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Protesting Bill 115

Why I protest

One tdsb teacher’s perspective - David Kaufman

As someone who spends every Friday after school outside the constituency office of a Liberal cabinet minister to protest Bill 115, I want to clarify why we are there – and why many teachers have made the personal choice to demonstrate in various ways their opposition to Bill 115. Let me be very clear. I am not protesting the wage freeze. I’m fighting for democracy. Cynics may doubt my sincerity, or consider me alarmist, but I assure you, I wouldn’t be taking time away from my family to protest, and I wouldn’t be risking discipline from my employer, if this was simply about money.

This is about Bill 115, the “Putting Students First” Act - a Bill that violates Canadian Charter rights and undermines our democratic principles. The provisions of this legislation are so extraordinary that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has joined with the teachers’ unions in challenging it through the courts. With Bill 115, the government has chosen to impose its will at the expense of its citizens – no need for austerity can justify the extreme to which the government has gone.

Our cherished Charter guarantees the right of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining. For all intents and purposes, Bill 115 kills those rights. While some may not respect, or might even detest unions, it is the fundamental right to bargain that has allowed unions to pave the way for many of the institutions that we now hold dear in our greater society. These include the two-day weekend, universal health care, and parental leave.

The painful irony is that Bill 115 itself seems to recognize that it is likely in violation of our legal rights. Bill 115 states, among other things, “The Ontario Labour Relations Board shall not inquire into or make a decision on whether a provision of this Act, a regulation or an order made under subsection 9 (2) is constitutionally valid or is in conflict with the Human Rights Code.”

If we do nothing, we risk implied approval of the government’s actions with our complacency, and thereby encourage our government, and future governments, to continue to act with disregard for established democratic principles. By doing nothing, in many ways, we run the risk that our democracy become one in name only.
If I had my druthers, this Bill would be repealed, and bargaining would resume in good faith. Even if the outcome of that bargaining stripped teachers’ collective agreement further, at least that outcome could be respected. The reality remains however, that the entire process was essentially skirted before it even began.

You may say that this battle is already lost because Bill 115 has been passed. You may question teachers’ methods, and you may suggest that we wait to have this sorted out years from now in the courts. But how can one do nothing when something so significant has occurred? I, for one, believe this legislation is so appalling that I need to register my dissent here and now.

I am not naïve. I know we may lose this fight, particularly if the public at large does not realize soon enough how far beyond teachers Bill 115 can reach, and how much it threatens our greater democracy. I know a spring election and change in government might not help the situation. But no matter what happens, I will be able to look my children in the eyes, and say that when it all began on September 11, 2012, with the passing of Bill 115, I rose to action. I did not sit by passively as our democracy was taken from us. I hope that you will be able to say the same thing.

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