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Former president of secondary school union running for Ontario NDP in Brantford—Brant

The former president of the union representing most of Ontario's public high school teachers is running as the Ontario New Democrat candidate for the riding that covers the county of Brant and Brantford, Ont., in 2022.

Political science expert says Harvey Bischof could help the NDP win over educators

Former OSSTF President Harvey Bischof will be running as the Ontario NDP's candidate for the riding that covers the county of Brant and Brantford, Ont., in 2022. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The former president of the union representing most of Ontario's public high school teachers is running as the Ontario New Democrat candidate for the riding that covers the county of Brant and Brantford, Ont., in 2022.

Harvey Bischof made the announcement along with Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath in front of the North Park Collegiate and Vocational School in Brantford on Tuesday.

"Publicly funded education is an investment, not an expense," said Bischof, who led the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) from 2017 to until earlier this year. Karen Littlewood became the new OSSTF president on July 1. 

"We must have smaller class sizes, improved ventilation with minimum standards, extra mental health supports, paid sick days for all parents, teachers and education workers [and] a proactive strategy to reach out to families to get students vaccinated," Bischof told media.

Horwath said Bischof is an "extremely important" member of the team and will help bring education to a "front and centre position" in the lead up to the June 2 provincial election, taking place after two years of heightened debate over online learning and the health and safety of students and educators.

Bischof has been a vocal critic of the province and its approach to education, especially during the pandemic. His announcement came on the same day the Ford government unveiled its back-to-school plan.

Bischof's time as OSSTF president saw tense labour negotiations with the Ford government and included rotating strikes early last year. The union represents roughly 60,000 teachers and education workers.

NDP trying to win over teachers: political expert 

Peter Graefe, an associate professor in the department of political science at McMaster University, said education could play a large role in the provincial election campaign.

"In the current moment where Ontario parents have had kids at home for pretty much half the school year last year, there's maybe ... a bit more of a sense that teachers … were looking out for the best interest of their students and the government wasn't," he said.

He said Bischof is a union leader with an even higher profile than current area MPP, Progressive Conservative Will Bouma. Bischof's run, Graefe said, may be the NDP's attempt to discourage the Liberals from putting a lot of effort into winning the riding.

More Liberal momentum, he explained, could split the vote and help the Conservatives, who have historically tried to discourage voters from supporting a party it says is too close to teacher's unions.

"It's sending a signal to fence-sitting voters. Teachers who were quite happy to support the Liberals for the past 20 years, maybe they need to change their party if they want to beat the Conservatives," he said.

Graefe added the NDP previously had strong support among teachers but lost much of it to the Liberals during 'Rae Days' under former Premier Bob Rae. But, he said, an opening for the NDP came in 2015 after the Liberals introduced back-to-work legislation for striking high school teachers.

"Certainly having Mr. Bischof run for them is a signal that [the NDP] may be the preferred choice for at least secondary school teachers," Graefe said.

Bischof also focused on health-care, drug use, housing

Bischof, originally from Pickering, Ont., said he has lived in Brantford—Brant for more than a decade and added he's also focused on other local issues including health-care, long-term care, housing affordability and tackling opioid use.

"I'll spend up until June 2 talking with the people of Brantford—Brant and making sure that I'm reflecting their concerns as well," he said.

He said he considered joining the NDP "for a long time" and recent provincial decisions during the pandemic spurred him to become a candidate.

The riding had long been Liberal, with Dave Levac as MPP since 1999, until Bouma was elected in 2018, beating out NDP candidate Alex Felsky in a tight race. Bouma had 42.04 per cent of the vote while Felsky had 40.93 per cent.

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