“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Many readers will readily identify this quotation as originating with Malcom X, the prominent human rights activist from the 1960s. I truly believe that one of the greatest gifts that a society can provide to its youth is a good education that will prepare them for whatever the world has to face in the future.
Unfortunately, here in Ontario, it seems that our education system has become a frequent target for Ford’s Conservative Government. A quick search on the internet for headlines about changes to Ontario education will quickly display a long list of both direct and indirect issues.
One of the most troubling issues is the backlog of necessary repairs to many schools all across the province. This is a matter of health and safety. Under the Liberals the repairs rose to a ludicrous $15.9 billion price tag. And now under Doug Ford that price tag has risen by another $400 million for a total of $16.3 billion. Keep in mind, this is not to cover the costs of new construction. This is just to fix up our currently operating schools. This is why students have to resort to wearing coats and mittens in their classrooms. In too many schools the heat isn’t working, buckets are used to catch drips from leaky school roofs, and water fountains that aren’t safe to drink from because of lead contamination. When the government doesn’t fund the necessary repairs in schools, our students suffer.
At least when the Liberals were in power they had a plan to use funds derived from the cap-and-trade agreement that we had with Quebec and California to fix up the schools. Once in office, Doug Ford ripped up the cap-and-trade agreement, but he never did come up with an alternative way to cover the school repair costs.
Ford also has created a nightmare situation for many thousands of students by increasing class sizes in both elementary and secondary schools. The increase in class size means that students will have less individual attention as the teacher has to spread their time out among more students. In secondary schools matters are worse because classes that require smaller numbers for safety such as some shops, have to be compensated for by adding that many more to classes that are already beyond the 28 student limit. This reckless decision will result in having 10,000 few teachers working with our children across the province over the next four years.
Days ago, Sudbury MPP Jamie West and MPP Guy Bourgoin challenged the government on its attack on Francophone education students and on Francophone services. West and Bourgoin shared the shocking information that students planning to attend Laurentian’s Faculty of Education learned that the school would no longer be offering their intermediate-high school cycle – one of just two French-language teacher’s degree programs in the entire province. This is devastating news for students who had planned their post-secondary education around becoming high school teachers. West asked the Minister of Colleges and Universities, “What will you tell students who dream of teaching high school in French, but are now unable to do so?” How does the government intend to solve the problem of the shortage of francophone teachers when demand continues to grow?
The attacks on education also go well beyond effects on elementary and secondary school students. Last spring Ford announced that his government was ripping financial assistance away from post secondary school students by making deep cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Deep cuts to non-repayable grants account for the bulk of the more than $700 million in funding slashed from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities in Doug Ford’s first budget. As a result, thousands of students across the province saw their dreams of earning a degree or college certificate that would lead them to better jobs in life just vanish right before their eyes.
If there is any doubt about the lack of regard Ford has for post secondary students, just look back at his party fundraising letter that he sent last year in which he attacks student unions. In his letter he revealed his politically motivated plot against the student unions who stood up to his plan to cut OSAP. The last thing Ford wanted was an intelligent, organized voice decrying his hurtful decisions and policies. So he decided to implement changes to student fees that allow students to opt-out of select student fees. But Ford tipped his hand showing his contempt for student unions in his party fundraising letter by writing, “I think we all know what kind of crazy Marxist nonsense student unions get up to. So, we fixed that. Student union fees are now opt-in.”
Student unions do so much for students. They arrange for transit discounts, grad photos, student events, clubs, copy centres, and food banks because so many students can’t afford both the tuition fees and food. Student unions work tirelessly to ensure student safety and mental health, to promote wellbeing, and to create more opportunities on campus. Without the funding, student unions are castigated.
The good news here is that collectively the student unions took the government to court and won. The courts ruled that it was illegal for the Ford Government to interfere with autonomous schools’ own fee structure. The court clearly condemned the Province saying they overreached their authority.
Just in case you’re wondering, the above is by no means a complete listing of the attacks Doug Ford has made and continues to make, on our education system. So much is being brought to light as a result of negotiations with the various teacher and education worker unions. Doug Ford intentionally picked this fight with teachers, education workers and everyone in schools. He knows how to end it: reverse his callous cuts to education. Stop the thousands of teacher and educator firings, stop the class-size hike, end the plan to hold classes online instead of in the classroom, and cancel the wage-cap law that trounced workers’ rights before they even got to the bargaining table.
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Our young people truly represent our future in a very real way. Our children deserve so much better than to have their education dreams thwarted by Doug Ford. New Democrats join with thousands of parents and students across the province who challenge the wisdom of the Governments plans and policies on education. We are grateful that education workers are taking job action while at the same time ensuring there is no impact on student learning or student safety. We hope Doug Ford acts quickly to reverse his cuts and work for a resolution at the bargaining table.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député