Feature

Part I of It's Elementary: A Brief History of Ontario's Elementary Teachers and Their Federations

Barbara Richter

This is the first of a four-part history of Ontario public elementary teachers and their federations.

 We will learn about ETFO and its predecessor organizations, the challenges they faced and the victories they achieved. We will learn that:

  • Federations work steadfastly to promote and protect the interests of their members
  • Federations were and continue to be leaders in advocating for the rights of teachers and the broader society
  • Funding for elementary education has been an issue since the 1800s
  • Legal or collective agreement rights are never completely secure; the Federation and its members have had to be vigilant in keeping elementary education issues in the public eye and on the government agenda.

This overview captures some of ETFO’s more public achievements during the last eight years. ETFO also performs a great deal of work on behalf of members through professional relations services, equity and women’s services,  professional  development,  public  relations,  communications,  collective bargaining, research, leadership development, and much more. There is outreach to equality-seeking groups, to community, labour, and social justice groups, in addition to the work ETFO does on the international scene. I will highlight some of that work in future installments. I will go back in history but will not leave ETFO behind: past issues remain relevant and ETFO continues to address them today.

1998 – what a year to be born as a federation! It was the year of “the big ice storm” in Eastern Ontario and Quebec. Google was founded and Sesame Street turned 30. It was the year Swissair  flight 111 crashed off Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia. Air Canada pilots went on strike for the first time in the company’s history. The Calgary Stampeders won the Grey Cup and the New York Yankees won the World Series. Bill Clinton was president of the USA. Jean Chrétien was the prime minister  of Canada and Joe Clarke had been elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Par ty of Canada again.  Mike Harris was premier of Ontario. And the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) began.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario was created by the amalgamation of two predecessor organizations, the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) and the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation (OPSTF). When ETFO began operating as a federation on July 1, 1998, it continued the work of two federations that had worked to promote and protect the interests of public school educators for 80 years.

The year 1998 was a time of massive change in Ontario education. The provincial government forced Ontario’s 129 school boards to merge into to 72 organizations, 31 of them public boards. Some of these new boards were huge, covering, in one instance, an area the size of France.

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