Education minister blames school boards

This week at Queen’s Park (Nov. 25)

by MPP Jim McDonell

On Monday (Nov. 21)  more than 100 residents and students from our region braved the season’s first storm to come to Toronto and voice their strong discontent regarding the planned closure of hundreds of schools across the province, including SDSG. The Government is completely out of touch with the reality of living and raising a family in rural Ontario, and its ill-advised rule change that allows closures to be fast-tracked will, if unchallenged, result in many communities losing their main hub. The closures are a bad deal for students, educators, parents and entire communities. A group of local representatives met with the Minister of Education, and our Caucus drove the message home throughout Question Period that the current Pupil Accommodation Review process is flawed and must be stopped. My question, like all the others, was simply ignored while she recounted some empty concerns about rural education. The Minister blames the school boards, yet it is her department that fails to fund rural school boards appropriately, institutes infrastructure funding policies that force overcrowding and then makes rural students pay the price. It is time she stepped up to the plate and committed to finding a funding formula for rural education that works.

The Sudbury bribery investigation continued to dog the government this week. The current government allegedly offered Glenn Thibeault, then a federal NDP MP, the promise of a Cabinet position in exchange for him defecting to provincial politics. Despite the open ban on offering such a position in the Elections Act, there is no provision against either the solicitation or the acceptance of such inducements. While it may not be legally wrong, it is certainly morally wrong. The entire affair is a sordid reminder of how desperate a government can get in order to win back a seat such as Sudbury. While the allegations still need to be proven in court, the Government appears to have used public jobs and positions as currency in order to arrange the “right” unopposed nomination for the Sudbury by-election.

In the House, the Government continued debate on Bill 59, which will, among other things, license the home inspector profession and ban certain door-to-door sales. We support home inspector licensing wholeheartedly, as did an expert panel convened in 2013 to examine the issue. Qualified, professional home inspectors are a fundamental component of a transparent real estate market. Currently, anyone can call themselves a home inspector, despite having no training. Voluntary regulating organizations, such as the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, deliver training and professional development but can’t force fly-by-night operations to comply with minimum professional standards. I will watch the debate and the Committee stage closely to ensure the transition to a full licensing regime is seamless for those home inspectors who are trained, qualified and honest: consumers deserve to see their access to such professionals preserved.

Door-to-door sales of some big-ticket appliances can cause financial distress if the salesperson is less than honest. Consumers have been taken by either high-pressure sales tactics or by blatant misrepresentation and coerced into signing contracts that, when examined in detail, end up being unaffordably expensive over the lifetime of the appliance. The Bill gives the Minister the complete power to ban the unsolicited sale of such contracts, however the PC Caucus identified several flaws that could make the consumer inadvertently void the new protections granted by Bill 59. We are in touch with stakeholders in order to ensure that dishonest practices are punished severely, while honest, law-abiding salespeople who care deeply about their customers and communities continue to practice their profession.

The Government also began debate on Bill 70, an omnibus bill that, among other things, reforms the way the College of Trades reviews whether a trade should be compulsory or voluntary and eliminates all remaining traces of the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. The Government put a corporation in place, appointed well-paid directors and administrators and ran paid advertisements promoting a retirement plan most employers said was unaffordable. In the end, federal initiatives related to the Canada Pension Plan made the ORPP redundant and it is being wound down, at a total cost to the taxpayer of $70 million. It was also revealed this week through freedom of information requests, that the government spent over $8 million in partisan advertising for the ORPP, including $800,000 after it was cancelled. It is such a complete waste of money that could have gone to help the so many people that are having to choose between paying to heat their homes and putting food on their table.

The upcoming Cap-and-Trade scheme was slammed by both the Environmental Commissioner and the Financial Accountability Officer in reports released this week, highlighting that the scheme is focused on raising revenues rather than cutting emissions. When implemented, it will force our businesses to buy carbon credits from California, where they are cheaper, for a cost of $300 million in the first year alone. If the government were serious about reducing emissions, they would need to make such schemes completely revenue-neutral. Instead, the proceeds of any carbon credit sales by the Ontario government will be used to cover the deficit. Energy, fuel, grocery prices are already unaffordable for many Ontarians. The Cap-and-Trade tax will just add to the cost of living of the most vulnerable families.

I will continue pressuring the government to stop making life less affordable for Ontarians. We need concerted and urgent action to build a province that attracts and retains the jobs and skills of tomorrow and preserves families’ standard of living.

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