Full-page advertisements against striking teachers’ unions appeared in major publications Saturday after they were submitted by an organization that has no website, no contact information or spokesperson.
All four major teachers’ unions in Ontario have been engaged in escalating job actions in recent weeks as bargaining talks with the government have stalled.
The advertisements, from a group calling itself Vaughan Working Families, were on the pages of the Toronto Star, the National Post and The Globe and Mail on Saturday. The ads varied slightly in each newspaper but they all delivered a similar message.
“Pawns are for Chess. The Teachers’ Unions should stop using our children as pawns for personal gain,” one of the ads stated. “A Message from the Vaughan Working Families.”
The message has sparked confusion about Vaughan Working Families due to the group having no online presence, and because nobody has come forward claiming responsibility for the advertisements.
In a statement on Twitter Monday, the Toronto Star’s advertising department stated that the ads have been brought to its attention, and that the company is “actively looking into it.”
CTV News Toronto also contacted The Globe and Mail and the National Post for comment but has not received a response.
The advertisement in the Toronto Star features a woman holding a provincial report card with a failing grade on it. The writing on the ad states, “Teachers’ Union leaders are risking student success. Children are not pawns.”
It appears the photo of the person was taken from file photography website Shutterstock. CTV News Toronto has contacted the photographer but has not received a response.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education Stephen Lecce’s office wrote in an email to CTV News Toronto that they have no connection to the ads.
“The minister and I were not aware of the advertisements and not familiar with the group Vaughan Working Families,” Press Secretary Alexandra Adamo wrote.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, commented on the ads Sunday morning, saying that the makers must have “deep pockets” as the ads could cost up to $80,000.
Wow! The Vaughan “Working” Families have some deep pockets when you consider it costs between $50-$80,000 for these 2 one day ads, not to mention the PR firm costs to develop the ads! @ETFOeducators #ETFO @OFLabour @osstf @OECTAProv @AEFO_ON_CA pic.twitter.com/B2LpUcNJBs— Sam Hammond (@etfopresident) February 2, 2020
The Ontario NDP is asking for an investigation into the advertisements to find out who is behind them.
NDP ethics critic Taras Natyshak said the advertisements violate the province's election spending rules as two byelections are currently underway in several Ottawa-area ridings.
“I’ve written to Elections Ontario to request that the commissioner immediately investigates whether and how these advertisements break the rules, and who is behind them," Natyshak said in a statement.
Natyshak has said the advertisements mimic government speaking points and alleges that partisan supporters may have purchased them.
With files from The Canadian Press