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Aug 14, 2023

ETFO President Karen Brown's opening address to ETFO Annual Meeting 2023



Hello colleagues, and welcome to ETFO’s 2023 Annual Meeting!

I have to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to all of you for your dedication to public education. Our 83,000 members deserve thanks and recognition for the amazing work they have done to support students over some very difficult years. ETFO members’ skills and dedication -- invested year after year into their classrooms and schools -- have made Ontario’s public education system one of the best in the world. Local presidents and local leadership teams - thank you for all your work supporting members so that they can, in turn, focus their time and attention on their students.

I also want to specifically welcome everyone who is joining us for the first time at an in-person Annual Meeting. Please stand up, if you’re able, so we can give you a round of applause. Welcome!

We have a new observer program this year called First Steps which provides space for members from designated groups who have not been to Annual Meeting to observe our union’s highest decision-making body at work. Welcome, and I hope you learn a lot about your Federation this week. 

Finally, I want to recognize and thank our Annual Meeting Committee and all the staff who have done a wonderful job organizing our 2023 Annual Meeting. Thank you!

I hope you take full advantage of your week here together. There are many significant issues for your consideration this year, and your role is vital because you will be setting the Federation’s course for the next year. I look forward to hearing from all of you from the floor, but also to all the informal conversations that will take place during the week. Let’s be kind and respectful to one another while we address some serious topics and critical issues facing our 83,000 members. We have a lot of work to do this week, and we all want to ensure our meeting is a positive experience for all present.

This year, we are celebrating a very special milestone in ETFO’s history – it has been 25 years since ETFO was founded! I think that deserves a round of applause.

Twenty-five years ago, back in 1998, it was a very challenging time for public education in Ontario. The previous school year had seen some of the largest-ever education protests in North America at the time. The Mike Harris Conservatives had forced Ontario’s 129 school boards to merge into 72 boards. Principals and vice-principals were removed from the federations. They changed the education funding model so boards could no longer raise money from their local tax base, resulting in structural underfunding of public education that exists to this day. The Harris Conservatives also introduced a flurry of changes -- new report cards, an entire new curriculum, and province-wide standardized testing -- without any support, time, or resources for implementation. The Harris government claimed it was making changes to improve the education system for students, but it was really just a pretext to remove over one billion dollars from public education. 

Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Educators in 1998 understood what was happening then, and they stood up in solidarity to defend public education when the time came. We celebrate those colleagues for everything they did to ensure that students are valued, educators are respected and schools get the funding they need.

As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we remember that ETFO has been a strong and vibrant force in public education since its inception. It is our solidarity that is our strength, and that solidarity continues to keep us strong. That is why the theme for this Annual Meeting is “Solidarity Keeps Us Strong”.

Just in this past year, we have faced down and challenged so many bad pieces of legislation I understand if people can’t keep them all straight!

First in the fall was Bill 28, when Premier Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce tried to impose a contract on CUPE members and deny them their Charter-protected right to free collective bargaining. They included a notwithstanding clause in the bill to prevent any court challenges because they knew what they were doing to our CUPE colleagues was unconstitutional. In a show of overwhelming solidarity, the entire labour movement said “NO” – and the government was forced to back down. 

ETFO, along with our allies in the labour movement, also challenged and defeated Bill 124 in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice in November. This was the wage restraint legislation that restricted our ability to negotiate meaningful salary increases in the last round of bargaining and that continues to have an impact on this round. 

Instead of accepting their loss in court and correcting their error, the government appealed that decision, and in June of this year ETFO and several other unions were at the Ontario Court of Appeal to counter the government’s arguments in support of Bill 124. We’re now waiting for a ruling about Bill 124 by the Ontario Court of Appeal. 

We have had a challenging year and, colleagues, I think you can appreciate that we will have a very challenging year ahead. 

When we compare 1998 to 2023 – it’s like “déjà vu” all over again. The Ford government claims to put students first, yet the future of public education in this province is at a very precarious place. The government has cut $2.5 billion out of public education in real dollars since the 2018-2019 school year, all while sitting on $22 billion in unspent funds. Shame! 

A government that values public education doesn’t cut education funding by an equivalent of $1,200 per student – yet the Ford government has made these cuts at the same time students are crammed into packed classrooms and special education students aren’t getting the supports they need and deserve.

