60,000+ is a very big number. There are over 60,000 OSSTF/FEESO members working from early childhood education to post-secondary and adult learning, in all four publicly-funded school systems as well as in six Ontario universities. As I take on the challenge and honour of being president of OSSTF/FEESO I am strengthened by this number. It is our many voices and our many minds united in the pursuit of enhancing and protecting publicly-funded education in Ontario that defines us.
As people working in education, we often find ourselves in figurative silos (some of the OSSTF/FEESO members working at University of Guelph actually do work in or near silos), essentially working on our own. Yes, we are part of the education team but working in education can sometimes be very solitary. We know we are part of a large Federation (and an even larger education community and a still larger labour community) but occasionally we forget the strength we have. We are influential, especially when it comes to education but also in our communities. Individually, we are coaches and mentors, we work with charitable groups and community organizations, and we volunteer our time to help our neighbours. 60,000 people can have a huge impact. As an organization, we are involved in labour advocacy on a variety of levels and we contribute to the greater good, not only in the education sector in Ontario, but also globally with our commitment to national and international labour activism. The strength of unity and of committing to helping others is a hallmark of who we are as individuals and as a union.
In June of 2022 we head to the polls in Ontario. We need to use the strength of our 60,000 members to have our say in the future of publicly-funded education in Ontario. We must wield our power and influence, make informed choices, and ensure that we all cast our respective ballots. We know the devastation a second Progressive Conservative term in office can bring. I know your resolve has been tested since the Ford government was elected with a majority government. Together we stood up to their cuts to education and staged powerful strike actions, together we stood up to advocate for a safe return for all, and together we can bring down this bully government and protect the system we believe in.
What do we want though? An election takes place on one day but a campaign and a platform take months, sometimes years to develop. COVID-19 has had a major impact on our lives and the need for a properly-funded public education system has never been more essential. Education will be the key to rebuilding the province and dealing with the recovery.
We consulted our members and the public to narrow our focus to five key areas; five areas that will help to rebuild Ontario. Our Education Platform, Strengthen Public Education—Rebuild Ontario, focuses on positive, progressive, and meaningful investments in education that will help rebuild our province and that will enhance student success. Our platform understands that investments in education are the key to coming back better than before and are paramount to moving beyond a status-quo that left too many students without the supports they need. By increasing student-centred supports and services and by ensuring we have safer school buildings and campuses in Ontario, we are acknowledging that trauma supports will lead to a better recovery for our province. We know that our schools are the centre of our communities, and as such, they must be fully and adequately funded, in turn fueling the province’s economic growth. We know that investments in education yield greater financial outcomes than they cost, making it clear that investments that protect and improve learning conditions will build the province and aid in our recovery. This means creating safe, equitable spaces where students are able to fully contribute and are able to best find success. These spaces need to actively dismantle inequities and must address and work to eliminate anti-Black racism, racism, oppression, anti-Indegeneity, as well as social and geographic inequities. As we all work together to create a better tomorrow, we must also recognize the importance of personal safety, including our mental, physical, and social well-being. This also means continuing to address safety issues as related to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring our working and learning environments are the safest they can be.
Can 60,000 people play a positive role in the recovery of a province? Can 60,000 people stand up for public education? Can 60,000 people make a difference? Our united history tells us that we can.
June of 2022 will be here before you know it. Time moves quickly. There is much to do in the coming months. Every vote counts, every person can make a difference. Commit to being a part of the recovery. There are 60,000 people standing with you all dedicated to making sure Ontario’s future is vibrant, diverse, and safe.