An education-based look at the June 12 election

Torontonians are again going to the polls. Over the next six months we will see elections in all three levels of government; municipal, provincial and federal. The frenzy of campaigning, glad-handing, promises and polling will lead to voter fatigue, but we must remember that voting is an important part of our democracy. We need to remain diligent and educate ourselves about the positions and platforms of all the parties at all levels of government. Because the provincial election is just around the corner on June 12, 2014, this column looks at the platforms of the major provincial parties, and their views on education.

The incumbent party, the Liberals under the direction of former Premier Dalton McGuinty instituted much needed full day kindergarten education. When McGuinty resigned in 2012 over spending scandals, a former education minister Kathleen Wynne took over as premier and although she inherited problems with the Ontario Elementary Teachers Federation she restored their right to strike in Bill 122: The School Boards Collective Bargaining Act. This bill recognized the right of teachers and unions to collective bargaining but at the same time tied the hands of school boards across the province. The bill made the provincial government the ultimate arbiter of school budgets and allowed the province to audit school boards when deemed necessary, taking away some of the financial autonomy of school boards. 

Andrea Horwath the leader of the New Democrats Party (NDP) who brought down Wynne’s government on May 2, 2014, argues that it is time for “change that puts people first.” On their website, the NDP want to “ban course fees in high schools, reduce school reliance on parent fees and fundraising”, “freeze tuition fees for college, undergraduate, and graduate students,” and “eliminate interest on the provincial portion of student loans.” 

The NDP argue that while course fees are not allowed under the Education Act the Liberals have never enforced this policy, creating a “two-tiered education system” between schools with resources and schools without. They want to rectify this problem with an infusion of $ 20 million that will help offset the loss of these fees and fundraising efforts. This promised funding stream would be distributed and allocated by local parent councils to ensure equality in education across the province.

Tim Hudak, the leader of the Progressive Conservatives (PC) focuses his Million Jobs Plan on “balancing the budget…to ensure we get private sector job creation in our province.” Not surprisingly, a focus on balancing the budget means cuts for public services. These cuts include education. Under Hudak’s plan classroom sizes will increase by 2-3 students, kindergarten classes would have 20 students for every teacher, instead of the 26 students with two teachers and he would cancel raises for early childhood educators, personal support workers and elementary teachers in public schools. At the same time he plans to cut 9,700 non-teaching support positions from schools. Hadak wants to focus on “high-quality education,” stressing “science, technology, engineering and business and math,” and teaching to test scores.  

Mike Schriener, the leader of the Green Party of Ontario wants to “improve your children’s education by merging the public and separate school boards.” This platform which is not addressed by any of the other parties would see an end to duplication of services in the separate boards. The Green Party argues that this has been accomplished in other provinces and that $ 1.2 to $ 1.6 billion is “wasted every year in duplicate services and unnecessary busing.” According to their website merging the English, French and Catholic school boards would give Ontario “one public school system with French and English school boards.” 

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) needs immediate support from our provincial government.  202 of TDSB schools are in urgent need of repair.  Our young people deserve better and we should be more concerned than we have been in ensuring their safety.  Visit www.saveontarioschools.ca to learn more and sign the petition.

With the exception of the PC Party, I can see some good in most of the parties’ platforms.   In the end, educating ourselves about the parties, candidates and their policies is the only way to ensure our votes are used properly. Use your vote to decide which party supports our schools and communities. After all healthy schools mean healthy communities.