The Ontario election is in just a couple of days, and the polls are predicting another majority win for the Conservatives.
I’m honestly afraid of this result. Not just for the next four years, but for the future of Ontario in general. This is because children are the people who will populate this province in the actual future, and the Ford government doesn’t act in ways that will help children thrive.
Environmentally, Ford has a terrible track record. He is way out-of-step with the direction Ontario needs to go. He cancelled and rolled back countless positive steps for environmental change made before he came to office – often with sneaky, completely opaque, backdoor practices. His tendency is to encourage sprawl and pave over sensitive environmental areas in the process (which is honestly SO thirty years ago). We all know he wanted to open up the Greenbelt to development, as though that were something anyone could call “progressive” or even “conservative” (since nothing is being conserved). What he thinks is a worthwhile investment is putting money in the pockets of his buddies in industry (and politics).
Currently, he is right on-form with his election promises to BUILD STUFF – he talks about it nonstop. He has been encouraging municipalities to replace farmland with development, despite objections that they could create housing in a much more efficient way. Yes, today’s children will need places to live – but they will need to be affordable, walkable, public-transit-oriented. They don’t need extra miles of asphalt. ANY changes we make right now need to be made for sustainability – because hello?! Our children will also need food. Priorities don’t get more crucial than that. Other than water, of course, which Ford doesn’t feel the need to protect either. Seriously.
We know that Autism funding was cut. Ford tried his best to cut legal aid. Public health funding was under attack – until we had a pandemic to deal with. The more one looks into it, the more one sees that the Ford government loves to cut funding to the systems designed to help people who need help most. It’s an ugly way to do politics.
Then we have the education sector. Obviously, as a teacher, I am coming at this from an education perspective. (Which is generally a good place to start when discussing children and their futures.) The majority of children ages 4 and up in Ontario attend public school. They are the people to invest in.
The Ford Conservatives have shown over and over that when it comes to Ontario schools, what they MOST want to do is save money. They are always looking for ways to spend less on education. As though education doesn’t affect Ontario much, as though schooling were one of those things you can just cut corners with and everything will be fine. That is why they planned for larger class sizes in 2019 and again in 2020 – what a fun and easy way to save money!
I don’t know how to be any more clear than this: OUR KIDS NEED SMALLER CLASSES, NOT LARGER ONES.
The bigger a class is, the less educators are able to help each student. The kids who suffer most in this model are the ones who struggle the most. It is an utter injustice, stemming straight from the Conservative platform and Doug’s own traditions.
Every other party in Ontario plans to reduce class sizes and hire more educational professionals, because that is what is needed. The Ford government is excited about – guess what – building schools! But what good are new schools without staff? It’s the same with hospitals: Ford wants to build hospitals, but they are NO USE if you can’t hire the medical professionals to staff them. And pay them properly so that you can keep them.
I know you heard us – we asked over and over for smaller classes during the pandemic, and did not get them.
What did we get during the pandemic?
First, we got thrown into online teaching. Because needs must. We got to figure out the ins and outs of Google Classroom on the fly. Then we got the roller coaster of opens and closes. Like most working people, we got some training, PPE, hand sanitizer, air filters, rapid tests. My 103-year-old school got a ventilation upgrade for the first time in… maybe ever? We got oodles of protocols to follow, some of which were actually jokes because they couldn’t physically be followed. But we didn’t get any real support for the realities of pandemic schooling… because Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce have no idea what those are. (And remember, Lecce went to separate and then private school, and has no kids. So he has no idea what public schools are like at any time.)
Most importantly, what did the kids get? They got pretty confused and stressed. Many of them got heightened anxiety. They got separated from their friends in so many ways. They got used to the protocols, whether they liked them or not. They got reminded a billion times to pull their mask up so we could keep each other safe. Many of them got behind… and then further behind.
What students and educators did not get: any investment whatsoever, beyond the absolute minimum that the Ford government could get away with.
We are, as an education system, still very much struggling to get kids back on track, both socially and academically. Some students have done just fine, even excelled (though I would not say they are unscathed). By contrast, some are way behind on both fronts, because online learning ran the gamut, from great success to… not just failure, but meltdown in some cases.
There has been zero acknowledgement by the Ford government of these struggles. Curriculum expectations are exactly the same. Report cards are the same. The Ministry decided to go ahead with a whole new math curriculum during a pandemic. Then they decided not only to go ahead with EQAO, but to make it all online so that teachers had to spend precious teaching time helping kids learn how to take the test in an unfamiliar format. As if that weren’t shortsighted enough, Ford and Lecce feel that at this time, it’s appropriate and reasonable to (very quietly) cut per-student funding. They like to announce “historic investments in education” that don’t even keep up with inflation.
And we are all still in a constant state of readjustment. You know what I’m talking about. We all spent two years watching case numbers, following protocols, making a thousand tiny, painful decisions every day, pondering contagion and mental health, trying to do the right thing, feeling the weight of our community’s health on our shoulders.
Then Ford, in his infinite and vote-hungry wisdom, lifted all mandates and stopped testing the public. RIGHT AFTER MARCH BREAK. He actually moved the date up so that anyone who had travelled was coming straight back to school with no need to mask. Even the post-travel isolation period was just a “recommendation.”
Remember how they told us to “assess our own risk” at that point, with zero information to go on in making that assessment? At my school, we just went to work and hoped for the best. We wore our masks and hoped that working with unmasked kids wasn’t going to make us sick. At a certain point, as a form of self-protection, many of us simply had to stop caring about whether we got sick.
Based on analysis of wastewater and hospitalizations, we know that when the mandates were lifted, cases proceeded to skyrocket to levels way beyond what we’d ever seen. People saw this wave as less severe in terms of the disease itself, but people still died. People still got very sick, and/or developed brutal Long Covid symptoms. And let’s not forget that if our widespread vaccinations protected us from the worst of Omicron, that wasn’t because the Ford government rolled out a well-organized, smooth-running vaccination program. No, Ontarians figured out how to get themselves vaccinated in spite of the government’s bungled rollout.
My favourite thing is how right now, we are constantly reminded to stay home when we’re sick, to reduce absenteeism in schools… But we have so few supply teachers available that when we stay home with symptoms, chances are high that there will be no one to take the job. This means that teachers go without their planning time on a pretty regular basis. (They get the time paid back when a supply teacher is available – but they have to use half that time to plan for what that teacher will do.) Very often, even emergency supply lists are exhausted, and brave available parents come in to supervise classes. It looks like what it is: a desperate situation.
Ford is apparently fine with this. We are looking at a “severe teacher shortage,” and Ford is so determined to make education cheap that he has instituted a program for replacing qualified teachers with uncertified university students. Whatever he and his government have said about how “teachers are great” in order to sound less churlish during Covid, they don’t mean it.
There is simply no respect there for children’s realities. No respect, no compassion, and no vision for the kids that are Ontario’s future.
If the members of the Ford government were planning for what lies ahead and trying to make Ontario a thriving place for the generations who follow us, they would be enacting things that help Ontarians – without the harm and destruction of things that we need.
Is this really what Ontario wants?