The Ontario College of Teachers is the regulatory body of the teaching profession in Ontario and ensures that qualified professionals teach in Ontario’s publicly funded schools. However, as the largest self-regulating body in Canada it has legislative immunity from any oversight, which conflicts with its mandate to protect the public interest. Although the public can complain to the College about a teacher or school administrator, the public or members of the College cannot complain about the College and how it conducts its business. It is not under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Ombudsman, like the Ministry of Education and school boards. The governing Council members (elected and government appointed) cannot be contacted by the public through the website. The legislated Public Interest Committee of the College which should oversee how the College carries out its mandate, is inactive and invisible. Three factors which raise a red flag for public confidence, transparency and accountability for an entity supposedly there to protect public interest. New Year’s Resolution 1: legislate an oversight body, external monitoring and public access to council members.
Since its inception in 1997, the College has slipped consistently downward into the dark and muddied waters of political influence, evident, in part, with the large number of government appointees loaded on College Council, not members of the public but former school board superintendents, directors of education and trustees. These government appointees have been recruited by senior College staff and recommended for appointment by them to the Minister of Education who rubber stamps this preferential process. There is no public advertisement for public appointee positions, nor recruitment process by the College for government appointed public members. How many Ontarians are directed to apply through the Public Appointments Secretariat? Who has even heard of this government office except those personally informed? Most significantly, there are no designated positions on Council for parents, the largest stakeholder of the College and the sector of the population which plays the most significant role in the lives of students the College is supposed to protect. New Year’s Resolution 2: legislate that publicly appointed members must be non-educators and parents.
School boards have also great political influence on the College’s operations since they collect the annual dues for membership through teacher payroll deductions. The annual $35 million operating budget of the College is thus guaranteed with dues rolling in from school board employers every January 31 and filling College coffers. Over 30 other regulatory bodies in Ontario require their members to forward dues individually every year. With legislated payroll deduction schemes similar to union dues deductions, school board employers have influence over employer notified complaints against teachers and fast tracking these complaints through the Investigation and Discipline Committees of the College to ensure termination of a teacher’s employment. Such influence gives rise to conflict of interest since there is no oversight of the investigative process, nor an appeal process internally. A teacher member victim of an abusive constructive dismissal by a school board employer only has recourse to the Ontario court system after a Disciplinary decision has been rendered, and their career sabotaged forever. This influence exposes the fact that the principle of natural justice and the right to be heard is denied a member subject of a complaint at the initial stage. Resolution 3: legislate that members pay their own fees.
Furthermore, some complaints from parents about teachers or principals do not even make it past the Intake stage into any investigative process of the College because there is no external monitoring of how these complaints are processed in an unobstructed and unbiased way. Statistically, over the years, the number of complaints from the public should outweigh complaints from employers but they do not. Another red flag. Resolution 4: legislate investigations by third party external sources.
The British Columbia College of Teachers was shut down by that province’s government in 2011 because of undue influence from teacher unions on the functioning of that College. Interestingly, that College only survived 20 years of existence as well, just as the Ontario College of Teachers will undoubtedly be celebrating 20 years of existence in 2017. However what is there to celebrate? The public does not need a government created body which functions without oversight, is protected from any monitoring in the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996 , has no internal or external control mechanisms and is inaccessible to the public. Premier Wynne needs to ensure her government addresses the College and its operations through changes in legislation or face more public scandal. New Year’s Resolution 5 : if there is no political will to address New Year’s Resolutions 1 through 4, shut down the Ontario College of Teachers to restore public confidence in government created institutions.