Thank you AMPA 2017, but the divestment conversation is not over

OSSTF, divestment and decolonization

By Andrea Loken, ECA co-founder

Thank you so much to AMPA 2017 for taking time to debate the divestment of OSSTF’s Internal Investment Fund. Despite debate being cut a little short [IMHO], many good points were made and some good questions asked. The motion to divest internal investments did not pass. Other motions regarding OTPP and OMERS divestment did not get to the floor. But this is only the beginning of the conversation.

While there is a global fossil-fuel divestment movement spear-headed by Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben in response to the climate crisis, my ninety second opening argument for divestment focused on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The issues are deeply interconnected, of course, but OSSTF leaders speaking against divestment refused to comment on the human rights argument.

OSSTF now has an Indigenous land acknowledgement statement to open meetings. As Canadians discover the truth about the history of our country through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are making these small gestures and beginning the conversation so desperately needed to move forward as a country. If we truly appreciate what this land acknowledgement means, we need to begin to think about what “sharing” the land really means and what Reconciliation really means.

Our economic system and education system are both examples of colonization. Both are imposed systems, assumed to be the only Way, that do not recognize Indigenous ways of being or land rights. In the view of capitalism, First Nations’ rights are just a hindrance to making profit – something to be ignored if one can get away with it. At the recent Ontario Ministry of Education consultation “Deeper Conversations” I recently attended, Ministry representatives framed the education system as one designed to feed our economic system; they repeated the mantra that it is our job as educators to prepare students to be “economically productive”. Residential schools were an extreme manifestation of this principle, since Indigenous Peoples needed to be indoctrinated into this system.

Our governments have failed miserably at keeping promises to First Nations, using the economy as an excuse. Russ Diabo, writer, political analyst and activist of the Kahnawake Mohawk, explains in this post “Justin Trudeau continuing proud Liberal tradition of betraying Indigenous peoples”. The Canadian Government, by continuing to approve dirty energy projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Liquified Natural Gas project on Lelu Island, is continuing the colonization of Indigenous Peoples. Will ignoring Treaty rights and human rights continue to part of Canada’s history?

I was moved by these words from a piece in the National Observer by Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation in northern Alberta:

“Trump’s Dakota Access pipeline has already come at a terrible price. It’s up to us to hold Trudeau to his promise to honour the Treaties. The spirit of Standing Rock has not diminished; it’s tracking northward as people across Canada act in solidarity with Native Nations Rise, refusing to let attacks on Indigenous people for the sake of oil profits go unnoticed.

These winds of resistance in British Columbia and across Turtle Island should be a signal to our governments and to investors. When we rise, we rise as one. A light breeze becomes an unstoppable gale.”

As one speaker against the motion put it, investments in fossil fuels will eventually be unprofitable and we will no longer invest in them at that point. Does it matter that in the meanwhile we condone this kind of behaviour towards Indigenous Peoples? Do we agree that if there is money to be made, our Internal Investment Fund must make it? We will just wait until the market decides it’s unprofitable, then we will act? This is completely unacceptable to me and hope to many other OSSTF members and Canadians. Let’s get our money out of dirty energy by divesting from fossil fuels. OSSTF has signed the Leap Manifesto. To be sincere, let’s support an economy “based on caring for the Earth and for one other”, as put by the Leap Manifesto. This is only a tiny start to decolonization, but it will be on the right side of history going forward.

NOW Magazine puts the spotlight on the OTPP and divestment

NOW Magazine published an excellent piece about the campaign to divest the OTPP from fossil fuels. The Educators Climate Alliance thanks NOW and Toronto350 for cranking up the heat (figuratively)! Please follow the link to their publication.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan faced with growing pressure to divest from fossil fuels” by Adria Vasil

A Call for a Progressive Rebranding of our Union

by Kevin Bowers, ECA member, OSSTF Limestone District 27

The core mandate of unions has always been to protect people from the ravages of a marketplace that often exploits and harms for profit.  Global warming is without a doubt the single most daunting crisis on our shared horizon, and corporations and governments have failed in their roles to mitigate its effects and protect people and other life on this planet.  

