The hot dogs were grilled, the music was folksy, and the political takes were hot. Maybe it was just the thrill of having a Labour Day picnic again after two forced delays during the pandemic, but the crowds were bigger than usual for the annual event put on by the Guelph & District Labour Council. It also could have been the politics, as local unions are gearing up for a labour fights on a couple of fronts.
“I’m happy that so many people came out and that we had so many speakers, and face painting and the rides, it’s a very family friendly event and I’m just happy to see us all back together again,” said Jennifer Hesch, the current president of the Labour Council.
But the picnic was about more than just fun, especially when considering education issues that had nothing to do with going back to school the next day.
“We gathered today to celebrate and acknowledge that the work we do in the labour movement is for everyone’s benefit, especially for our students,” said David Del Duca, a local teacher who’s a member of the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association.
“Unfortunately, we have a Minister of Education who is sewing division even before our kids have entered the school yard. He wants our return to school to include the full experience, but as far as I’m concerned, the full experience as we return to school is one that includes the respect and compensation that teachers and educators deserve,” Del Duca added.
“We need to improve learning conditions for all of our students, and that includes robust in-person learning; no hybrid learning, no sitting on a computer in your home watching a teacher teach a class full of kids inside the school,” explained Erin Doupe, another teacher, but part of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. “That’s just a sneaky way to make sure that the class sizes increase and that there’s less personalized time for your students. We need e-learning programs for sure, but not mandatory ones.”
The teachers also discussed health and safety concerns at schools, the infrastructure backlog, and making sure that educational institutions continue dismantle systemic racism and other systems of inequality. Accomplishing these goals though might require some school board candidates who are sympathetic to those concerns, which is why the Labour Council has a list of candidates that they’re endorsing.
“I think education unions are probably more interested in trustee elections then they’ve been in the past,” said OSSTF teacher Tim Matthewson, who led the Labour Council’s endorsement oversight. “We’re seeing this as a sort of last stop or last bulwark against this [provincial] government, and we need to have trustees that stand up to the government, their cuts and their further privatization.”
Over the weekend, the Labour Council endorsed 12 total candidates, including four in the Upper Grand District School Board trustee race including Luke Weiler (Wards 1 and 5), Ralf Mesenbrink (Wards 2, 3 and 4), Laurie Whyte (Wards 2, 3 and 4) and Katherine Hauser (Ward 6 and Puslinch). “We need trustees that are education friendly and are there for the right reasons,” Matthewson added.
The Labour Council also named eight candidates they’re endorsing in the council race: Michelle Bowman (Ward 1), Erin Caton (Ward 1), Morgan Dandie (Ward 2), Phil Allt (Ward 3), Kevin Bowman (Ward 3), Linda Busuttil (Ward 4), Leanne Caron (Ward 5), and Chetna Robinson (Ward 6).
All the endorsed candidates were in attendance and wearing buttons that identified them as endorsed candidates. Caton talked about coming from a union family, and how her mother, a nurse, was even a union steward. Caron mentioned her grandfather who was a unionized miner. “I’m literally a coal miner’s granddaughter,” she joked.
Hesch promised that there would be further endorsements, including an endorsement for mayor and representatives to the Wellington Catholic District School Board. The goal is to cast a spotlight on candidates that align with a progressive, pro-labour stance as we start the municipal election season and count down to Election Day on October 24.
“We want candidates that care about community and equality and making sure that we are supporting those in need in our community,” Hesch said. “We have the whole issue with drugs, and displacement, which is a huge issue for us, and we want to support candidates who are going to support the most vulnerable in our community, and not just be all about business and profit and that sort of thing.”