News From The Park

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It is wonderful to be able to get out and about again after being cooped up for so long, even after the winter season ended.  People are delighted to finally enjoy opportunities to get out to see and speak to people they have been forced to avoid because the COVID-19 epidemic.  The good news is that, in general, people are automatically social distancing.

The other evening I was taking my stroll to unwind and came across an elderly gentleman who I know enjoys the benefit of a pretty long perspective on life, if you catch my drift.  We got talking about how troubling these days are for Canadians.  I said people are having to deal with situations and make sacrifices the likes of which most have never seen.  I said it will be interesting to see in time what the “history books” have to say about 2020.  I had to laugh out loud when the fellow casually replied with a sly grin, “Been there – seen that.  Sometimes I think those book writers haven’t got a freakin’ clue of reality.”  He went on to talk about his perspective of the war years in Canada from a child’s point of view.

The gentleman’s comments brought the perspective of our children about today’s situation.  Now, just as back in the 40’s, the welfare and security of children is paramount.  There is no more important responsibility on our shoulders higher than this.  This caused me to think that it will be interesting for all of us, years down the road, to be able to look back on these days with a perspective like this gentleman’s.

How will we perceive the “history books” then?

Parents have had to quickly learn to juggle their lives, looking after their little ones, helping school-age kids keep up with remote learning and working from home since the province went into shutdown.  Parents are calling or writing to my office saying they are becoming increasingly concerned about what’s going to happen at the start of the school year.  Ontarians know that summer seems to be over in the blink of an eye.  If the government doesn’t get its act together right now to put Ontario onto a path to a full, healthy and safe return to classes for students in September, some parents may have to drop out of the workforce.

New Democrats support plans that lead to smaller, safe classes that is based on a five day school week for the upcoming school year.  We firmly believe that we can keep our children safe by putting them into smaller classes.  Besides the reduced health risks, this will provide a much improved teacher/student ratio, meaning more time can be spent instructing each child.  These actions are necessary in order to provide our youth with the education they need to face the future.  To do less is to fail our children.

Doug Ford and Education Minister Lecce have not done the homework they needed to do to create tangible, detailed plans that are actually workable.  Instead they have simply told all Ontario school boards to basically be ready to face anything and everything.  There are no real guidelines; no promise to provide necessary funding to accommodate change; no continuity; no promise of anything.

The three hybrid models that the Conservatives are proposing will with absolute certainty force countless parents out of the workforce — and we all know it’s women who bear the brunt of that.

Ontarians place the welfare and future of their children as paramount and prioritize education.  Doug Ford tells us he doesn’t have a crystal ball to know the future.  Fine – no one does.  We get that.  But you don’t need a crystal ball to make real plans that include direction which build in necessary flexibility leading to success.  No matter what the future holds, it is more than obvious that in order to meet our children’s’ needs, it is going to necessitate huge investment in education.

Doug Ford is refusing to provide the funding necessary to meet our children’s needs.  What kind of leadership is that?

Readers of this column will remember that last fall when the Legislature began a new session, New Democrats vowed to not just ‘oppose’ but also to ‘propose’ in order to effect positive change in this province.  That’s why the NDP has called upon the government to adopt plans that will lead to a safe return to school.  Plans which include:

·        Hiring more teachers

·        Hiring more education workers, including educational assistants, custodians to keep classrooms safe and disinfected, and hiring more early childhood educators to operate child care spaces

·        Sourcing more classroom spaces, including closed classrooms, libraries and unused provincial and municipal spaces, like recreation centres

·        Extra funding to support students who are struggling and students with special needs

·        A plan to address the needs of Black, Indigenous and racialized students whose communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19

Ontario NDP Education critic Marit Stiles tabled such a motion, urging the government to implement these measures, and more, as part of an emergency action plan.

The only way to ensure the health and success for our children is for the Ford Government to start working with its education partners on solutions that will allow kids to return to safer, smaller classrooms full time in September.  Doug Ford and Minister Lecce have been working on cutting thousands of teaching jobs and hiking average class sizes with no caps.  That’s completely contrary to what kids and parents need to get back to school and work in September.

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 mmantha-co@ndp.on.ca or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha MPP/député

Algoma-Manitoulin

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