’t necessarily wait until the writ is dropped. Although there wasn’t a provincial election in Alberta this year, The Alberta Teachers’ Association launched a political media campaign early in the fall to restore education funding in that province. The Alberta government had announced earlier that it would cut $100-million of funding required by school boards to maintain classroom conditions. The campaign, conducted in partnership with the Alberta School Boards Association and the Alberta School Councils’ Association, urges parents and the public to voice their concerns with the provincial government. This just is an example which shows that not all teacher political campaigns need to be tied to an election. Such campaigns work best when they are coalition driven. More on this campaign: http://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20News/Volume%2046%202011-12/Number3/Pages/Stop-the-Cuts.aspx

And http://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20News/Volume%2046%202011-12/Number%202/Pages/Media-campaign.aspx

Read the Sept. 22 letter to the ATA by Alison Redford, one of the candidates for the Conservative leadership who has since become the province’s Premier: http://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20News/Volume%2046%202011-12/Number%204/Pages/Redford-Commits.aspx

What follows is an overview of campaigns by CTF Member organizations

Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association (NWTTA)
In the Northwest Territories, there are no political parties - everyone stands as an independent. The Consensus government combines the British traditions of ministerial responsibility with the Aboriginal traditions of inclusive decision-making. Once elected, the 19 elected Members of the Legislative Assembly appoint the Premier and six Cabinet members to provide overall leadership and direction in accordance with the broad strategic direction set by the Caucus. The remaining MLAs sit as ordinary members. More information on the Consensus government in the Northwest Territories: www.assembly.gov.nt.ca 

In preparation for the Oct. 3 election, the President of the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association (NWTTA) David Reid sent the following questions to all NWT MLA candidates: “How do you see yourself supporting education and contributing to a strong, educated society”…“Are you in favour of increasing education funding to support educators as they strive to meet these ever-increasing demands”… “Are you willing to invest time for a first-hand look at the face of education in your area and Job Shadow a teacher at a pre-arranged, mutually beneficial time and location,”. Answers were posted on the NWTTA Web site as well as emailed to all NWTTA members. http://www.nwtta.nt.ca/en/AnswersfromCandidates_37/ NWTTA looks forward to having MLAs accept their invitation to spend some time in the classroom with a teacher and students as it believes that this would represent a valuable learning experience for political leaders. 

Yukon Teachers’ Association (YTA)
In preparation for the Oct. 11 territorial election, the Yukon Teachers’ Association posed nine questions to each of the five political parties (Liberals, Yukon Party (Conservative), New Democratic Party, Green, and Yukon First Nations' Party). Political parties were asked how they would address child poverty and improve teaching and learning conditions in the Yukon. Four of the political parties responded and their replies were posted on the YTA site: http://www.yta.yk.ca/downloads/party_responses_to_yta_questions.pdf

The YTA Executive Committee also invited all parties to a breakfast meeting on Oct. 4 which would have enabled party leaders to personally engage and discuss education issues with teacher leaders. However, only the NDP leader attended. The YTA also placed an ad in local newspapers and in its in-house correspondence. YTA President Katherine Mackwood said: “We urge our members to review the parties’ responses prior to going to the polls. For everyone’s future, we hope to draw the attention to the importance of education during this territorial election.”

Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation (PEITF)
In preparation for the Oct. 3 provincial elections, the Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation (PEITF) posed six education related questions to party leaders and produced an “election special” issue of the PEITF Newsletter which contains their responses. The questions ranged from “What are the major priorities of your party with regard to public education” and “How will your party’s educational platform support the development of 21st century skills to “What would your party do to address increasing challenges of classroom composition/inclusion given that, on average, up to three students per classroom are on an Individual Education Plan?”

In a message to the membership, PEITF President Gilles Arsenault urged teachers to examine each leader’s responses and to attend the leaders’ Public Forum on Education on Sept, 26 in Charlottetown which was sponsored by the PEITF. At the forum, all five party leaders pledged to maintain the number of teachers in the province’s education system.

