Doug Ford says Ontario student protests about ‘union thugs,’ not class sizes

WATCH ABOVE: Thousands of Ontario students skip class, protest Ford government education cuts

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is linking a province-wide student protest over education reform to the influence of teachers’ union “thugs.”

Ford made the comments during an interview with the John Oakley Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto on Thursday.

READ MORE: Ontario students walk out of class over education changes

He said a lot of parents and students were disappointed by the protests, which saw high school students across the province walk out of class.

“This isn’t about class sizes, gentlemen,” he told a panel of guests on the show.

“This is strictly from the union thugs, as I call them, the teachers’ union, one of the most powerful unions in the entire country. There’s finally a government with a backbone that wants our kids to start learning math.”

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LISTEN: Doug Ford joins the John Oakley Show with panellists Peter Shurman, Stephen Holyday and David Wills

Oakley later questioned Ford’s “union thugs” remark, asking if he was spoiling for a fight.

“Well, no. They were spoiling for a fight as soon as we ended up getting elected,” Ford said. “I guess the Sam Hammonds of the world that have been around since Moses wanted to pick a fight because we’re going to hold them accountable.”

READ MORE: Ontario considering mandatory math testing for all teachers

Hammond is the president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, a union that is fighting the Ford government on recent changes to the education system.

The government plans to increase class sizes, ask students to take more online courses and overhaul the autism program to introduce funding caps on services many parents see as essential.

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School boards and teachers unions have warned that the government’s planned increase in class sizes will result in thousands of teaching positions being lost over the next four years.

WATCH: Students hold protests in Ontario in opposition to proposed education changes by Ford government
Students hold protests in Ontario in opposition to proposed education changes by Ford government
Students hold protests in Ontario in opposition to proposed education changes by Ford government

Some boards have also written to the education minister saying the move will mean they can offer fewer elective courses, such as those in the arts and skilled trades.

Ford said the new average class sizes —  which will rise from 22 to 28 for high schools — would still put Ontario below other provinces.

“In high school we’ll still have the lowest out there,” he said.

READ MORE: Boards tell Ontario education minister larger class sizes could mean cuts to arts, trades classes

Average class sizes for grades 4 to 8 will increase by one student to 24, while other grades are unaffected.

Ford also pointed to changes to the curriculum and knowledge testing for new teachers as measures that would allow students to achieve better math outcomes.

“Right now we’re in the lowest tier in the entire country when it comes to math skills,” he said.

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With files from the Canadian Press