News from the Park

News from the Park
In looking at all snowballing headlines that are hitting the papers lately, I concluded that it only makes sense that they come at us now. After all, snowballs do form in winter. And since we have been experiencing some pretty cold temperatures lately, the headline snowballs continue to grow and grow. It reminds me of when we were kids we would sometimes try to make monstrous snowballs in the school yard or park, so bit by bit it took a big group to keep it moving. Those were the days. The ‘headline-snowball’ brings to mind the old cartoons in which Bugs Bunny is being chased down a mountain by a giant snowball. That’s how Ontarians are feeling about now.

However, Ontarians have been through this sort of thing in the late 90’s and early 2000’s during Mike Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution.” The Common Sense Revolution was basically a deficit reduction that combined tax with devastating and sometimes almost punishing cuts to government spending. It could be said that Doug Ford’s plans are based on the same general principle. However, in looking at what Doug Ford is doing, his plans seems to be a bit light on the ‘common sense’ element.

Granted, the Tories have the immense challenge of reducing a Liberal created deficit that the Tories peg at $14.5 billion, despite the fact that the provincial accountability officer says in reality it is $12 billion. As well, let’s not forget that it took more than a few years to accumulate such debt, so we should not try to eliminate it in just a couple of years. The trick is to work away at reducing it without killing off all the achievement we’ve made in getting there.

Take for example the news that the Conservatives are considering axing full day Kindergarten as well as removing the caps on class sizes in Kindergarten and grades 1 – 3. As it currently stands, parents and educators know that students already often don’t get the one-on-one attention they need and deserve in the classroom. Today in Ontario, the kindergarten class size cap is 29 students and for primary grades the cap is 23 students. The NDP wants to create to a hard cap for kindergarten classes of no more than 26 children. Classrooms are often already crowded and if class sizes grow, teachers’ efforts will be stretched even thinner. Do the Conservatives really need to consult with education stakeholders to determine if larger class sizes will be detrimental to our children’s’ education? I would have thought that this was just… common sense.

When Education Minister Lisa Thompson was asked if her ministry is committed to allowing class sizes to rise she responded, “What I’m committed to, and what our government is committed to, is listening to our grassroots.” Now, would those grass roots be the Conservatives grass roots who like to call the shots for Doug Ford, or does she mean all Ontarians? Either way it doesn’t matter because the people the government should be committed to is our children. Period! It's especially troubling that Ford is looking to children to pay for his cuts. The Ford government has already cut $25 million from school programs and another $100 million from planned school repairs. Now they want more.

This ‘consultation’ gambit is simply a precursor to an expected spring budget and shadowing of what to expect when teacher contracts are up for negotiation in August. Our children are not pawns or chess pieces to be played with. Our children deserve the proven advantages of smaller class sizes; and that means we need more teachers, not fewer. Our children – our future – deserve more from their government, not less.

Another issue that the Ford Conservatives seem to have missed the common sense target on is in the area of streamlining the process to turn good farm land into urban residential and commercial developments. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is ringing the alarm bell because of what’s in Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act. According to the government, Bill 66 aims to give business more flexibility to create jobs here in Ontario. But part of the bill would amend the province’s planning act to allow fast tracking of municipal plans to reclassify current farm land for new business and residential development. The province would ensure that such initiatives would receive expedited approval and reduce red tape as long as they can prove that at least 50 jobs will be created.

Creating jobs is a great thing of course; however, this would also result thousands of acres of prime farmland being “paved over” as cities grow and sprawl. Jobs are good, yes, but the end result is the permanent loss of arable farm land that helps to feed not only Ontarians but people from around the world. Keep in mind also that the agrifood sector adds $40 billion annually to Ontario’s economy. Common sense dictates that one does not bite the “hand that feeds you.” Common sense makes one ask, so how are we better off in the long run?

Ontario is one of the largest provinces with plenty of land that is not suitable for agriculture or food production. Here in the North we have lots of open space for families to move to where new, good paying, permanent jobs can be created. We have room for schools here and we can use the skills and determination of immigrants who want to come here to raise families and prosper, just as our northern ancestors did long ago and just as we strive to do every day.

Common sense is something that we all like to believe we have in abundance. But, in the words of the French philosopher Voltaire, sometimes, “Common sense is not so common.”

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 mmantha-co@ndp.on.ca or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha MPP/député

Algoma-Manitoulin