Business, corporate and government leaders have spent a lot of Public Relations dollars on undermining the good brand of unions.  The media repeats phrases like ‘union bosses’ and frames unions as ‘special interests’ and ‘job killers’.  In the last decades this attempted union-busting PR strategy has been very effective in undermining unions, and union membership has decreased under this continual assault.

The present political moment offers a perfect opportunity for unions to rebrand themselves by taking on their core responsibility as progressive protectors of people and planet.  There is a void on the left side of our political culture, and unions could be moral leaders in this burgeoning progressive culture.  A fossil fuel divestment campaign would demonstrate the selfless leadership and moral clarity that unions need as both a ‘brand’ and an institution.  A commitment from unions to contribute to fossil fuel divestment would help undermine the PR campaigns that pit union bosses against jobs and the economy, and focus attention on the failures of unchecked capitalism and its essential responsibility for the ecological crisis of climate change.

Divestment isn’t perfect, but it is an acknowledgement of what society must do to keep fossil fuels in the ground.  For a three-minute explanation of carbon budgets, please watch this video.  For a much more detailed illustration of carbon budgets, check out this infographic. (Both are great resources for the Grade 10 Science curriculum.)

Our country and culture are straining to hear reasonable, sane voices that articulate a sustainable, empathetic and humane way forward when it comes to confronting climate change.  Unions have an opportunity to pick up the megaphone and speak for the disenfranchised and ignored.  They have the opportunity to speak truth to power, and to articulate the clear need for people to have a say in their own destiny, and in the health and safety of the planet.   

Will our union take the important first step in rebranding itself as a progressive leader and protector of people by pledging to divest from carbon?

OSSTF Candidate Responses to the ECA Questionnaire

We are pleased to share the responses from OSSTF candidates seeking elected positions at AMPA 2017. We thank them for their courage and openness and for taking the time to participate in our survey.

A list of candidates declared so far can be found here. There is the possibility of others running “from the floor”.

The three questions we asked were:

  1. Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada is not just about the legacy of residential schools, it is also about the sovereign rights of Indigenous peoples to govern their lands. Indigenous peoples are leading the ways towards an environmentally, economically, socially and culturally sustainable future.  As educators and members of OSSTF, we understand that we are on the frontlines of this Reconciliation process.As Union leaders, how can we push for progressive change in the Reconciliation process that is concrete and substantive?
  2. Climate change is a defining issue of our time and many are suggesting it will require mobilization and organization on an unprecedented scale. What can OSSTF do to proactively assist in climate solutions? And how can we use this opportunity to strengthen our union and the labour movement?
  3. Lastly, how might we use our internal investments, and investments of our pensions, to support meaningful progress on the above issues? What role might Divestment play in our leadership?

The full “Open Letter” along with the Questionnaire can be found here.

Candidate Responses

Paul Caccamo, Executive Officer Candidate:

  1. We have important work that we need to do both internally and externally.  Internally, I believe OSSTF takes their responsibilities to be advocates for social justice seriously and as a result we are already doing great things.  On a go forward basis, however, I believe we need to do more to expose our local leaders to the realities facing aboriginal people in our communities.  There is much misunderstanding.  At summer leadership 2017 I had the privilege of participating in the Aboriginal Blanket exercise.  This life changing experience should be mandatory for our leaders and is one example of an easy internal step we can take to enhance our understanding on this important issue.  The success of the reconciliation process will hinge greatly on the capacity of our communities to re-examine their belief systems while committing to approaching this challenge differently.  The proactive must be patient as this will take a long time.  Leading this change will require that organizations with a social conscious lead the way.  I believe OSSTF can be an institution that shares responsibility with others in providing this leadership.
  2. The climate change conversation is here to stay.  The debate on what we can do to be proactive is an important part of our formal conversations at the local and regional level and in many forums provincially, including AMPA.  Some may argue that we are not making progress as an organization and I disagree.  Climate solutions and their associated discussions and debates have become an expected part of our provincial conversations and this is a critical step that will serve as a platform for moving towards broadened conversations with forward thinking organizations like ourselves.  My sense is members are paying more attention to our need to be proactive about climate solutions than ever before.  Harnessing this progress internally and using it to develop partnerships with other organizations with progressive attitudes is the logical next step in insuring momentum is not lost.
  3. I have spoken with countless members about this issue over the last few years and there is a lot of misunderstanding on the divestment question.  I believe we do have an obligation to take a balanced approach to investing that includes investing in renewable energy and environmentally progressive opportunities. Members continually ask how we can insure pension strength in a divestment climate.  I do not have the answer to this question.   What I do believe is that it is important that we should be talking about it.  It is healthy for OSSTF/FEESO when we participate in and decide how shifting our traditional investment practices can be undertaken while still insuring the medium and long term investment returns are providing the stability that members demand.  Ongoing education will be the key to this.


