Teacher support strong in area, but not absolute

Who do you support?
That’s the question the province and the Ontario Teachers’ Federation are spending millions of dollars on in advertising campaigns in the fight over Bill 160, the Education Quality Improvement Act.
Justice James MacPherson’s refusal to provide the province with a court injunction to order teachers back to work Monday was taken as a sign that public opinion was against the government, said Andrew Hallikas, local Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president.
Support was plentiful at a public barbecue the teacher federations held Friday afternoon at protest headquarters on Scott Street, as well.
Names of businesses, individuals and families who pledged support to the teachers covered most of the wall space. Teacher Rudy Zietlhofer said people are overwhelmed with the amount encouragement so far.
“It’s unbelievable,” he enthused, noting he only experienced one negative encounter with the public while walking on the picket line–one encounter in what he figures must add up to thousands by now.
The picket line at Fort Frances High School also was fortified for awhile by about 40 students.
“These are 17 and 18 year-old people with independent thought,” noted Jordan Roy, Student Executive Council president.
Although the SEC stated previously its support for the teachers, the students’ march on Friday was not an SEC event, Roy said.
“This is a group of students who are concerned,” Roy stressed. “It will take more things like this for the voice of the students to be heard.”
“It’s about students who care for education,” agreed OAC student Nathan Wong. “Anyone who has common sense realizes you can’t remove $600-$700 million from education.
“We are informed students–voting age students–and we are against Bill 160,” he added.
But not everyone agrees with the walkout. One parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said she has three children in the high school and would rather have seen them in the classroom–along with the teachers.
“It’s an illegal strike,” she said. “They have broken their contract with the board. I’m not in total agreement with Bill 160, but an illegal strike is not the way to fix that.”
She viewed the strike more as a power struggle between the government and the teachers’ unions rather than a fight for quality education. And Ontario students are getting caught in the middle, she said.
“The Harris government was elected and we can turf them out,” she said. “We can’t do that with the teacher’s union.
However, people with such views seem to be in the minority, she admitted. And those who are against the walkout aren’t saying much either.
“They’re not going to talk because of fear of public backlash,” she said.
The one thing both sides can agree on, though, is they wish the strike were over. Mark Loney, owner of the Cloverleaf grocery store in Emo, donated the hot dogs and buns for the barbecue Friday.
He said it’s hard not to support the teachers, but it’s also hard knowing his three children are just “bouncing around at home.”
“I think everybody has a different opinion,” he said. “Some are for the teachers, some not.
“I know these teachers–they work hard–and some of the things [the government] says about them is wrong,” he said. “I don’t not support the teachers, that’s for sure. But I want this to end.”