Union officials take over at College of Teachers'

By  Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
  • January 5, 2007
OCTTORONTO - One of the most hated of the Mike Harris Conservative's education reforms in the eyes of teachers' unions is now in the hands of one of the unions' very own.

Until he was elected chair of the Ontario College of Teachers Oct. 24, Don Cattani was president of the secondary unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association in Thunder Bay. Before reforms over the summer, union officials were not eligible to run for a position on the council of the teachers' regulatory body. The new rules only require that union officers resign their posts once elected to the college.

Not only the chairman, but vice-chair Annilee Jarvis was also a union official before her election. She served the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario in York Region as a member of the negotiating team.

From the time it was created in 1997 teachers' unions have called for the college to be either abolished or stripped of many of its powers — particularly its mandate to recertify and train teachers. Under the Harris scheme, licensed teachers did not hold a majority of seats on the college's council. Both the Conservative and subsequent Liberal governments argued that a licensing body for teachers controlled by the unions would not be an independent watchdog looking out for the interests of parents and students.

Over the summer Bill 78 created new rules for election to the college's governing council and expanded the council to 37 with the addition of six teacher representatives. That gives the teachers a slim majority of one with 19 seats on the council, but the principal and vice principal, private teacher and university professors of education on the council may all be holders of teaching certificates as well.

Cattani doesn't view his election as the final victory of the unions over the college they all despised so vehemently for the last decade.

"I can't understand in terms of using the word takeover. I'm not seeing that at all," Cattani told The Catholic Register.

Cattani points out that on the Ontario's College of Nurses and the College of Physicians and Surgeons the majority of governors elected to oversee those bodies have always been from the profession. When the College of Teachers was set up by a government deeply suspicious of teachers and the education establishment, the College of Teachers was the lone exception being governed by a majority outside the profession. Since every teacher working in a public or Catholic school in Ontario must, by law, belong to one of the teachers' federations, there was no way for the  teachers to have a majority voice in their college without the majority also being union members.

Cattani believes his union experience will make him a better chair of the College of Teachers.

"My federation experience is part of my background. I've also had 30 years in the classroom, which is also part of my background," he said. "Federation experience, particularly in OECTA, it doesn't just mean negotiating a contract, filing a grievance or something like that."

Working at the provincial level in OECTA has meant working on personnel committees, helping design orientation programs for new teachers and working on Ontario's Catholic religious education curriculum.

If both the teachers' unions and the college can be more clear about their roles and try to stay out of each other's way, the era of conflict between the federations and the college will fade, said Cattani.

"Will a professional group ever truly love their regulatory body? I don't know."

Officials with the Ministry of Education would not answer questions about whether the teachers' unions had more influence over the College of Teachers since Bill 78. An off-the-record source close to the College of Teachers said the teachers' unions had effectively won the battle over reforms to the Ontario College of Teachers Act.

Cattani believes the College of Teachers is just coming into its own, and the second decade of its existence will be less confrontational and controversial.

"Over the course of time the opposition has at least quieted to the point where it's time to really enhance the relationships. There's a lot of work to do," he said.

The college licenses more than 200,000 teachers, and it's the largest self-regulating body in Canada.

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