Karen Littlewood, Executive Officer Candidate:

  1. Firstly, and quite importantly, I don’t identify as part of the FNMI Community.  I have a responsibility therefore to first ask members of that community how I can help before I take any action or assume I know what is best.  Failure to do so would perpetuate the colonial actions of old.  We can use the education specific recommendations from Truth and Reconciliation to guide our practice.  I made a point of having the poster of those points (as shared at Provincial Council) plaque mounted and hung in our office to guide our local practices.  This year, I lobbied OSSTF Provincial and our local public board to develop a traditional territory acknowledgement.  We worked to develop our own statement (in consultation) and now also have a beginning statement from OSSTF that we can use.  My employer continues to work on one for our school board. We need to continue to work with our indigenous peoples to develop a statement that is acceptable, keeping in mind there is no one correct answer but that such a statement may need to evolve.  The key to all of this is communication and a willingness to have conversations and to not impose the will of one upon another.
  2. We are fortunate working in the education community that we have access to resources as well as experts who can create new resources to educate ourselves and others.  We need to use all of our supports to gather the information we need, to educate our members who in turn can share that information with others.  We have a myriad of groups, committees and councils and if each tried to frame the work they do within the parameters of climate solutions, it would be a start.  We have many leaders amongst our membership and we need to avail ourselves of their talents to work towards solutions.  Our Common Threads projects can be effective tools for sharing and educating on a large scale.  We need to work to produce those resources but then we have to continue to promote them, and update where necessary. Change takes time and education and communication but most of all, persistence.  We can’t forget to use all of our resources and connections such as the greater Labour Community.  As a proud executive member of the Barrie and District Labour Council, I have face to face time each month with leaders from other local unions.  We must use these opportunities to promote our positive agenda.  Making green choices always has an impact. I have committed to having a green suite for AMPA and always try to make sure my dollars are spent close to home and in the most responsible way.
  3. As an Executive Officer, I wouldn’t have a direct role in the investment of our pension but as a leader (and a human being), I would have a voice to speak for this vital issue.  The OTPP has a fiduciary responsibility to its members but there really isn’t a point to being comfortable financially in retirement to the detriment of future generations.  We must also do the same lobbying for all pension plans, regardless of job class.  As a union of 60000, we have lobby power and we shouldn’t be afraid to use it.  I have experience lobbying at all levels of government.  I look forward to the opportunity to continue to work for positive change.  Divestment may be the responsible option but can’t be a rush decision.  There are some tough decisions ahead for all of us.  I’m not afraid of tough choices and difficult conversations.  I’m not afraid to do research and weigh the options. My district (17 Simcoe) has a motion to encourage our partners (Educators’ Financial, OTIP, etc) to keep their purchases local.  I am proud to support that motion to try to effect that positive change.


Laura Drexler, OTF Governor Candidate:

As Union Leaders, we are to be the voice of our people. As OSSTF/FESSO leaders we can look to live integrity and solidarity we profess in our motto “Let us not take thought for our separate interests, but let us help one another”

This means leading the way in advocating for meaningful changes. It means holding leaders accountable to doing what they pledged to do, particularly in communication of said efforts. We are Educators, and in that role have a responsibility to model that character trait of reconciliation particularly when it comes to inclusion, recognition and rights. We aim to create a working and learning environment where principles of equality, equity, cultural diversity, social justice and environmental stewardship are lived out as we look to inspire the  next generation towards the future. We have daily Indigenous Land Acknowledgement Announcements in our schools.  We have opportunities to teach others about what is passionate to us. We can do more that bring the curriculum and policy to life. We have an opportunity and a responsibility as a Union to be a public voice advocating for others, especially those who are seeking the restoration of self autonomy and their legal rights to be respected with dignity and substance.   Dialogue such as this question of potential future leaders may be the first step in creating more awareness and motivation for all of OSSTF/FESSO to take initiative in advocating for those who need the support and strength of our voice.

