Well, the sun will soon be setting on 2021. Many readers would agree that this year was akin to a rollercoaster ride for Ontarians with plenty of thrilling climbs, breakneck falls and twists and turns galore. Some days the roller coaster penetrated dark tunnels of hopelessness; other days, bright rays of light shone down upon us. And sometimes, time just seemed to drag on like a monotonous motor trip across the great prairies with endless, flat highways without curves or mounds. But we just had to keep on going.
For the generations who follow us, 2020 will no doubt be a page-turner in the history books. It’ll be one of those chapters that our grandchildren will want to ask us about for some sort of history project or assignment. But let there be no doubt that the suspense of 2021 continued right to the end.
Ontarians had such high hopes that everything would be back to normal as the 2021 new year dawned.
Many families have had to deal with the realities of reduced income brought on by restrictions and lockdowns. People could not maintain regular practices and habits because there was no such thing as disposable income. Savings accounts were more than depleted. Eventually, when families did start to entertain thoughts of returning to the workforce, conditions were clearly not going in their favour. The need for workers suddenly became dire, yet working families couldn’t afford to work outside the home. Child care costs are just unaffordable.
The federal government responded to the desperate cries for affordable child care. It determined that it was time that they came good on a long-standing commitment to create a cost-sharing agreement with all provinces. So once again, the hopes of Ontario working families were raised. One by one, each province was able to negotiate an agreement with Ottawa to set up a $10 per day child care deal. Every province, that is, except Ontario. So now we are the lone province that has failed to sign on the dotted line.
My NDP colleagues and I hear from families who cannot afford Ontario’s crushing child care fees every day. And while all other provinces are about to get massive relief — or rebates — Ontario’s parents are facing hikes. Child care fees are already staggering, and mortgage-level prices are simply untenable for many families, especially as the cost of everything else continuously goes up.
Why is this happening? It is happening because Doug Ford is deliberately dragging his feet, knowing well that he is prolonging the hardship for Ontario families. It seems like this is just a political game to Ford.
Recently news reporters asked Premier Ford why he has failed to strike a deal, like all nine other provinces. He responded that he would not settle easily and accept a deal that he believes is inadequate. Ford said, “We’ll strike a deal, but I’m not making a bad deal just for the sake of making a deal. We’ve had tougher discussions than this.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce explained that Ontario won’t sign a deal unless Ottawa gives Ontario credit for the $3.6 billion it spends annually on Kindergarten education. The problem is that Ford and Lecce don’t understand that education and child care are not synonymous.
Ontario Elementary Teachers’ Federation president Karen Brown says Ford and Leece are wrong because Kindergarten is an essential part of the education system. It is not babysitting, and it is not child care. Kindergarten is where formal education begins.
Brown recently issued a statement saying, “Federal child care funds are intended to make a difference for families and should not be used by the provincial government to displace current funding for public education.”
Brown is right. Prime Minister Trudeau did not offer to negotiate funding for education, which is a provincial power. Instead, he offered to negotiate child care to help working families get into the workforce.
In the final days just before the Legislature broke before Christmas, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath asked Premier Ford, “Does the government not get the urgency here that families actually need a break and $10-a-day child care would be a great break? “Why do we not have that child care deal right now?”
The NDP absolutely agrees with the teachers’ unions that say child care and Kindergarten are not the same things. However, we disagree that Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce do not understand the difference. They certainly do understand. Unfortunately, the Province of Ontario is playing political games that are a major detriment to working families.
Anyone who watches the news or reads the paper cannot help but notice a continual avalanche of promises to offer new programs and increase spending for Ontarians. Even new highways are proposed in Southern Ontario, which comes at the expense of finishing the four-laning of Hwy. 69 to Sudbury. But readers should note that the promises are for funding over the next four years, five years, ten years. You get the picture.
Ontarians are intelligent enough to know that politics is in full-blown pre-election mode. Without any doubt, as Ontario approaches the drop of the election writ in May, Doug Ford will play out this saga, demonstrating his prowess as a tough negotiator and champion for Ontario working families. Doug Ford may or may not be a tough negotiator, but for sure he is an illusionist, trying to impress Ontario voters.
As we see the sun setting on 2021, we look forward to 2022 with hope and confidence in the strength of Algoma–Manitoulin. On behalf of my team and I, we wish you the very best this holiday season.
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 [email protected] or phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.