Toronto Star Editorial, May 23rd, 2000

School legislation needlessly draconian

The Mike Harris government's new school legislation is not just an attack on educators.

Beneath its legalisms, Bill 74 is an unprecedented attack on basic legal protections that are supposed to apply to everyone.

Its provisions concerning teachers are the equivalent of servitude. What else can they be when after-school duties are mandatory ``on school days and on days during the school year that are not school days, during any part of any day during the school year, on school premises and elsewhere?''

This dictum would override ``any applicable provisions or restrictions in a collective agreement.''

What earthly purpose can be served by a government having the power to dictate what teachers must do 24 hours a day, 10 months a year, anywhere on Earth?

And if a government can override teachers' contracts at will, what is the meaning of the sanctity of any contract?

But the legislation doesn't stop there. It also attacks freedom of association, the right to equal treatment under the law and the right not to be deprived of a livelihood without a fair hearing.

It even abridges the division between courts and governments. It declares that judges cannot serve certain orders without Education Minister Janet Ecker's permission - in effect forcing judges to obey governments rather than governments to obey laws.

In addition to rolling back centuries of legal evolution, this bill also rolls back 60 years of labour law in Ontario. In comparison, the anti-union laws of 1995 were mere nibbling at the edges.

The bill says, for example, that a ``teachers' bargaining unit or members of that unit'' can be changed without teachers having any say. This is union-busting of a new order, even for this government.

Ecker can, moreover, declare that refusing after-school duty is an illegal ``strike,'' with all the legal sanctions that go with that. Indeed, obeying a contract is a strike if she orders teachers not to.

How would you fix the schools?

This bill, in other words, makes Ecker a law unto herself, able to investigate school boards if she has ``concerns'' and punish them if she ``is of the opinion'' there's evidence - not proof - of disobedience.

A bill this sweeping, arbitrary and extreme shouldn't have been proposed.

Certainly it should not be passed.

There is every indication, however, that it will be - either after the most limited of hearings or none at all. It could be law by next Wednesday night.

How fast it happens will measure how much democracy is left in our Legislature.

And where are the unions on this? Where they should be, planning to challenge the bill in court.

But where is the legal profession in the debate?

Its members have as much at stake as teachers. Lawyers can hardly be indifferent when the sanctity of contract is so casually tossed aside. They should be speaking out, as should anyone who sees the loss of the legal protections in this bill as far exceeding any possible value in its passage.

This is a bad bill.

And if Lord Acton is right - that ``absolute power corrupts absolutely'' - it may be worst of all for the Harris government itself.

Sources: Toronto Star 23/05/00
Toronto, Canada

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