When the provincial government first announced its intention to legislate sweeping changes to the education system in Ontario, it indicated that principals and vice-principals would be removed from teacher bargaining units. The Ontario Teachers' Federation and its five affiliates objected to the government's proposal and apparently persuaded the government that the exclusion was wrong. When the Education Quality Improvement Act, 1997 ("Bill 160") was introduced on September 22, 1997, it did not contain any provision to remove principals and vice-principals.
The provisions of Bill 160 were nevertheless highly controversial. Discussions between the teachers' federations and the government continued, but no agreement could be reached. On October 27, 1997, Ontario teachers withdrew their services in a province-wide political protest against Bill 160. Many principals and vice-principals participated in the protest.
On October 28, 1997, the Attorney General of Ontario brought a motion for a court injunction to put an end to the political protest. Two days later, the Minister of Education announced amendments to Bill 160, including the removal of principals and vice-principals from teacher bargaining units. The Minister's public statements regarding the proposed amendments specifically linked the exclusion of principals and vice-principals to their participation in the political protest. Many teachers viewed the government's reversal on this issue as punitive and vindictive.
On November 3, 1997, the government's motion for an injunction was dismissed as premature. The teachers continued to oppose Bill 160, but the government went ahead with its agenda and passed the Bill. In its final form, Bill 160 not only excludes principals and vice-principals from collective bargaining under the statutory regime that governs teachers, but also prevents them from seeking collective bargaining rights under the Labour Relations Act, 1995.
The teachers' federations launched a constitutional challenge to Bill 160, arguing that the exclusion of principals and vice-principals violated their freedom of association, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federations also argued that the government's about-face on the issue was an act of retaliation against principals and vice-principals for participating in the political protest and, thus, constituted a violation of their freedom of expression.
The Ontario Court General Division ruled against the teachers. The teachers' federations are now considering whether to apply to the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Source: Perspective, Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, Barristers & Solicitors, Toronto, February 1998.