Provincial Update: Let’s focus on schools, not bars

Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP Ottawa Centre

I don’t know about you, but I’m concerned about Ontario’s priorities.

On July 17, Ottawa entered Stage 3 of Ontario’s “Framework for Reopening our Province,” and it meant patrons could once again frequent the inside of bars.

COVID-19 cases have spiked in recent days, and photos suggest a party atmosphere. As elsewhere, we’ve seen an increase in COVID-19 cases with young adults.   

What was Premier Ford’s defense? “Hey, I’m not a drinker.” Classic spin and deflection. 

No one asked if the premier drank alcohol. The question was if it made sense to open indoor spaces in bars for people to socialize.  

Dr. Vera Etches was much clearer. The recent spike in COVID-19 cases, she noted, is linked to “…parties indoors, people not physically distancing, people gathering in greater numbers outside of their household or their social circle…These are the behaviours we need to stop and make sure we have the good practices that are hard to maintain, but are essential to stop transmission of the infection in Stage 3.”

But as Ontario makes reckless decisions in bars, there is no meaningful plan for the reopening of schools. At our “back to school” conversation last Friday, we heard as much from staff, trustees, and public education experts. 

Kids deserve a chance to learn, and staff need to know there are plans in place for their safety. Parents need a break from double-shifting child care and employment. 

We need a real plan and fast. Lyra Evans and Justine Bell, our terrific OCDSB trustees in Ottawa Centre, are insisting the province fund public schools appropriately to ensure safe, small class sizes and safe working conditions five days per week. 

At the time of writing, the Ford government’s funding commitments boil down to an additional seven cents per student in Ontario. That’s a joke. 

As Jacquie Miller from the Ottawa Citizen explains, other places have been imaginative in adjusting schools to COVID-19; it’s high time Ontario did likewise. 

It’s time to focus on schools, not bars. It’s time for Ontario to make significant investments in public education, and we should demand this happens now. 

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