On Tuesday, January 29, The Agenda aired a program called The Teachers' Agenda. Six teachers were invited on the program to discuss Ontario's controversial Bill 115, and the conflict between their respective unions and the Ministry of Education. The Agenda has covered these issues from a number of angles, but leading up to the 29th, we had not yet heard directly from rank-and-file teachers themselves.
A Twitter chat we hosted the night of the program was very lively. Some commented that they thought Steve Paikin was being too hard on the teachers, while others though he was too soft.
A few things came up during the discussion and online that I think need a bit more context and clarification. This post is my first attempt to do that. More blog posts in the coming days will examine different claims made during our conversation with teachers.
In the above clip, Paikin questioned the claim that bankruptcy lawyers were at the first meeting between the Ministry of Education and the unions in February 2012. He did this because the logic behind having bankruptcy lawyers at a government-union meeting is not obvious. The government was trying to save money, but it wasn't a private business facing bankruptcy. So why invite bankruptcy lawyers?
The lead lawyer for that meeting was James Farley, who is a former Superior Court judge. On the McCarthy Tétrault website, the law firm for which Farley works, he is described to be working in the fields of:
"… business law, bankruptcy and restructuring and litigation groups on a firm-wide basis, including work on cross-border initiatives, providing clients with strategic business, litigation and insolvency-related advice.
I spoke to Farley about how he’s been characterized. He said about 15 per cent of the matters over which he presided as a judge were bankruptcy cases. As to why he was brought to the meeting between the government and the teachers, he said that when dealing with insolvency cases you often have to engage in complex discussions and negotiations, which is possibly what made him an attractive choice for the government.
As pointed out in the Toronto Star by Charles Pascal, the overarching criticism of the initial meeting in which these lawyers were present is that they were overly aggressive and did not have any understanding of the culture of education negotiations.
This may be a fair assessment of the situation; it’s certainly the impression one gets from the union accounts of the meeting. But to constantly refer to the government’s lawyers as "bankruptcy lawyers" is, at best, inaccurate. At worst, it's a distraction that takes time away from the main argument the teachers are trying to make: that the government had no real intent to negotiate.
Tuesday: examining the claim that the government passed Bill 115 in an effort to win a byelection in Kitchener-Waterloo.