Poll suggests most Ontarians want teachers to accept the Ford government’s offer

Secondary teachers represented by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association and Toronto members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation gather at the legislature on March 5, 2020.

Most Ontarians believe teachers’ unions should accept the Progressive Conservatives’ latest concessions and end their strike action, a new poll suggests.

The Campaign Research survey conducted for the Star found 57 per cent of respondents think educators should take the deal offered by Premier Doug Ford’s government this week.

Only 22 per cent said the teachers shouldn’t embrace the latest offer and 21 per cent weren’t sure.

“The public thinks this should be over now,” Campaign Research principal Nick Kouvalis said Friday.

Indeed, 56 per cent said the teachers should call off their rotating strikes with 25 per cent supporting the ongoing job action and 19 per cent unsure.

“The teachers ran a great campaign from the perspective of penetrating the marketplace on their two key issues: class size and e-learning,” said Kouvalis.

“At the same time, the government had struggled on its key issue, which was keeping salary increases to one per cent,” he said.

Kouvalis said “the teachers’ earlier success is boomeranging on them, because the public thinks this is over now.”

On Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the government would set the average high school class size to 23 students — up from last year’s 22 — for the duration of any contract it reaches with teachers, and allow an opt-out from mandatory online courses.

The Tories had wanted class sizes to have an average of 25 students and all high schoolers to take two e-learning classes.

But moving from an average of 22 last year to 22.9 in this school year led to scores of lost teaching jobs and course offerings for teens.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation — which has announced it will suspend its rotating, one-day walkouts until March 27 — said Friday the province’s “latest vague proposal to fund class size averages at 23 to one will still result in significant challenges for students.”

President Harvey Bischof said “we already see overcrowded classrooms and disappearing courses — often courses students need in order to graduate. This proposal does nothing to address those serious problems, all of which have come about thanks to the Ford government’s short-sighted policies.”

He said nothing in the province’s proposals — which it has yet to see at the bargaining table — improve education.

On Friday, Ford said he has made “tremendous concessions” to the teachers.

The 22-class average has been strongly supported by school boards, as well as the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, which represents 2 million public school pupils.

Campaign Research polled 1,144 people on Wednesday and Thursday using Maru Blue’s online panel. It is an opt-in poll. For comparison purposes, a randomly selected sample of this size would have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 points, 19 times out of 20.

All the education questions in the survey were formulated by the Star.

The poll found 71 per cent supported the opt-out of e-learning courses with 17 per cent opposing and 12 per cent didn’t know.

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Similarly, 70 per cent backed the average high school class size of 23 students while 21 per cent opposed that and eight per cent were unsure.

On wages, 60 per cent agreed that the government should stick to the one per cent wage increase offer and not go higher while 30 per cent disagreed and nine per cent didn’t know.

There is 77 per cent support for the fact that there will be no changes to full-day kindergarten and no change to average class sizes from Kindergarten to Grade 8. Just 12 per cent opposed that and 12 per cent weren’t sure.

Asked about the impact of the teachers spurning the latest offer, 51 per cent said they would be more likely to back the government in the impasse while 34 per cent said they would be less likely to side with the Tories and 15 per cent had no opinion.

Kouvalis said that suggests “the teachers are not doing themselves any favours and they’re not doing anyone else who doesn’t like the Ford government any favours.”

That’s because if the polling trend continues, “the longer this goes on, the better it is for the government.”

Indeed, the poll found 55 per cent of respondents are in favour of teachers being deemed an essential service — like police, firefighters, and TTC workers — and forbidden from striking. Less than one-third — 29 per cent — opposed that and 17 per cent weren’t sure.

Finally, 45 per cent favoured the government legislating the teachers back to work with 37 per cent opposing with 18 per cent unsure.

But 60 per cent opposed back-to-work legislation if it would mean giving teachers more than one per cent annual pay raises. Just 16 per cent backed such a move and 24 per cent weren’t sure.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, which bargained with the province last week, has said it agreed “well before Christmas” to the one per cent salary increase.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said the government “has not initiated any contract talks.”

President Sam Hammond said “we will do what it takes to stop (Lecce’s) rhetoric and get his negotiating team to come to the table with proposals that will result in a fair deal for students, student learning and educators.”

Robert Benzie

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie



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