2. Our collective action or inaction responding to Climate Change may define how much we value stewardship of the future and our most precious resource: planet earth.  Any global change requires a global population response.  We humans have never faced such a large scale exponential issue that requires a collective commitment to change. The progressive altered climatic patterns will indeed threaten our present quality of life and our future existence. This is not the result of living in an inter-glacial period, but the result of our choices to not prioritize stewardship of our environment.

OSSSTF/FESSO’s home page states our membership is more than 60,000 strong representing multiple job classes, districts and languages.  We are a snapshot of the population. We debate motions on environmental stewardship yearly at AMPA,  and in our locals.  We count the cost in the short term, and wonder about long term impact. I think we can do more than this. We can be intentional in our choices. We can be educated and promoters of truth in the environmental costs our footprint makes.  We can make choices and set policies that provide long term good for our planet. We can choose whom we align ourselves with in business policies and send the message that factors besides money matter.  This can be a proactive response, as can how we chose to conduct our business.

To my knowledge, most candidates running for election have opted for paperless campaign promotion. My hope is the rationale goes beyond the cost savings but for a reduction in generating waste that our physical environment will eventually have to absorb.

People are mobilized to action together, uniting with those who are likewise passionate for a cause or value.  We at OSSTF/FESSO have the potential to be a large example of mobilizing for more than our rights. We can mobilize for the rights of everyone; to live on a planet where someone else doesn’t willfully place their short term comfort or convenience over the rights of those who may not have the knowledge or power to make that difference.  We already unite for supporting the labour movement and can use these methods of mobilization for invite everyone to join together.  We have the volume of membership, the moral value of investing the future, and the means to encourage and invite others to move forward together for something everyone wants; a sustainable more habitable planet.  Why don’t we use our greatest strength; our people?

3. Our investments (both internal and in the OTPP) are how we speak about the future and what we value.  We value security and see money as that insurance. Do we value our short term future at the cost of the long term?

OTPP valuation models are based on 70 year projections.  We invest our dues and reserves in long term infrastructure or real estate or monetary holdings.

Often the popular topic of divestment is “will choosing non fossil fuel (non-renewable resources) mean a lower economic return?”  We collectively fear it will. We fear it may cost us our financial comfort, in a shorter term than us feeling the effects of the non-monetary negatives that come from those choices.

I simply don’t believe the co-relation between divestment from environmentally or socially responsible investments is mutually exclusive, nor as strong as we may fear. I’ve seen my own personal investments still generate a comparable return to other investments.  So even if we collectively value high and fast monetary return above other principles, maybe we need to take a close look at our investments.

Leadership can be the ability to speak up for those who will subsequently reap the benefits and consequences of present actions. I believe leaders have a responsibility to look out for everyone.  Leadership has the ability to influence others and set an example for all.

Delegates often decide on who they will elect into leadership based on their character and values.  I urge everyone to talk to candidates; learn who they are and what they stand for.  Meet them and see what they are willing to do on the various issues. Come to the OTF Governor suite. Have a cookie and talk further to Laura Drexler about what matters to you.


Stephen Helleiner, OTF Governor Candidate:

