Doug Ford’s health care cuts

Briefing Note from the Ontario Health Coalition

List of Cuts, Closures, Restructuring & Major Health Policy Changes to Date

● Cut OHIP+ so families with sick children will have to seek private coverage first and pay deductibles and co-payments. (June 2018)

● Cut planned mental health funding by more than $330 million. (July 2018)

● Canceled all new planned overdose prevention sites. (autumn 2018)

● Cut funding to the College of Midwives of Ontario. (December 2018)

● Cut funding for the dementia strategy.

● Let surge funding run out for hospital overcrowding. Surge beds are now closed without replacement, despite overcrowding crisis. (Fall/Winter 2018/19)

● Cut and restructured autism funding. (Winter 2018/19)

● Set overall health funding at less than the rate of inflation and population growth, let alone aging. This means service levels cannot keep up with population need. (2019 Budget)

● Set public hospital funding at less than the rate of inflation. This means real dollar (inflation adjusted dollar) funding cuts and serious service cuts. (2019 Budget)

● Introduced Bill 74, which gives sweeping new powers to the minster and Super Agency to force restructuring of virtually the entire health system. (February/March 2019)

● Municipalities revealed Ford government plan to cut and restructure ambulance services, down from 59 to 10. (April 2019)

● Leaked document reveals plans to cut half a billion dollars in OHIP services. On the chopping block are sedation for colonoscopies, chronic pain management services and others. Plans will be made this spring/summer. (April 2019)

● Cut OHIP funding for residents travelling out of Canada. (May 2019)

● Cut 44 positions at the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) –provider of video medical services — which previously employed 265 people. In other words, 1 in every 6 telemedicine staff positions are being cut. The official dollar figure has not yet been released, but, OTN received $42 million in provincial funding 2017-18, nearly all came from the Ministry of Health. (May 2019)

● Set 2019 land ambulance grant funding at less than the rate of inflation. This means real dollar cuts to ambulance services. The City of Toronto has calculated the value of these cuts to amount to $4 million for Toronto alone. (April 2019)

● Plans to reduce the number of Public Health Units from 35 to 10. Cut 27%, or $200 million, of provincial funding for public health. Toronto Public Health has been particularly hard-hit. The city of Toronto has calculated the cuts to amount will amount to $1 billion over a 5-year period. Ford government disputes these figures. (April 2019)

● Cut more than $70 million from eHealth’s budget. (May 2019)

● Cut almost $53 million from the Health System Research Fund, a fund dedicated to research relevant to provincial policy and health-care system restructuring. (May 2019)

● Cut $5 million in annual funding for stem-cell research at the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine. (May 2019)

● Cut $24 million in funding for artificial intelligence research from the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence as well as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. (May 2019)

Serious Threat of Health Privatization

In Bill 74 the Minister of Health has given herself and the Super Agency vast new powers to order and otherwise force the privatization of most of our health care services. Opposition parties have asked direct questions about private surgery clinics bidding to close down and take over our local hospital services and neither the Premier nor Health Minister will say that they will not privatize. In documents being circulated from municipalities, Ford’s plans may include privatization of parts of ambulance services. In the leaked documents from the Ontario civil service in February, plans were revealed to privatize eHealth, laboratories, air ambulance, long-term care inspections and other services. At no time, under questioning by media and opposition parties, will this government clearly promise not to hand over ownership of our public health care services to private for-profit corporations. The signs of impending privatization are serious.

Ambulance Cuts/Restructuring

Ford’s plans, revealed by municipalities, include cutting the number of local ambulance services from 59 to 10 as well as the number of local dispatch services. These cuts will be particularly devastating to rural and smaller communities which are already suffering from a shortage of services. The Ford government’s restructuring plan does not address any of the causes of too-long EMS response times; it does not ameliorate services even where there is evidence of significant need. The current EMS system in Ontario was created by Mike Harris’ restructuring in the 1990s. The evidence from that round of restructuring is that costs grew dramatically post-restructuring. Ford’s plans for further centralization of ambulance services and cuts also threaten to deepen inequalities between rural and urban communities: “Cutting and centralizing the ambulance services down to ten giant regions means that smaller rural and northern communities will be lesser priorities and risks their service levels,” warned OHC executive director Natalie Mehra.

