Biggest school strike Ontario walkout: Power struggle leaves 2.1 million pupils in Canadian province untaught.

October 29, 1997

WHEN GOVERNMENTS and teachers unions struggle to see who is tougher, pupils and parents lose. Never was this truer than in the largest teachers strike in North American history in Ontario. Some 126,000 teachers walked out Monday on 2.1 million children in 4,742 schools.

This is a struggle with the Progressive Conservative regime of Premier Mike Harris. Ontario is the wealthiest of Canada's 10 provinces, with 11 million people, nearly as many as Pennsylvania. In Canada's federal system, provinces have greater powers than U.S. states.

Since his election in 1995 on a promise to end a $7 billion budget deficit, Mr. Harris has closed hospitals, capped doctors' salaries, slashed welfare and ordered Toronto and suburbs to merge against their will. But this is his toughest challenge. In order to slash budgets, reduce teacher qualifications, add to teacher workload and enlarge class size, the education ministry plans to seize powers from 160 local school boards. Mr. Harris proposes cuts of $500 million from an education budget of nearly $14 billion.

To thwart him, Ontario's teachers union launched a political strike. Mr. Harris may go to court. He talks of reimbursing parents for child care with money not paid to teachers.

For neighboring Americans, with all the same issues in different order, the Ontario strike holds a fascination. If the strike lasts long, a generation of Canadians will suffer.

In Canada, a premier with a majority has awesome powers. If teachers and others with stakes in the system that Mr. Harris is dismantling want to beat him, they must do so in the next election. Civil disobedience may help bring that test sooner, but is no substitute for it.

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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