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It’s time for province, teachers to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal’

For months now, a big topic in Ontario news is the contract negotiations, or lack thereof, between the province and the unions representing teachers in the public and Catholic school sectors.

Last week, both the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) issued statements that they would be escalating (ETFO) or beginning (OECTA) their job action due to a lack of progress on negotiations with the province.

The government is hanging its hat on wages and salaries, saying that the province needs to keep spending in check to help balance the budget and start paying back the debt. The teachers are saying wages aren’t the major issue, but rather the cuts to programming and increasing class sizes are the main points of contention.

This is a complicated issue – one that we cannot pretend to know everything about, nor will we claim that.

However, many of us reading this right now, no matter if we lean left, right or in the middle of the political landscape, can agree on one thing: this has dragged on for far too long.

Talks began before the current school year – it’s now the middle of January – and it appears that no end is in sight.

Last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and the OECTA were scheduled to talk for two days – two days! – of a five-day work week.

If settling this dispute with the province’s teachers is really a priority for the government, then they should act like it and negotiate every day.

The teachers, by all appearances, appear to be acting in good faith and want to negotiate.

Teachers are claiming that they are going to perform work action that does not impact students in the classroom, while Lecce has stated multiple times that teachers have broken that promise.

On Jan. 9, Lecce issued a press release stating that the government is calling on the OECTA to cease its job action escalation and “focus on reaching a deal that provides stability for our students.”

The argument between the two sides comes across as childish; “He didn’t give me what I want!” and “They aren’t listening to me – they never listen to me – so I’m not going to work with them!” Perhaps it’s time that both parties be treated as children.

The parent, in this case a mediator, needs to tell both kids (the teachers and the province) to go their room and don’t come out until a deal is made.

It’s been “six months” of negotiations – six months is in quotations because can you really claim a day or two a week over that time as six months of negotiation? – and no progress has been made.

Albert Einstein said years ago that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

Taking the same approach each week to negotiations is just that – the same thing over and over but expecting different results.

It’s time to take a different approach. Who knows, maybe a deal will get done if egos and stubbornness no longer factor into the equation, and the two sides actually negotiated for longer than it takes to get through the Tim Hortons drive-thru.