The good news is that inflation appears to be slowing down. The bad news is that no one seems to have told the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) since they plan to impose a 17.64 percent fee hike on all Ontario teachers this year.
Unsurprisingly, teachers are not happy. In fact, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario put out a statement last month denouncing OCT’s fee increase and called on the OCT to reverse this decision. It argued that this increase places an unfair burden on teachers who face a higher cost of living this year.
OCT’s fee increase might be understandable if it was a one-time occurrence. But it isn’t. The OCT has a history of imposing substantial fee increases on teachers, even as high as 20 percent in some years. It doesn’t help matters that previous fee hikes have gone to pay down mortgage debt on its office building in downtown Toronto.
One wonders why OCT feels the need to own property in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. Surely it could fulfill its mandate just as well if it rented space in a more affordable city. Is there any reason, for example, why a provincial regulatory body’s headquarters couldn’t be in Thunder Bay or Sudbury?
Interestingly, the OCT justifies its fee hike by pointing out that its fees are low compared to other professional regulatory bodies in Ontario. While this is true, it hardly seems like a fair comparison since people in these other professions (i.e. doctors, lawyers, dentists, etc.) make considerably more money than teachers. They can obviously afford fee increases more easily than teachers who typically make less than $100,000 per year.
However, the most important thing to consider is whether the OCT provides good value for its money. In theory, it makes sense for teaching to be a self-governing profession like other professions. The problem is that the OCT has recently expanded its mandate to include policing the political speech of its members.
Perhaps the most egregious example is the way in which the OCT continues to investigate former Ottawa teacher Chanel Pfahl for two comments that she made on a private teachers’ Facebook group last year.
In those two comments, Pfahl argued that critical race theory does not belong in the classroom. Whether Pfahl is right or wrong about this issue, teachers must have the right to engage in public debate about controversial topics. Otherwise, their voices will be silenced.
Holding a disciplinary hearing is not cheap. In some cases, hearings can take several days, and lawyers need to be paid for their time.
To be clear, no one disagrees with the importance of suspending or even revoking the certificates of teachers who engage in abusive conduct in the classroom or who engage in sexual relationships with their students. However, it makes no sense to go after teachers who make comments that, while controversial, have no bearing on that teacher’s conduct in the classroom.
Sadly, there is a disturbing trend for regulatory bodies to expand their reach. Perhaps the most high-profile example is the current battle between the College of Psychologists of Ontario and Dr. Jordan Peterson.
The College didn’t like some of Peterson’s social media posts and ordered him to undergo mandatory retraining (at his expense). Unsurprisingly, Peterson is refusing to comply. One can only wonder how much more money and time will be wasted before this case is finally resolved.
A similarly egregious example is the way in which the BC College of Nurses and Midwives is seeking to discipline nurse Amy Eileen Hamm for her vocal advocacy of the sex-based rights of women and girls. Again, this is an issue being hotly debated right now and nurses should be allowed to express their views, even when they are unpopular.
If OCT wants to have more grassroots support from teachers, it needs to take a good hard look at how it spends its money. It should also get out of the business of policing the political views of its members.
Enforcing professional standards is good. Wasting money on expensive buildings and unnecessary disciplinary hearings is not. The OCT needs to either get back to its core mandate or be disbanded.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.