PEITF President Gilles Arsenault said he was extremely pleased to hear the five political leaders commit to retaining the number of teachers in this province in spite of declining enrolment. “This commitment by all leaders is an indication of the value that we place on education. We know this will benefit student achievement and it’s an investment for the future. Our students are worth it!”
Party leaders’ responses to the PEITF questions on education: http://www.peitf.com/2011_election_newsletter.pdf

Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS)
Last May, in preparation for the Oct. 4 election, The Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) released a booklet entitled “Manitoba Teachers, Working to make a difference in students’ lives”. The booklet outlines major issues facing students and teachers. First on the Manitoba teachers’ list of recommendations is reduced class sizes for Kindergarten – Grade 3.

The class size limit proposed by MTS, is based on research as well as a consultation with teachers throughout Manitoba. Teachers overwhelmingly told MTS that their classes were too large to enable them to give students the individual attention they needed. The Society also conducted polling and focus groups with Manitobans who described crowded classrooms where students couldn’t get enough one-on-one time with their teacher.
Staying on the message of class size reduction, the Society mobilized support from within the membership and with the general public by way of television and radio commercials. It also produced an election handbook which provides information to teachers on how they can become involved, how to set up a forum, quiz candidates and promote education issues. On Aug. 24, MTS organized a highly publicized political debate involving all three party leaders which was live streamed and aired live on a local radio station.

However, the MTS campaign didn’t sit so well with the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party which went on to file a complaint to the Elections Commissioner of Manitoba, claiming the Society was promoting the NDP.
MTS President Paul Olson refuted those claims by stating: “We invited all three party leaders to discuss our education priorities for this election. Premier Selinger (NDP) was the first to respond to our invitation, and if the NDP is guilty of anything, it’s that they listened to our concerns and research, and made a campaign pledge based on that research and on what our members are telling us is important. I personally invited Mr. McFadyen (PC) and Dr. Gerrard (Lib) to host similar announcements or events at MTS precisely because it is important to discuss education matters with and among our members.”

On Sept. 2, the NDP made a commitment to limit classes in Kindergarten to Grade 3 to 20 students over a five year period. The announcement included $85 million for capital improvements and $20 million for new teachers.
For more information on the campaign visit: http://www.mbteach.org/extras/Election%202011/election2011main.html

Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA)
The NLTA invited the leaders of the Liberal, New Democratic and Progressive Conservative parties to respond to seven questions on teacher work life, student support services, the learning environment for all students, teacher allocations, the increased need for substitute teacher days, appropriate training and professional development. Their responses, published in a special Election Bulletin, were shared widely with the membership.

In cooperation with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, the NLTA also produced radio and print ads in support of education issues. In an open letter to the membership, NLTA President Lily Cole further invited members to take every opportunity to speak to candidates and to ask them to address education issues and /or answer questions on how their party would address and implement certain specific policies within education. “However, you are in the best position to know what are the key issues for your school and your region; teacher allocations, school facilities, supports for inclusion, substitute teacher days, or other concerns,” she said.

For more information: https://www.nlta.nl.ca/prov_election2011

Ontario Member organizations
In Ontario, with many interest groups vying for media coverage and public attention, CTF Member organizations rolled out their advertising campaigns using different strategies. They remember all too well the Harris Conservative government years in which education funding was dramatically slashed, the teaching profession denigrated and regressive policies on public sector salaries and union rights were adopted. The challenge for teacher organizations in Ontario was to elect an education friendly government at a time when the polls were showing that voting could be a rejection vote rather than a selection vote. They needed to see education issues be discussed. Each organization devised a plan to get people to vote “for” a strong public education system.

Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)

L’AEFO produced a document entitled “At the heart of every issue: our youth » which provides background information on key issues and, for each, outlines forward-thinking recommendations. Among the issues are the challenges to implement the province’s Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program in Francophone schools, the availability of mental health services delivered in French for Francophone children and youth, the equality of opportunity for all students regardless of their economic backgrounds or learning abilities, the credence given to standardized testing, and the accuracy of the electorate voters’ list. Last April, OECTA and AEFO jointly held a two-day political action workshop for their teacher members to acquaint them with the issues and provide them with the tools to allow them to become engaged in the election campaign process.

