From the Park – Back to School

After living part time in Toronto for so many years, it will come as no surprise that I seldom come across anyone who has much good to say about commuting to work.  If someone does point out any advantage, it usually involves giving them time to read about or contemplate matters of import to them. I’m fortunate to have an apartment in Toronto that is within walking distance of Queen’s Park, so I’m not a commuter in that respect. However, as regular readers of this column know, I spend at least six hours at a time driving each way weekly from Toronto to the constituency office in Elliot Lake. This uninterrupted solitude gives me a lot of time to mull things over in my mind. The weekly trip is not exactly my favourite thing about the job, but at least I can find something good in it.

While driving, I heard a talk show in which some callers were pointing fingers at young people in general for spreading the virus with their “party-on” activities. It is by no means a reach to say that this is unfairly painting an entire generation with a broad paint brush. Younger people most certainly do not have a monopoly on egotistical or selfish behaviour. Every age group has its share self-serving and even selfish populous. There are plenty of examples we hear of in which middle aged and elders cause a scene in stores because they won’t abide by rules and wear a mask.That’s selfish thinking too. Watch or read the news any day of the week you will learn of youth who are determined to make a positive difference in people’s lives and are stepping up, taking action to address needs during the pandemic.

One of my favourite idioms is, “Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.” These proactive youth, who no doubt outnumber the less admirable self-centered segment of the generation, tend to be blocked from the public mind’s eye as the others catch more media attention because of its sensational tendencies.

Lately the issue of kids going back to daycare, elementary and secondary school are making the headlines bigtime – and rightly so. Our children are our most precious resource. Just prior to that, the spotlight was improving care for seniors in long-term-care facility residents. This also continues to be a very high priority issue.

But it seems that our youth heading back to post secondary school are somewhat taking a backseat ever since the pandemic was first declared. Students take pride in earning their way through school. Seeking summer employment and working to earn tuition is essential in the overall experience of learning to make it in this world.  It is akin to learning a life skill. But the pandemic has prohibited thousands of students from finding any sort of summer jobs, meaning they are facing major hurdles in following through on their life plan. It is not at all unlike the dilemma so many families are facing because the breadwinner has been unemployed and they can’t make their food, utility, mortgage or rent bills.

Ontario postsecondary students need help too before their life plans come crashing to a halt.

It is important to note that Ontario post-secondary students were already paying some of the highest tuition fees in Canada, and have been saddled with an average debt load of $28,000. I have heard from many students and their parents that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified their financial burdens, causing job losses for many of them and their families, and making it that much harder to afford tuition.

During the pandemic, students saw their part-time and summer employment opportunities dwindle. Yet the Ford government made things worse by allowing the income students received from CESB and CERB to be clawed back from their OSAP payments, taking rent and food money right out of their pockets.

Doug Ford’s 2019 budget slashed funding for OSAP and student financial assistance by about 30 per cent, and targeted low and middle-income students by cutting grants and cranking up the amount of interest students must pay. Ontario New Democrats have proposed converting student loans into grants and eliminating adding on interest to existing student debt.

In addition to this, to further assist struggling youth, the NDP is urging the Ford government to provide Ontario post-secondary students with direct pandemic tuition relief of $1,000 to each full-time student and $500 to each part-time student, and is asking the government to stop clawing back the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) from students’ OSAP supports. The cost of the pandemic relief we are asking for is roughly equivalent to reversing just one year of Ford’s cut to OSAP.

It’s a fact that people learn best by example and experience. We want our youth to see our society at its best and encourage them to pay it forward as so many do. That’s why it is important to highlight those bright light volunteers in our communities as they serve as important role models for our youth.

I encourage readers to again consider the adage that “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” in light of the above. We must take a moment to walk into the forest, right among the trees, looking more closely at the outstanding beauty and important role that every tree in the forest plays in contributing to the all encompassing life and health of the forest and wildlife therein. Consider the potential individual contribution of the young people you know who live down the street or within your community seeing them as an individual rather than seeing all of them collectively as a blur forming a forest.

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