Return after Winter Break

This week MPPs returned to the Legislature after the winter break. Recently the NDP caucus members spent several days meeting to prepare for the weeks and months ahead. Undoubtedly the consensus was that all of us are eager to return to the Legislature to do our best to help guide the government to work toward bettering the lives of all Ontarians. In her address to the caucus, Andrea Horwath laid out our plan quite succinctly. “When someone’s trying to drag you backward, you don’t slam on the breaks — you jam on the gas. That’s just what New Democrats are going to do. We’re going to put forward more ideas and more legislation because the people of Ontario deserve more from their government, not less.”

The two issues that dominated our opening days in Queen’s Park were important issues that will have a huge impact on our children and youth.

Parents and families from every region of the province joined New Democrats this week to share their personal stories about the devastating impact that the Conservatives’ scheme to rip support away from high needs children on the Autistic spectrum, thus giving families in similar situations less funding. On Wednesday alone over 200 families joined the NDP at Queen’s Park to make their thoughts known to Doug Ford.

The Ford Conservatives shocked and outraged families by capping total direct funding available to children with Autism under six at just $20,000 per year, and at $5,000 for children aged six and over. What’s more, only families earning less than $55,000 will be able to access the maximum levels of support. Funding is based on a sliding scale.

Several families explained that they know they can’t afford to pay for the treatment that their child (or children…) need. In some cases one parent will have to quit their job and stay home to look after their dependent. Others explained that they will have to – or already have – mortgaged their home, taken out personal loans or max-out their credit cards to access the funds they need to support their child. This leaves little hope for any possible recovery in the families’ future.

The other issue affecting Ontario youth was in regard to the Conservative cuts to post-secondary education funding. Last month the Government announced they were ending “free” tuition and cancelling the six-month grace period on student loan interest.  The government’s decision to download more debt onto students will only add to their stresses, make their mental health worse and burden them with debt years longer than they should be.

In addition to the above cuts, Doug Ford has given students the choice of opting out of student union dues under the pretense that they will be happy to have that money back in their own pocket. It is important to understand, however, that student unions benefit students by arranging 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.

The truth, however, is that this is simply a politically motivated attack on student unions by Doug Ford. Ford unwittingly provided proof of this himself. In a fundraising email letter to PC members, Ford wrote of the student unions, “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.” Unfortunately for Mr. Ford, he made one major mistake in sending out this message. He forgot that post-secondary students can read. Needless to say, this message raised the ire of more than a few students and school administrators.

Ford wants to undermine student unions because he’s afraid of their power. He doesn’t want students to have the ability to organize to fight not only this round of cuts but the next round of cuts and the downloading of even more debt onto students.

Naturally, Ontario students took exception not only to the cuts but to the manipulation and labelling by the Premier. In a democracy, people have the right to deliver messages to government leaders by demonstrating, even at the Legislative Assembly. This week protesting students appeared en mass to deliver their message of displeasure to the Government. Some students who made their way into the public gallery used the opportunity to vociferously share their thoughts with the Government.

Clearly, the protesters were determined to ensure their message was noted not only by the politicians below but also the media. As such some were rather vehement in vocalizing their thoughts. Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton, said that while students do have the right to protest, “Here in the chamber, it is very important that we respect people’s rights and respect the process.” This would have been good advice for Doug Ford to follow himself.

The Premier was clearly displeased with the messages he heard and responded angrily in the chamber that, “Here’s an example of indoctrination, what we just saw up there,” and that the students were all, “gonna be good socialists.”

Remember a couple of weeks ago I said that everything we really need to know of life we learn in kindergarten? It’s unfortunate that Mr. Ford chose to model such undignified and unhelpful behaviour for our youth to emulate. He needs to understand that to get respect, first you have to give it. Perhaps Minister Fullerton can provide some helpful remediation in this area.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha