Queen’s Park – MPP Jim McDonell writes in his weekly column: Sometimes it’s just hard to figure this government out. For months, they have responded to our questions on the more than 600 school closures with assurances of how they support local rural schools, pointing the finger of blame at local school boards. With no action and deadlines looming, we submitted an Opposition Day Motion to be debated Tuesday afternoon, calling for a moratorium on further school closures until a full review is completed to develop a strategy to serve rural Ontario and to identify appropriate funding.
Facing the required vote on the motion, the government released a six-page letter late Monday, designating three government members to review rural education. On Tuesday morning, school boards clarified that the letter changes nothing and that they are still required to continue with the closures. I was proud to join several of my colleagues in pressing the government to step up and show leadership and commit to giving our students good public education close to home. After two hours of debate, during which the Minister and government members repeatedly said that they supported rural schools, they voted down our motion. The Minister of Education wanted to avoid questions on the subject, actually running away from reporters during the day.
On Wednesday, I was proud to stand to acknowledge the commitment and determination displayed by our community over the past six months on the local school closure issue. Individuals, community groups and municipal politicians from across the region stood together to voice their concerns and put forth reasonable, well thought out alternatives. While we were not entirely successful and more work needs to be done, the latest draft plan is strides ahead of the original plan. Other areas across the province will be hit much harder, as up to 600 schools are proposed to close, and it is our duty as legislators to stand up for them. Through irresponsible and secret cuts and counterproductive funding policies, the Ministry of Education has forced school boards to consider closures. It is time the local school boards joined forces with their communities and their provincial representatives, to deliver the message to this government that local education matters.
The opposition parties continued to question the government on their latest Hydro scheme. Borrowing billions of dollars to temporarily lower rates will only create a much bigger disaster in the years to come. The plan does nothing to correct the real problems behind the energy crisis this government has created. The government must make some tough decisions and they should start with reversing their Green Energy Act, stopping the sale of Hydro One and reining in executive salaries. It’s time to base energy policies on sound science and economic principles, and not on political convenience.
Next week we return to our ridings for the Constituency Week, and I look forward to meeting with residents of SD&G and joining local organizations as they announce their new exciting Ontario Trillium Foundation grants.