Province Takes Back Seat

Province Takes a Back Seat – Not in the Game                                                           April 17, 2021

My dad had a saying about ineptitude, “he couldn’t organize a one car parade”.  Looking at the present state of governance in Ontario, that saying could not be more factual. With the myriad of issues swirling about, it is easy for us, the residents, to be confused and misdirected.  However, let’s have a look behind the sound bites and headlines of just a couple: health and education.

Health is presently consumed with COVID and variants of concern. We have now been dealing with this for over a year. Some 14 months of debacle, mishandling and, to be fair, some positive actions.  Rather than rehash history, let’s look more recently. On February 11th, during the emergency stay-at-home orders, the health and science table warned that without continued and increased stringent measures, we would be in a disastrous situation by April. What did our, “we will do anything and everything”, premier do? On February 16th he lifted the stay-at-home orders and opened up. And here we are!

Now, two months after being given notice by experts, he reluctantly acquiesces. Or does he?  Yes, as of April 17th there are new and tougher orders in place, but most are political posturing, and not aligned with the advice of the health and science table. Take just four example: factories and warehouses,  outdoor activities, police checks and sick leave.

  • Factories and warehouses are one of the largest areas of virus spread, yet they stay open and there is no funding for improved ventilation;
  • The virus is less likely to spread in outdoor settings, with distancing and masking, yet outdoor activities are shutdown;
  • Police checks, as it is intended by this order, assumes a person is guilty and will further infringe on lower income neighbourhoods and marginalized individuals, many of whom have no choice but to travel in order to work;
  • Sick leave is an imperative if we are serious about stopping the spread. Many of the essential services are low paying jobs with few, if any, benefits. These low wage earners cannot afford to stay home if they are ill so they go to work and infect others. Premier Ford says there is a federal program and he will not double dip, but the federal program has a waiting period. The province should be funding the short-term.

What about vaccinations. Thousands of vaccination appointments are being cancelled because of what is said to be a supply shortage. The supply shortage is being blamed entirely on the Federal Government, and admittedly there have been delays in receipt of contracted doses. Predominantly because suppliers have reneged on signed contracts. However, there were reportedly over one million (one million, three hundred thousand by last report) doses sitting in storage.  The premier says there are none and his team says they are required as a buffer.  Which is it? The Ontario Government moved the two-week recommended second dose schedule to sixteen weeks, not recommended for older people, in order to vaccinate more people, and yet is comfortable with cancelling vaccinations while supply is apparently on hand and readily available.

Premier Ford has announced a hot spots program aimed at targeting the COVID and variant spread. According to the Minister of Health the postal code ranking of these hot spots is based on scientific analysis, clinical evidence and the advice of local health officials. A deeper dive into this ranking reveals what appears to be a more fundamental selection.  A report issued by ICES (a community of research, data and clinical experts on health care delivery and outcomes) presents some interesting information.

Comparing the postal code ranking to the vaccine rollout designations we find:

  • the richest neighbourhoods in the GTA are receiving vaccines at a higher rate than less affluent neighbourhoods with higher COVID impact;
  • four PC ridings are designated hot spots and receiving priority vaccine, two of which rank 233rd and 290th on the priorities list, one of them being Minister Fullerton’s riding;
  • seven areas with greater pandemic impact are not designated, all of which are opposition ridings.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Premier Ford has pleaded with other provinces and territories for staff assistance as hospitalization and ICU numbers increase exponentially, yet he refused Red Cross assistance offered by the federal government.  Perhaps the availability of vaccines is low, however, could not the Red Cross staff those clinics that are functioning and free up nursing and administrative staff to help hospitals?

Now my second peeve, education.  With everything that has been going on this past year our education system and those working in it are overwhelmed. How can this be when Minister Lecce continually espouses the millions and millions of dollars in funding, the many thousands of additional teachers and the limitless steps being taken to ensure our schools are safe and functional?  Clearly schools must be doing great! Where is the disconnect?

According to Ricardo Tranjan, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, at the provincial level, Ontario’s 72 school boards, hired 6,706 staff, including 3,834 teachers for 4,444 schools. That works out to the equivalent of 1.5 staff per school. With nearly 2 million students, that is one teacher for every 521 students. The remaining 2,872 hires were custodians, special education workers, mental health support and other staff.  Not exactly the bonanza it appears.

We can be forgiven for assuming the millions and millions of dollars Minister Lecce continually references is provincial support, after all education is a provincial responsibility. Au contraire! Almost $665 million dollars was directed to hiring additional staff. HOWEVER, $304 million came from the school boards themselves, $119 million from the federal government, and $242 million (36%) from the province.  Not only has the provincial government not stepped up and adequately supported our education system, even in the midst of this turmoil, Minister Lecce’s department has informed school boards NOT to count on the same level of provincial funding for the coming year.

Interestingly, of the COVID and variant spending in Ontario, 94% is federal and only 6% provincial. On the stress relief funding in education, 64% is external and only 36% provincial. There seems to be a pattern here. With two of the most important facets of our lives, health and education, our provincial government is willing to take a back seat.

Go figure!  Other views are welcome.

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