An EMS vision-Ontario 2050 Report came out after the 2018 provincial election, penned by owners of a private, for-profit, ambulance company. The report set out a map towards privatization of land ambulance services. It suggested Ontario could “save” $200 million by consolidating over 50 provincial paramedic services into only 10, run by a single Commission. The fact that the government announced that 59 provincial paramedic services will indeed be consolidated into 10 as the report suggested has led to concerns that the privatization of EMS services is part of Ford’s agenda. The report has also mentioned a plan to reduce the number of Public Health Units from 35 to 10 – a plan that is being implemented by the Ford government.

Public Health Cuts/Restructuring

Severe cuts amounting to almost one-third of provincial funding for public health threaten vital local services including food and water safety, infectious disease tracking and prevention, immunizations, prenatal training and safety, overdose prevention, safe needle and biohazard programs and many others.

In the 2019 Provincial Budget it was revealed that the Ford government plans to cut provincial funding for Public Health by 27 per cent and cut the number of local Public Health Units from 35 to 10. In early May, the government made public their plans for the closures/takeovers/mergers of local public health units. There has been no public consultation on this major change even though municipalities match provincial funding for public health, thereby providing half of public health funding. Municipalities were not consulted, public health experts including nurses and doctors who specialize in public health were not consulted, nor were affected communities or Ontarians who fund and rely on Public Health services. The plans that have been revealed to date follow here. In response to pressure, the Ford government is now saying that these are not finalized. However, there is no public process, no written plan that measures or mitigates the impact on the people of Ontario, no plan for consultation, no clear timeline. In fact, no normal processes for public health care planning are being followed whatsoever.

The following will be the results of the planned takeover/mergers/closures of Public Health Units if they are forced through by the Ford government:

  • Middlesex London Health Unit, Southwestern Public Health Unit, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit and Lambton Public Health Unit will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering 1.3 million people.
  • Bruce Grey Health Unit, Huron County Health Unit and Perth District Health Unit will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering 300,000 people.
  • Public Health Sudbury and Districts, Algoma Public Health, North Bay-Parry Sound District Health Unit, Timiskaming Health Unit, Porcupine Health Unit, and Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering 625,000 people.
  • Thunder Bay District Health Unit and Northwestern Health Unit will will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering 228,000 people.
  • Waterloo Public Health Unit, Halton Public Heath Unit, Peel Public Health Unit, and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Units will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering 2.94 million people.
  • Hamilton Public Health Services, Niagara Region Public Health Unit, Brant County Health Unit, and Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering1.4 million people.
  • Ottawa Public Health Unit, Eastern Ontario Health Unit (Prescott-Russel, Cornwall), Smith Falls Health Unit, and Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering 1.6 million people.
  • Peterborough Public Health, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (HKPR) District Health Unit, Hastings Prince Edward Health Unit, and Durham Region Health Unit will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering 1.2 million people.
  • York Region Public Health and Simcoe County District Health Unit will be forced into a single regional Public Health Unit covering 1.7 million people.
  • Toronto Public Health will serve 2.9 million people.

Overall Cuts/Restructuring

The Ford government is now clearly embarking on the most aggressive and radical health care restructuring that Ontario has ever seen. Previous large-scale restructuring in Ontario undertaken by the Mike Harris government involved province-wide hospital restructuring, including hospital mergers and closures of dozens of local hospitals. It ultimately did not reduce administrative costs as was promised. In fact, it cost $3.9 billion. That is $3.9 billion, according to the Provincial Auditor General, to cut $800 million from public hospitals. The restructuring costs were made up of laying off staff, moving buildings, renovating and rebuilding, re-hiring staff, renaming services, re-doing letterheads and communications systems and so on. The evidence is indisputable that those cost were lost to health care and were never recouped. Moreover, restructuring led to for-profit privatization and new user fees for an array of services. The costs were never recovered and many of the current problems that we face in health care can be traced back to the last two rounds of restructuring.

Bill 74 – Most Radical Restructuring in our Province’s History

In the last few months plans have been revealed that expose the Ford government’s intent to undertake the most radical health care restructuring in our history. Bill 74, the so-called “People’s Health Care Act” has been passed through the Legislature by the majority Ford MPPs against strong opposition. It does not improve a single health care service. What it does is create one mega-merger of 20 agencies into a Super Agency and give extraordinary restructuring powers to the government. This new law launches restructuring for hospitals, long-term care, home care, community mental health and addictions, community care, cancer care, palliative care, labs, eHealth, air ambulance, community health centres, home care, non-profit primary care and more. The Health Minister has revealed her plan is to restructure 1,800 health service providers down to 30 – 50 conglomerates. That’s not all though. In the Provincial Budget, plans to cut Public Health by almost 1/3 of provincial funding (27%) and reduce Health Units from 35 to 10 were revealed. Then, municipalities revealed the Ford government’s plans to restructure ambulance services from 59 down to 10.

