In my post earlier this week (I support teachers, not a strike – Part 1 / 5 – Education is mostly about teaching), I was okay with the argument that education is important and teachers are responsible for the most important part of the delivery network. So I’m still on the logic train the teachers union argue leads to people needing to support a strike. The next link in the logic chain is:
- Teachers are striking to change the government’s bad approach to education
That is a very complicated sentence that has three components:
- The government decided
- They chose a bad approach to education
- Teachers are striking to change it
For (a), it is easy or even popular to say a specific person (the premier, perhaps) decided something. The chain is that this one person were wrong, so let’s change things. Except that is highly misleading. And doesn’t reflect the basic tenets of democracy in Ontario.
The democratic system and our roles within it
Like most democratic systems, we have five roles tied to the state:
- Voters cast their votes in an election to choose representatives;
- Advocates as individual citizens or groups of citizens lobby for decisions that align with their views;
- Representatives almost give up their status as “individual” to represent not themselves but the citizens and taxpayers in their constituency in a collective decision-making body;
- Service deliverers provide services through their role as employees, ranging from civil servants handling finance all the way to teachers in classrooms; and,
- Users avail themselves of the services offered.
That’s the system.
Who made the decision?
While it is popular to believe that the person at the top is some dictator of everything, there were multiple steps to get to that “decision”.
First and foremost, we held elections. The voters voted and chose their representatives. And the choices in front of the electorate were relatively clear. A party that was strongly focused on trimming costs was elected by the voters. We did that. One citizen, one vote.
Oh, I can warm my cold electoral heart with the knowledge that I didn’t vote for this party. Couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t. I don’t agree with their priorities or policy approaches. But the people I did vote for didn’t win. THIS party did. And they formed the government. That’s the way the system works.
Was it a lawful election? Yes. No coup, no voter fraud. Lawfully elected. Is everyone happy with who won? Of course not, that’s why we HAVE elections. Because we can’t all agree on one person or one approach. So we vote. The winner gets to be in charge.
Second, was there some secrecy, payoffs, bribes, backroom deals, a conspiracy to make the decision without anyone knowing? No. They were pretty open about it. Advocates and lobby groups and stakeholders, oh my, have lobbied them during the election and afterwards. They made no secret of their intent.
Third, is it within their power to decide? Yes. Everyone — and I do mean everyone, from voter to teacher to union to parent to taxpayer — agrees this is a public policy issue. What services the government should provide. How. At what levels. And at what cost. Clearly the realm of public policy and within the government’s power to decide.
Fourth, who approves the approach overall? The government per se, made up of OUR representatives, the ones WE elected. Sure, Premiers and Ministers have more say in the approach, but ultimately, everyone is accountable to the Reps. And they approved the budget for the government.
Why and how could they approve such an approach focused on costs? Because public budgeting regrettably often looks like the classic cliché that there are options to have it right, fast, or cheap, and you can only pick two. This government seems to have decided that cheaper and faster are the priority right now, so they decided this was the way forward.
Voters decided + advocates decided + the party in power decided + the reps decided = the government decided.
Conclusion for part two
Each step in that series of decisions was perfectly valid and everyone was in their proper lane. Teachers would like you to believe it was just the third group, the party in power, or even just the premier, that decided and that they made the “wrong” decision, so they are striking to change it. But nobody — again, nobody — disputes that the government both made the decision and had the right and power to do so. People just think they were stupid with their choice.