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Ontario Hansard - 14-June2021


Ms. Marit Stiles: Good morning, Mr. Speaker. This question is for the Premier. A lack of transparency around the decision to keep schools closed this month has parents once again worrying about what’s going to happen in September. There has been no plan tabled to show what public health metrics will be used to determine reopening in the fall, no public information on how many education workers are fully vaccinated or how many will be, no update on how guidance will change on masking or cleaning or screening based on new evidence.

We could be debating that now, this weekend, so that kids are back in school this September. Instead, we’re here debating a bill to silence the Premier’s critics. Will school boards, education workers and parents be left waiting again until August before they see any kind of plan for safer school reopenings?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Education.

Hon. Stephen Lecce: I announced, over a month ago, the Grants for Student Needs as well as the PPE funding. In that announcement, I made clear that this July, the incoming Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Moore, will provide the final counsel and advice to the province based on public health indicators and vaccination rates.

What we have intended to do—notwithstanding that advice that will come in some weeks, once we’re closer to September—is create a more normal, stable and, yes, safe September for all children and staff. I’m proud to report that nearly 40% of children aged 12 to 17 have received their first dose of the vaccine, and we’re well on our way by August to get every student and every staff member who wants one a second dose ahead of September. That’s part of our plan for the broader population to be double-dosed this summer.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve allocated $2 billion in increased investment, with $1.6 billion specifically for COVID resources to maintain asymptomatic testing, the doubling of public health nurses, the enhancement of cleaning our schools and strict screening before kids and staff enter. As well, there is additional money for learning loss. We’re going to continue to invest in mental health, learning loss and COVID-19 resources to ensure students and staff remain safe this September.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary question.

Ms. Marit Stiles: This is what we’re worried about. Is it going to be mid-August, late August before they change the plans again and school boards are scrambling and families are struggling? Speaker, the minister is offering families more of the same things that led to the longest closures in Canada: vague promises; a lack of transparency; $800 million less, according to the Financial Accountability Office, for our schools.

Getting kids safely back in school must be our top priority, both for their well-being but also for our economic recovery. We could be working through the night on a plan to do that, instead of the blatant abuse of power we witnessed here this weekend.

Speaker, can the Premier explain to families and to the thousands of Ontarians who are watching through the OFL livestream right now why he’s prioritizing his own political future ahead of our own kids’ education?

Hon. Stephen Lecce: The opposition have foreshadowed what they’re offering this September, which is fear for the population instead of working with the government to ensure students and staff are safe. It’s why a month ago, well before this weekend, we announced an investment within the Grants for Student Needs, which is the principal vehicle of funding for school boards, of over $500 million more this coming year than last year; $1.6 billion in COVID-19 resources—entirely provincial dollars, unlike last year provided in part by the federal government—to make sure we maintain every infection prevention protocol to ensure Ontario remains one of the lowest jurisdictions in the country with case rates for children under the age of 18.

Mr. Speaker, we’ve also invested an additional $85 million for learning recovery, recognizing reading and math have seen regression, really, right around the Western world. That’s why we’ve put in place a plan to support expanded summer learning as well as tutoring for children. For mental health, recognizing, as was noted earlier, the unprecedented impact of the pandemic, we have ensured an $80-million investment—400% higher than when the former Liberal government was in power—because we’re committed to the wellness as well as the success of students, now and into the future.

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