MPP’s Report

Let’s focus on schools, not bars

I don’t know about you, but I’m concerned about Ontario’s priorities.

On July 17, Ottawa entered Stage 3 of Ontario’s “Framework for Reopening our Province,” and it meant patrons could once again frequent the inside of bars.

COVID-19 cases have spiked in recent days and photos suggest a party atmosphere. As elsewhere, we’ve seen an increase in cases with young adults.

What was Premier Ford’s defense? “Hey, I’m not a drinker.” Classic spin and deflection.

No one asked if the premier drank alcohol. The question was if it made sense to open indoor spaces in bars for people to socialize.

Dr. Vera Etches was much clearer. The recent spike in COVID cases, she noted, is linked to “parties indoors, people not physically distancing, people gathering in greater numbers outside of their household or their social circle … These are the behaviours we need to stop and make sure we have the good practices that are hard to maintain but are essential to stop transmission of the infection in Stage 3.”

But as Ontario makes reckless decisions on bars, there is no meaningful plan for the reopening of schools. At our “back to school” conversation in July, we heard as much from staff, trustees and public education experts.

Kids deserve a chance to learn, and staff need to know there are plans in place for their safety. Parents need a break from double-shifting between child care and employment.

We need a real plan, and fast. Lyra Evans and Justine Bell, our terrific OCDSB trustees in Ottawa Centre, are insisting the province fund public schools appropriately to ensure safe, small class sizes and safe working conditions five days a week.

At the time of writing, the Ford government’s funding commitments boil down to an additional seven cents per student in Ontario. That’s a joke.

As Jacquie Miller from the Ottawa Citizen explains, other places have been imaginative in adjusting schools to COVID-19, and it’s high time Ontario did likewise.

It’s time to focus on schools, not bars. It’s time for Ontario to make significant investments in public education, and we should demand this happens now.

 

It’s time for action on child care

For a long time, politicians in Ontario have paid lip service to child care. Funding has been promised, but it’s always fallen short. Now COVID-19 has forced the issue – safe child care requires proper funding, and that funding is needed now.

For decades, talented early childhood educators have subsidized our child-care system. They have done so by putting up with low wages and insufficient working conditions.

Ontario’s recent experiment with full-day kindergarten is a case in point. Imagine being responsible for a room of 30 three- and four-year-olds. Now imagine several of them with special needs. How can two staff safely manage that room?

But now the situation is worse. After months of parents and kids being stranded by day-care closures under COVID-19, there is intense pressure on the Ford government to act by supporting safe and well-resourced child-care options.

That’s what we talked about during our child-care town hall in July. I was honoured to host my colleague MPP Doly Begum, the NDP critic for early learning and child care, along with two leading voices in this sector, Morna Ballantyne of Child Care Now and Alana Powell of the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario. A video of the roundtable is available on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/joelhardenondp.

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