New rules requiring members of all trades in Ontario pay annual fees to the College of Trades has created a backlash by the Progressive Conservative party, including our local Members of Provincial Parliament. They declare that it is unfair to make tradespeople pay annual fees of $120 just to be able to work in their field, and are calling this a “tax”.
Apparently, they have short memories, because the last time they were in government, under premier Mike Harris, they did exactly the same thing to teachers. Ontario teachers were already organized and professionally supported by their own unions, but Tories formed a College of Teachers all teachers working in elementary and high schools in Ontario had to join; the membership fee is now $138.
I’m not defending the College of Trades or attacking the College of Teachers. I’m just wondering why one is a “job-killing tax” while the other was Tory dogma. Is there any reasoning behind this apparent hypocrisy?
One might assert that teachers are paid better than those in trades, so they can better afford it. But that ignores the reality that teachers must pay the fee even in years they aren’t working, and newly-graduated aspiring teachers must pay even if they aren’t teaching yet. New teachers in this area commonly spend as long as 8 years working in supply positions with uncertain hours and unreliable income, and sometimes wait even to get on the supply list. Even though the work opportunities may be few and far between, they can’t take on another regular job lest they lose crucial supply opportunities, yet still have to pay the rent, the other bills – and the OCT annual fee.
Is it a matter of pitting professionals against “working people”, with an idea that those working primarily with their minds are less worthy than those working with their hands? This generalization would be offensive to both groups, since teachers do a lot of hands-on work while tradespeople need good thinking skills.
Perhaps it’s part of a general trend among conservatives, from supporting education to suspecting it. In past centuries, conservatives created and staffed institutes of higher learning, and ensured their children attended them. Ontario’s free elementary schools were founded, funded and administered by establishment religions, Anglican (public system) and Catholic (separate), in the conservative belief that education was the key to a richer economy and stronger nation. Yet nowadays conservatives commonly dismiss the “ivory tower” and seek to cut teacher salaries and benefits, or force them to work extra unpaid hours.
(The “wage freeze” imposed by Ontario’s Liberals with Tory support was actually a 1.5% wage cut due to the 3 days of school closures, and Tory leader Tim Hudak is on record proposing that extracurricular activities be mandatory.)
So is there a conservative bias against educators? If not, how to explain that what was good for teachers then is bad for trades now?
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Is there a conservative bias against educators?"