  1. The reconciliation process is just beginning. The greatest need at this point in the process in to ensure that all Canadians understand why this effort is happening. As educators we are the first and most vital part in the education process. As members of OSSTF we can take pride in being at the forefront of the reconciliation process and point to our efforts prior to the December 15th, 2015 release of the TRC final report to foster inclusive and culturally sensitive education through practical curriculum aids like the “Full Circle: First Nations, Métis, Inuit Ways of Knowing” Common Threads resource. We must continue to push forward with our education efforts and I support any and all efforts by our union or by OTF to provide current, sensitive and inclusive teaching materials. By educating future generations we can prevent the mistakes of the past from happening again.
  2. OSSTF has already tackled some environmental initiatives directly or indirectly. We have banned mass produced plastic water bottles from our meetings, we have limited our paper consumption through a greater emphasis on email and downloadable files (Greens, etc.), there has been a shift to limit the number of paper copies of Update and Education Forum and we have tried to implement a number of limited green cleaning and maintenance practices at 60 Mobile Dr. We have an Environmental Workgroup and I support its activities as they find new ways for us to conserve, preserve and renew our environment. We strengthen OSSTF by engaging our members in all of these efforts and by supporting them in their attempts to expand our practices to their Boards or community groups. The more engaged our members are the stronger we are and this applies to the wider union movement as well. As our efforts as unionists are recognized by the wider society our profile changes in people’s minds, building a more positive and proactive image of social concern and less of the “me first” union image. This shift will benefit all unions and should promote union membership as a socially and environmentally responsible choice.
  3. OSSTF has significant investments but a large portion of them are in long term, inflexible investment classes like real estate. With the limited assets available to us we can directly invest in “Green” energy companies, retrofit our real estate to incorporate green solutions, many of which have a high initial cost but provide substantial returns over the long term and work with union and labour partners to promote environmentally responsible activities and practices within our broader membership and indeed, within society as a whole. Pension investments are larger but much more constrained because they MUST find the best returns for investment over a long period of time. Encouraging green improvements within the real estate portion of   the OTPP would represent both social responsibility and long term investment return. Divesting ourselves of companies that are involved in less than desirable environmental practices is not a practical solution. Engaging and holding majority or strong minority positions in such companies allow us to direct them towards a more responsible path while ensuring long term profit for the Plan. If we have no stake, we have no voice in the boardroom where the decisions happen. Long term divestment from environmentally unfriendly companies will be inevitable as their long term returns will not support the Plan while newer, greener options will.


Parker Robinson, OTF Governor Candidate:

  1. As educational union leaders opportunities to support and move forward the reconciliation process should be at the forefront.  Our union can use the talent within to develop classroom resources, professional development opportunities and communication strategies that can be used by the members.  Also, our access to education stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education, Ontario Teachers Federation and the other affiliates provides an avenue to advocate for appropriate funding/resources for this process.   Finally, engaging with the indigenous communities throughout our districts to work collaboratively on educational strategies that they feel can benefit this process is key to having successful relationships between indigenous communities and frontline staff in schools.
  2. OSSTF has made good first steps to “greening” our union.  The Environmental workgroup continues to develop a pathway to help our organization confront climate change.   If we can harness the passion members have for this issue and strengthen the connections between OSSTF and the grassroots organizations working in our communities to push forward ideas that will address climate change progress will continue.  OSSTF and the larger labour movement has the ability to coordinate efforts to share information and reach large numbers of people.  This collective influence can be used to influence decision makers if the membership can be educated & organized to use this power.
  3. OSSTF’s internal investments and the investments within the pension plans must take into account the need to move away from fossil fuel based investments.  OSSTF should continue to use its voice to pressure OTPP & OMERS to find investment opportunities that are environmentally sustainable.  Green energy technologies continue to show strong growth and using our financial resources to support such companies can not only provide good financial returns but also have a positive impact on climate change.  OTPP does have a risk assessment framework that takes climate change into account but the plan must do more, and rigorously search out opportunities to move to investments and strategies that not only consider the return potential but the substantial costs of continuing in environmentally damaging companies.  Obviously there is a financial responsibility that the pension plans must strive for but the cost of continued investing in carbon-based industries is too high.


Other Responses:

Jo Dean, Vice-President candidate, tweeted:

“Thank you for raising these important issues but the responses are complex. Please come to my suite at AMPA to discuss.”

Martha Hradowy, Executive Officer candidate, wrote:

“Thank you for sharing your concerns, I am more than willing to share my thoughts on these issues at AMPA and look forward to meeting you. Please feel free to visit me my campaign suite or ask your questions during the Question and Answer period Saturday night.

Yours in Federation,

Candidates who did not reply:

Harvey Bischof, President candidate
Cindy Dubué, Vice-President candidate
Rob Gascho, Vice-President candidate
Earl Burt, Treasurer candidate
Mike Foulds, Executive Officer candidate
Michelle Teixeira, OTF Table Officer candidate
Kim Appel, OTF Governor candidate
Malini Leahy, OTF Governor candidate
Kelly McCarthy, OTF Governor candidate