Ontario taxpayers footed the bill for a well-heeled anti-pipeline group to fight against their own province and Saskatchewan in two provincial court of appeal challenges of the federal carbon tax.
Environmental Defence appeared as an intervenor in both cases and was represented by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, whose annual funding—$1.5 million last year – is provided through Legal Aid Ontario.
Meanwhile, Environmental Defence raked in more than $3.8 million in donations and grants in 2018 and among its contributors was the City of Toronto.
In press releases announcing its intervenor status, the organization praised the federal government for “showing some backbone … to ensure that carbon pricing will be in place in every province and territory in Canada.”
Earlier this year, before appeals court justices in Saskatchewan and Ontario, CELA’s legal counsel delivered Environmental Defence’s central argument: that carbon dioxide is a toxic substance and pollutant, therefore something “parliament can seek to suppress.”
Environmental Defence has long history of protesting the expansion of the country’s pipeline network and capacity and receives significant funding from Tides Foundation, a group linked to foreign efforts aimed at halting Alberta oil sands’ production.
WATCH: CELA lawyers Jacqueline Wilson and Theresa McClenaghan make Environmental Defence’s case in Saskatchewan:
The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal since sided with the federal government in a 3-2 split-decision, while the Ontario Court of Appeal remains in deliberation.
Either province asked for a ruling on the legality of such taxation, believing Ottawa has overreached its constitutional powers—both have also vowed to take the matter to the Supreme Court, as Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe reiterated after his first-round loss in April.
Regarding Legal Aid Ontario’s funding of CELA, in a statement to The Post Millennial, spokesperson Dominic Ali said the association “operates under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding that specifically mandates independence in our work.”
While Legal Aid Ontario primarily provides assistance to low-income people through 73 non-profit legal clinics across the province, CELA is among 17 “specialty legal clinics” that operate under the government agency’s umbrella.
“Our work has had, and continues to have, positive impacts on Ontarians throughout the province by supporting efforts to clean and protect our land, air and water,” writes Ali. “Independence has been crucial to each these successes.”
Notable CELA interventions include representing Walkerton Ontario residents at a 2001 public inquiry into a shoddy treatment facility that caused seven E. coli-related fatalities. The association was also instrumental in closing the Richmond Landfill in Napanee in 2012 over water table and local well contamination that jeopardized residents’ health.
But understanding how CELA and Environmental Defence can wield carbon dioxide as an existential threat the likes of an E. coli outbreak or the toxic smorgasbord of heavy metal contamination, requires a trip down Kyoto Accord-memory lane.
In 2005, then-Environment minister Stephane Dion was charged with implementing the federal government’s UN’s 1992 framework on climate change and after substantial pressure from organizations like CELA, declared carbon dioxide a “toxic substance” by way of cabinet directive.
In her arguments to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, CELA lawyer Jacqueline Wilson cited 1997’s Supreme Court decision on Hydro Québec, which was found in violation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) for dumping PCBs into a watercourse.
Wilson told Saskatchewan’s appeals court that there is “no right for the provinces to choose not to cooperate with the (federal) carbon pricing regime.”
“‘Pollution is an evil that parliament can seek to suppress through the criminal law power”,” she said, quoting from the 1997 ruling. “(The Hydro Québec) case dealt with PCBs, but greenhouse gases are also listed as toxic substances in schedule one of CEPA.”
Environment minister Rod Phillips declined comment and forwarded TPM queries to Ontario’s Justice minister Caroline Mulroney, whose department oversees Legal Aid Ontario.
A statement from her office, received shortly after publication of this article said the following:
“Our government is working to restore accountability and trust in our province’s public finances and protect front-line services and important programming, including legal aid services for our most vulnerable people. Following the Auditor General’s 2018 Annual Report, and her recommendations concerning the community legal clinics, the government committed to conducting a comprehensive review of the legislation and the service delivery model that will ensure legal aid services and supports are responsive and easy to navigate, and will also look at ways to create a more integrated and effective legal aid system, while eliminating unnecessary duplication and overlap.”
The Ontario elementary school union has announced that they will commence a once-a-week province-wide walkout starting February 6, if contract talks with the Ford government do not resume.
ETFO (Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario) gave a media release stating the union will be escalating its “rotating strikes across the province beginning Monday, Feb. 3, if central agreements are not reached by the end of January.”
“There is nothing to be gained by Minister Stephen Lecce avoiding meaningful and fair contract talks other than further damaging the reputation of the Ford government,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond in the release. “Educators and parents are not going to accept the government’s deep cuts to public education that only serve to harm the quality of education for generations to come.”
The ETFO had previously said that talks between the government and the unions had stagnated thanks in part to disagreements regarding class sizes and online education. Education Minister Steven Lecce noted that compensation was the primary sticking point.
The ETFO said the following walkouts will take place if an agreement is not reached by January 31, as outlined by Global News.