Sweeping new powers to force mega-mergers, transfer services from one community to another, close services, privatize services

The new law gives sweeping powers to the Minister and the government appointees in their new Super Agency to force through mergers, mega-mergers, amalgamations, transfers of services, closures of local services, and entire closures of service providers. In five separate areas in the legislation these restructuring powers enable the government, its appointees, and health service providers to transfer our public and non-profit health care services to for-profit companies. Already for-profit hospital companies are making bids to take over surgeries in London Ontario.

Unfettered powers to force health care providers to restructure, close, privatize

The legislation allows the Minister and the government appointees that run their new Super Agency the power to order, direct and coerce (using their funding power) local providers of service to comply with these restructuring edicts and pressures. It does this in multiple sections of the legislation. In most of these sections there is no fetter on these extraordinary powers and no public process. It takes away any last vestiges of local control over health care. They can close a hospital with the stroke of a pen, move a service to another town or close it entirely, order the privatization of all labs or all surgeries, for example. It is truly shocking.

No public interest protections, no appeals, no access to information, no clear rulings: worst ever

There are no public interest protections in the legislation. There is no public notice at all for most of the sections that give new restructuring powers. There is minimal public notice in one section. There is no right to appeal anywhere in the legislation. There is no public access to documents anywhere in the legislation. The new Super Agency is not subject even to the conflict of interest rules of the Ontario Public Service. There are no principles to guide restructuring. There is no requirement that any one, not the Minister, not the Super Agency, no one, actually measure and plan to meet population need for health care, protect any local health services at all, ensure that patients have access to care, worry about the workforce that will be subject to massive upheaval. There are no procedural protections whatsoever.

Provincial Cuts to Legal Aid Threaten Access to Justice

The Provincial budget of April 11, 2019 calls for a 30% cut to Legal Aid Ontario’s budget, which includes funding to community legal clinics. This cut is not limited to services for immigrant and refugee cases, though that would be appalling enough if it was. Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services has been providing legal advice and representation for over 30 years in our community, which includes a significant population of newcomers. Funding cuts of this magnitude also threaten access to justice for low-income tenants, seniors, low-wage workers, people with disabilities, and victims of crime, whether or not they are newcomers.

“We are calling on the Attorney General, Caroline Mulroney to make a commitment to access to justice, and to respect the commitment of her government to not decrease front line services, and to confirm that funding for community clinics will not be decreased” said Lenny Abramowicz, the Executive Director of the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario.

While some have promoted the idea of “self-representation”, studies have shown that this is not fiscally responsible, as it adds unanticipated costs elsewhere and puts an unreasonable and unnecessary burden on the persons seeking justice. As well, our clients and community members are facing so many other cuts to important services they depend on, that many of them do not have the capacity to adequately represent themselves. As for services being made available online or over the phone rather than in-person, many of our clients and community members do not have sufficient access to the Internet nor adequate phone minutes during government business hours.

We call on our community members and partners to help preserve access to justice, by calling Premier Doug Ford and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney personally. You will probably get their voicemail – if you do, you can leave a message calling on them to reverse the cuts to Legal Aid Ontario!

Doug Ford: 416-325-1941

Caroline Mulroney: 416-326-2220

You can also call Prime Minister Trudeau’s office and demand he intervene and remind the Premier of his duties to preserve access to justice.

Justin Trudeau: 1-613-992-4211.

Update from Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services

Doug Ford — a premier ‘For the (Rich) People’

For all his blustery talk about understanding “the little guy,” the truth is Doug Ford has lived a privileged life, one that few people other than the rich in Toronto get to enjoy.

His father owned Deco Labels and Tags, a successful business that meant the Ford family lived a safe, secure life without the daily problems faced by many of the poor and disadvantaged in Toronto or around Ontario.

Doug Ford never had to go hungry, never had to worry about whether his mother or father could find an affordable apartment, never had to figure out how he could pay for a lawyer if he got into trouble with the police, never had to fear about being unable to afford to go to college or university.

And when Ford dropped out of Humber College after attending classes for barely two months, his daddy gave him a job at the family company, thus saving his son from frantically looking for work to pay the bills — or worse, asking for social assistance in order to survive.

So it should come as no big surprise that despite his mantra about being “For the People,” Ford has emerged as premier “For the Rich People.”