The AEFO Web site also featured information and a number of links and information to political party platforms and to partner organizations’ campaigns which support Francophone language in minority settings, such as “Je Frenche Mon Vote”.
In a message to the membership, AEFO Vice-President Anne Vinet-Roy invited teachers to become acquainted with the positions taken by the parties, to ask questions when candidates come knocking at their door and above all, to vote in favour of public education on Oct. 6.

Read the Sept. 30th newsletter :  http://www.aefo.on.ca/Bulletins/637_30sept11.pdf

Read the AEFO report available in English: http://www.aefo.on.ca/Docs/At_the_heart_of_every_issue_our_youth_2011.pdf

And in French: http://www.aefo.on.ca/Docs/Au_coeur_des_enjeux_nos_jeunes_2011.pdf

Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)


OECTA’s
Speak for Children campaign (http://speakforchildren.ca/) took a positive, pro-education approach to inform the public about the current state of the Ontario education system and its progress over the past eight years. Until the final week of the election campaign, the campaign was rolled out via billboards, posters, mall and transit advertisements, postcards, ads in local community papers and magazines as well as through a video which went viral on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/speakforchildren#p/a/u/1/TfDJz38IFWs.
“Ontario is enjoying its eighth consecutive year of labour peace in education,” explained OECTA President Kevin O’Dwyer in his president’s column in The Agenda, the association’s newspaper. “But good things can come to an end. The Oct. 6 election will help determine the context and conditions in which you will teach during the next four years.” O’Dwyer also encouraged members not only to vote but to make sure education was part of the election conversation when speaking to family and friends.

The Speak for Children campaign focused on four main areas: investment in public education, certified teachers delivering the full-day Kindergarten program, anti-bullying strategies recommended by the Safe Schools Action Team and the need for a child poverty reduction strategy.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)
Released in October 2010, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)’s election platform, Building Better Schools became the springboard for Federation strategy and activities during this election campaign.  Locals used the platform materials at all-candidates’ meetings and community events.  Beforehand, ETFO surveyed the four main parties in July and posted the results and a link to the party platforms on its Web site.  At the beginning of the school year, a special election newsletter gave members an overview of the survey and a message from President Sam Hammond about the importance of voting and volunteering.  In a video posted on the ETFO Web site, etfo.ca, Hammond again urged members to vote. ETFO local presidents reinforced these messages in newsletters, electronic communications, and school visits.

Then, in August, ETFO’s thought-provoking ad campaign hit the airwaves and garnered much attention from the media and the public because of its mysterious message which teased public curiosity. Two weeks later, the campaign Web site entitled “Refuse to vote against kids” was unveiled and featured social media components to encourage the public to sign on to a movement for an education-friendly government. http://www.refusetovoteagainstkids.ca/
In a news release after the Oct. 6 election, ETFO President Sam Hammond congratulated the Liberal government on its victory: "Over the past eight years, the Liberal government has made a significant investment in public education. We look forward to working with the government to build on positive initiatives that support student success such as full-day kindergarten, the reduction of class size, more specialist teachers, and increased support for teacher professional learning."

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF)
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) timed the launch of its election campaign to coincide with World Teachers’ Day (Oct. 5) in preparation for the Nov. 7 provincial election.
Drawing attention to the importance of publicly funded education in Saskatchewan, the STF distributed election postcards in support of students, teachers and publicly funded education for members of the community to post in their windows. In addition, the Federation organized a town hall forum and candidate luncheon on Oct. 14 during the STF Councillor Conference. At the local level, teachers organized activities across the province during Education Week, Oct. 16-22.

“We intend to bring profile to the issue of publicly funded education during this provincial election,” said STF President Steven Allen. “We hope that when Saskatchewan citizens vote they will consider the importance of publicly funded education to everyone’s future.”

More information on the STF campaign: https://www.stf.sk.ca/portal.jsp?Sy3uQUnbK9L2RmSZs02CjV+Oqh1Nw+R5YTx4K6SEEDJY=F

Francine Filion is the Director of Communications of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Publication:
Canadian Teachers’ Federation
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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

Editor In Chief: Francine Filion | Translation and Editing: Marie‑Caroline Uhel and Marie‑Hélène Larrue
Proofreading: Denise Léger
Graphic Design: Nathalie Hardy and Jean-Louis Lauriol | Web Design: Greg Edwards

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