We know that violence in schools is rampant, and is a consequence of underfunding, understaffing and unmet student needs. ETFO’s survey of our members this year shows violence in schools is pervasive, with 42% of respondents having been injured as a result of violence in the last year alone. That is an absolutely staggering statistic.

Premier Ford, Minister Lecce:  You cannot claim to care about Ontario’s students and student achievement while you cut funding to students and schools, and when all of this is happening on your watch. Shame on you for allowing this to continue!

And shame on you for what is happening in negotiations this year.

Throughout this past school year, ETFO has tried to bargain in good faith with this government. We have come to the bargaining table with reasonable proposals around special education, around class size and around violence in schools. ETFO’s proposals would have ensured our members had agreements that kept up with inflation and could address the recruitment and retention of much-needed education staff. All of you know that there is a staffing crisis in our schools. You see it every day because staffing shortages have an accumulating, negative impact on the school environment and on the learning and well-being of students.

All year, your central bargaining team has tried to address major concerns in education at the negotiations table. Because that’s what the people at a bargaining table – from the government, from school boards and from ETFO – are supposed to do. Solve problems through constructive negotiation. Meanwhile, all year, ETFO members continued to do what they do best – support and nurture Ontario students, and deliver the high-quality education that Ontarians deserve and expect. And they’ve waited patiently for central agreements that never come.

We have had 30 teacher/occasional teacher and education worker central bargaining meetings this year. And we don’t have meaningful agreements to show for it at either table.

In response to our constructive proposals, the government has refused to engage meaningfully and has recently insisted on tabling proposals that are tantamount to strips – to your salary, your benefits, and your working conditions. 

You’ve seen in ETFO’s member communications that negotiating with this government is one of two things. It’s either an exercise in frustration, without any meaningful dialogue from them. Or, we get what has become typical from this government: when a union wants to engage in meaningful bargaining, this government ignores the bargaining process and imposes its will. This is what the government did when, in stealth on June 28th, it created PPM 168, which imposes early reading screening responsibilities on Kindergarten to Grade 2 teachers this fall. 

The government tries to paint teachers who have concerns about the screener as being “anti-student”. Oh, please. That is complete nonsense!

Our members are asking logical questions based on their experience and expertise. Questions like: What does this screener look like? Who created it? How am I going to be trained on it? When is that training going to happen? Who is going to input the data from that screener into my board’s database? What happens after the screening - where is the funding and staffing to help students identified as needing support? 

And that’s why we bargain – so complex questions like this can be addressed in a planned and thoughtful way. But this government is incapable of collaborative discussion or thinking things through – it just tries to impose its will, even if that action violates bargaining rules in the law. So on August 8th, ETFO filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board against the government.

But a complaint at the Labour Board is not enough of a response to what is happening at the central bargaining table.

Stewards and members were updated about all the details of central bargaining for both the Education Worker and Teacher/Occasional Teacher tables through meetings in May and June. You know where we stand, and things have not changed substantially since then.

We have reached a tipping point. ETFO’s patience has run out. Our members’ patience has run out. We now need to pressure this government to come to the table and start to bargain seriously with us. 

Which is why, today, I am announcing that ETFO will be engaging with our members this fall and asking them for a central strike mandate. All-member meetings will be held across the province starting mid-September so that your union can discuss our concerns directly with you, answer your questions and hold in-person central strike votes. 

In a few minutes, members will be receiving a Collective Bargaining eNewsletter about ETFO’s fall information meetings and central strike votes. To make sure we reach as many members as possible, members will receive a text message in the next 24 hours directing them to ETFO’s Collective Bargaining website at to read about our fall central strike votes. Local presidents, please check Presnet in a few minutes for additional central strike vote information. 

Tomorrow we have scheduled a solidarity walk across queen street and a group photo to signify to this government and anyone else who is wondering that we are strong and united in our determination to preserve high quality publicly funded public education and we will not be deterred!

Based on I have been hearing from members across the province recently, there is no doubt in my mind that the delegates at this Annual Meeting, and that our 83,000 members, want to send this government a strong and united message – enough is enough!

Enough of the government dragging its feet in bargaining!

Enough with the blatant disrespect of ETFO members!

Enough with the destructive cuts to public education!

Enough with the underfunding of schools and services to students!

Enough is enough!


Together it’s time for us to stand up for our profession and for public education!



We are ETFO strong!

We will continue to fight for our students and our schools!