“Feb. 3: One-day strikes in Bluewater, Grand Erie, Halton, Ontario North East, Renfrew County, Superior Greenstone and Trillium Lakelands school boards
Feb. 4: One-day strikes in Avon Maitland, Durham, Durham Catholic, Hastings-Prince Edward, Lambton Kent, Peel, Rainbow, Thames Valley and Upper Grand school boards and Campbell Children’s School Authority
Feb. 5: One-day strikes in Kawartha Pine Ridge, Keewatin-Patricia, Lakehead, Near North, Ottawa-Carleton, Penetanguishene Protestant Separate, Rainy River, Simcoe County and Upper Canada school boards and Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre
Feb. 6: One-day strike of all 83,000 ETFO members
Feb. 7: One-day strikes in Algoma, Greater Essex County, Hamilton-Wentworth, Limestone, Niagara, Toronto, Toronto Catholic, Waterloo Region and York Region school boards as well as Bloorview, John McGivney Children’s Centre, KidsAbility, Moosonee, Moose Factory and Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre school authorities.”
Bargaining has not commenced since December 2019.
The Ontario teachers’ strikes are proving to be more acrimonious than anyone expected. Some Elementary teachers have now opted out of sending report cards to parents, and have already begun to engage in rotating strikes.
The Ontario government, on the other hand, have offered up to $60 per day for parents who are feeling the fiscal consequences of the strike, and rumours of back to work legislation is being floated around the corridors of Queen’s Park.
The teachers’ strikes are deeply consequential and have affected the day-to-day lives of 13 million Ontarians who live in the most populace province in Canada. Due to the vast impact this strike, and the mainstream media’s lack of balance in the coverage (often siding with the unions and tecahers), The Post Millennial has compiled a list of things you need to know about the Ontario teachers’ strikes.
1. Ontario’s teachers are among the highest paid in the country
Ontario’s teachers are among the best paid in the country. In the Greater Toronto Area, for instance, top teachers can expect to get paid up to $96,000 a year. The average salary for a teachers in Ontario is $89,300 for elementary teachers and $92,900 for high school teachers. In contrast, the average Ontarian earns $55,000 per year.
2. Ontario teachers are taking more and more sick days
A 2017 study found that teachers have been taking more and more sick days over the past five years. On average, sick days have increased by over 30 percent. In 2020, another report revealed even starker results with teachers taking 70 percent more sick days than over a decade ago.
3. Teachers get a whole lot of time off
Ontario’s teacher’s have a pretty great job. Not only do they get paid a wage that is far higher than the average Ontarian, they also get a lot of time off. Due to breaks in the school year, teachers are allowed three whole months off, on top of the aforementioned sick days.
4. Teachers’ Unions are spending big bucks to win the PR war
So far, the OSSTF has spent $336,389 on Facebook ads alone. These ads usually attack the Ford government and have been running since June. In one week alone, they spent over $40,000. They’re also waging a war of words against Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce through the mainstream press.
5. The Ontario government has already made concessions, but unions won’t meet in the middle
Premier Doug Ford has offered numerous concessions to the teachers’ unions from the government’s initial demands. Ford, for example, offered to meet the teachers half-way on classroom size. This, however, was not good enough for the teachers, and they walked away from the negotiation table. They’re also refusing to send report cards to parents and help out in after school activities, despite claiming the strikes are primarily for the students, not their pay cheques.
6. Ontario’s students are flunking math tests
If you’re going to teach mathematics to a new generation of students, you should probably have to prove that you have some basic ability to do so. This hardly unreasonable request, however, created some tension with the teachers’ unions. Despite EQAO tests showing all-time lows, the unions were upset that teachers had to score at least 70 percent in a math test.
7. Ontario’s debt is astronomically high
After a decade of Liberal government, Ontario’s debt stands at over $350,000,000,000. This figure constitutes one of the highest sub-national debts in the world. Due to this, the Ford government is trying to cut back public sector salaries, which means slowing down the rate at which teachers are paid. Teachers in Ontario also have what many experts consider to be a great pension package.
Striking elementary teachers in Ontario are refusing to produce the normal report cards or send them to parents, due to the ongoing work-to-rule action.
In a statement produced by the Toronto District School Board, they reminded everyone that “ETFO members have been engaged in legal job action, which includes sanctions related to report cards.”
They went on to add that, “as per the sanctions, teachers will not complete term one report cards … [nor] undertake the role of report card administrator … [nor] file the progress report.”
As well as this, the Toronto District School Board informed it’s members that the teachers will also not conduct parent-teacher interviews, creating severe disruptions for parents.
These latest disruptions follow a long list of strike action that teachers have been engaging in throughout the province. Teachers, for instance, have been conducting “rotating strikes,” thereby forcing parents to look after their children who would otherwise be in school.
In response to the strikes in the province, Premier Doug Ford vowed to compensate parents who would have otherwise felt the financial strain. Ford offered parents up to $60 a day, depending on the age of the child and other factors.
Despite concessions from the Ontario government, the negotiations between the teacher’s unions and the government have remained acrimonious.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that teacher’s were refusing to issue any report card at all. Teachers are providing school administrators with a skeleton report, which parents will not see. The Post Millennial regrets the error.
Interim Liberal Leader and Ottawa South MPP John Fraser believes Premier Doug Ford’s government is wasting taxpayer dollars by giving Ontario parents affected by the student strike up to $60 dollars a day to help with childcare costs.
In a press conference, Fraser told media that the allocated money would be better invested in education.
Yesterday, the Ford government announced that parents who meet requirement thresholds would receive up to $60 a day, with parents who have children in grades 1 to 7 eligible for $25 a day.
Tensions remain high between the Ford government and teachers’ unions, with all unions being in legal positions to strike.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce also announced Wednesday that the measures to ensure all parents were covered would cost up to $48 million a day if all unions were to strike at the same time, and if all eligible parents were to apply.