Most of us have by now taken down our Christmas trees, packed away the decorations and polished off any remaining Christmas baking left in the cookie tins. Hopefully, too, you have stored away a host of wonderful memories of time spent with family and friends. And now, it is up to all of us to fan the embers of warmth and caring spirit for all people and keep them glowing in our hearts in the weeks and months to come.
I feel fortunate to start off the New Year by hosting a series of constituency clinics across the riding from January 14thto the 25th. During these two weeks I will be visiting 42 communities and First Nations where I look forward to meeting with many constituents who wish to share their views and concerns with me. For details on where to catch one of my clinics, check your local papers, my website or call my office for the date and time when I will be in your area.
Soon after the clinic weeks conclude, MPPs will find their way back to Queen’s Park to ready ourselves for the business of the Legislature. Christmas was a welcome break for us to recoup our energy and renew our enthusiasm as we work to make life for all Ontarians better.
Our children, too, are back to school now. You may recall that immediately following the final day that the Legislature sat before the Christmas break, the Conservatives quietly announced through a series of memos to school boards that the government is cutting $25-million from specialized school programs across the province. The ‘fundingenvelopes’ include grants for items such as Daily Physical Activity programs for both elementary and secondary students, ‘tutors in the classroom’ programs and supports for racialized youth. Despite the government claims of extreme concern for the results shown by educational testing, these cuts by Doug Ford are going to be deeply felt by our children in our local schools – even here in Algoma-Manitoulin. These cuts to our classrooms are callous, and will only make the education and learning outcome challenges that Ontario is facing even worse.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson went so far as to say the programs targeted by her ministry were “redundant programs.” As an example of her reasoning she offered for this decision, Thompson explained that the tutoring program that the previous Liberal government put in place was a matching-dollar program for which boards shared 50 per cent of the cost. As such, if any board thinks that the program is so valuable, they can just find the funds from general education grants and pay for it all by themselves. For some reason the Minister seems oblivious to the fact that those same general funds are already spoken for to support other essential programs. Local school board officials still don’t know exactly what the total of the cuts will be yet, but it is clear to them that the cuts are to programs that they do know are necessary to support vulnerable students.
It is interesting to note that school boards received the funding cut memos with little to no fanfare, just 24 hours before the PC’s so-called consultation on education was slated to end. Clearly this tells Ontarians that Doug Ford was never serious about consulting with students, parents, guardians and educators to improve education. It was all just bumper sticker electioneering. He couldn’t even make it all the way to the deadline before plowing ahead with his plans to cut. This is not a price our children should have to pay. Our children deserve better. They deserve more opportunities and resources, not less.
Ontarians can also look forward to a cut of $5 million in base funding to the Ontario Arts Council(OAC). Even here in Algoma-Manitoulin, we also need to brace ourselves for this. During the 2017-2018 budget year, the OAC provided our local artists and arts organizations with almost $1.3 million in funding. The province wide cuts include $2.25 million which were specifically earmarked for the Indigenous Culture Fund. The Indigenous Culture Fundwas designed to provide support for youth and leaders to create and deliver programs designed to revitalize Indigenous Cultures and languages that was diminished as a result of the legacy of Residential Schools.
There is an old adage in Canadian politics that, “Tory times are tough times.” Many say that adages many not be gospel, but they are based on general truths. It doesn’t seem to be taking Doug Ford to put this adage to the test. Doug Ford’s priority is proving to favour back room deals for his friends and insiders; and you pay for it. He believes in cuts and privatization; and you pay for this too. Instead of making things better in everyday life for Ontarians, he focuses on gimmicks like buck-a-beer and consultation announcements that are little more than shell games. Instead of making things better for us, he is making things much worse. The people of Ontario deserve better. They deserve leadership that is empathetic and caring. New Democrats are passionate on making the voices of the people heard and committed to improving life for everyone.
Michael Mantha, MPP Algoma-Manitoulin