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Ontario Hansard - 03-December2019


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My next question is also for the Premier. Yesterday, the Minister of Education defended the government’s decision to hide the results of their education consultation, a consultation which showed an overwhelming majority of parents oppose the government’s plans for larger classes and mandatory online learning. For months, the Premier insisted he was on the side of parents, and he claimed they supported the cuts that now threaten to close schools all across Ontario. Why would he say that when he knew that his own consultation showed the exact opposite?

Hon. Doug Ford: Minister of Education.

Hon. Stephen Lecce: The government has consistently been reasonable at the table, to incent the parties to stay there and to get a deal. We demonstrated this precise approach in negotiating with CUPE and we got a deal that was good for students, good for parents and good for the workers of this province. We seek to replicate that again with our teachers. For 204 consecutive days, there has been no material change, no change at all, to the position of the unions. How is that an acceptable proposition for parents, who want all the parties to be reasonable and who want the parties to be focused on keeping kids in class?

The Premier has led by example by ensuring that my mandate is to keep kids in class. We’re fighting every day at the table, 24/7, to keep kids in class, where they belong.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Well, Speaker, the minister needs to know, and so does the Premier, that what parents see is the furthest thing from being reasonable in this situation. It’s the furthest thing from reasonable that you can get.

But for months, the Premier insisted that parents backed his scheme for large class sizes, mandatory online learning and firing 10,000 teachers. That’s what they were claiming. Yet the government’s own consultation showed that parents overwhelmingly disapprove of these moves, Speaker. This government is still hiking class sizes. This government is still forcing students into online learning that won’t work for them and will not allow them to graduate without these mandatory requirements.

Why would a government who actually listened to parents move ahead with what parents have clearly rejected, Speaker?

Hon. Stephen Lecce: On the contrary, Mr. Speaker, it’s this government that is maintaining the lowest classroom size, in the early years, in this country, and that is a fact which the members opposite choose to ignore.

Mr. Speaker, we have listened to families, which is why we’ve made a decision to move the provincial average of classroom sizes from 28 to 25. It’s why we’ve moved the online learning mandate from four to two. It’s why we’ve improved and invested in front-line education.

What we have also heard consistently is the teachers union’s mandate, or insistence, on a $1.5-billion increase in compensation. We’re offering $750 million, and apparently that is insufficient.

Mr. Speaker, my priority, the bias of this government, is to put more money into front of class, to help our kids. That’s what we’re going to continue to do at the negotiating table, and do everything we can, including turning to third-party mediation, to get a deal that keeps the children of this province in class.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Here’s a news flash for the Premier: Cuts that are less deep are still cuts that parents don’t want to our public education system. That’s the reality.

The Premier spent months claiming he had the support of parents and students, yet parents and students have been crystal clear from day one, and they continue to be clear today: They don’t support larger classes, mandatory online courses or firing 10,000 teachers. So instead of working overtime to work with teachers and reach a deal to improve our public education system, the Premier has been making cuts, picking fights and pretending that parents don’t care about these cuts.

When will the Premier stop defending his indefensible cuts and start working with teachers to reach a deal that works for kids, that works for quality public education in the province of Ontario? When will he do that?

Hon. Stephen Lecce: Our government supports a deal, not a strike. That’s why we’re working hard at the negotiating table to ensure that our education unions, in good faith, get a deal with us like we did with CUPE just one month ago. The objective of the government is to ensure that the continuity of learning for children remains unimpeded. And what is regrettable is that, irrespective of the party or the Premier, the one constant in my lifetime is that unions escalate against the government. That is an unacceptable reality, and I would think that all members of this Legislature would oppose escalation that hurts our kids.

We stand with parents against escalation. We’re going to work hard every day over the coming hours and days to keep kids in class and do everything we can to ensure that the continuum of learning is not impeded because of union escalation.

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