That’s because since becoming Ontario premier last June, Ford has gone out of his way to introduce measures that overwhelmingly hurt poor and disadvantaged residents while enacting tax cuts that will save huge dollars for the rich.

The evidence is overwhelming:

On public health, Ford is making massive cuts in funding to public health units, a move that will cost Toronto Public Health $1 billion over the next 10 years. That translates into cuts in school breakfast programs that feed hungry children, daycare and restaurant inspections, water-quality testing, pre- and postnatal care for single mothers, and detection of emerging threats to public health. Even the Ford-loving Toronto Sun has warned the premier to be careful about the public-health cuts.

On libraries, Ford, who once said he would close a library in his neighbourhood “in a heartbeat,” has slashed by half the funding for two vital library services in northern and southern Ontario. Library officials claim this will dramatically affect rural and Indigenous communities.

On minimum wages, Ford killed the planned increase in the base pay from $14 an hour to $15. Instead he favours a low-income tax credit, but financial experts say this won’t help low-wage workers anywhere near what a $1-an-hour raise would.

On legal aid, Ford cut funding by $133 million this year and $31 million for 2020. The cuts mean fewer services for people who cannot afford lawyers in criminal cases, family conflicts, landlord disputes, and refugee and immigration cases. Regretably, funding has been cut so badly in recent years by the former Liberal government that Legal Aid Ontario now usually can take on cases for people earning less than $17,000 a year, which is well below the threshold of just a few years ago.

On harm reduction sites, Ford cut funding to three supervised drug-use sites in Toronto that are already overwhelmed with people dealing with drug addiction.

On student aid, financial assistance for college and university students will see cuts this year of more than $300 million.

At the same time, Ford has pointedly catered to the rich by cancelling a planned surtax on high-earners proposed by the previous Liberal government that would have generated $275 million in revenue for the province.

Most Conservatives have remained silent as Ford slashes and burns his way through the province’s long tradition of support for those most in need. But one of the Conservatives’ biggest fundraisers in Toronto has privately expressed concerns about the direction the Ford government is taking, noting only four or five people close to Ford are making all the major decisions.

Indeed, most cabinet ministers, according to the prominent fundraiser, are mere window-dressing, with little input into decisions, little consultations and little influence. By acquiescing to Ford’s worst decisions, they have become mere enablers for the premier.

It’s time people across Ontario ask themselves: Is it right for the government to turn its back on hungry children, libraries, low-paid workers and others who deserve help? Is this the Ontario we really want?

Article by Bob Hepburn for the Toronto Star

Join the #FORDFIGHTBACK here

Public health budget slashed: school breakfasts, infectious disease prevention and more at risk

Last week, the Ford government announced cuts to public health that will deeply affect Ontarians. The sweeping cuts are being labelled by city councillors and Mayor Tory as a direct attack on Toronto, as Toronto Public Health will be most impacted. As a result, the City is being forced to decide which essential public health programs will need to be cut.

Councillor Joe Cressy has estimated that the cuts will cost Toronto Public Health $1 billion over 10 years, and both he and Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Eileen de Villa, have stressed that these cuts are going to have significant impacts, including deaths[1].

Toronto Public Health provides a number of programs and services, including vaccinations, infectious disease prevention, school breakfast programs, daycare inspections and more. The cuts have been applied by the Province retroactively from April 1st, meaning that Toronto Public Health has experienced an immediate $86 million shock to its budget and is in a deficit.

There are concerns that the Toronto Public Health’s school breakfasts program, which provides meals and snacks to over 208,000 children across the city at a cost of $14 million, will need to be slashed. The program is vital for low-income families, with a 2010 evaluation reporting that 82% of students believe that school breakfast programs help keep kids from feeling hungry at school.[2]

These cuts to public health are deeply alarming, particularly when the Province is also making plans to privatize health care, cutting half a billion dollars from OHIP, and making cuts to ambulance services and more.

Clearly, profiting from the sick is more of a priority for this government that the health of our Province.

[1] Toronto Star: Toronto officials clash with province over public health cuts

[2] TDSB Feeding Our Future report

Ontario Budget 2019: Deep cuts to social assistance, Indigenous Affairs, housing, and more

With a budget that mentions the word “poverty” zero times, the Provincial government has once again made its contempt for low and moderate income Ontarians clear.

ACORN members are deeply concerned that more social assistance cuts are in the pipeline after $1 billion was slashed from the Ministry of Children, Families and Social Services’ budget. Social assistance recipients have nothing left to give after rates were cut by 1.5% last year. We’re also concerned about plans to integrate employment supports for OW/ODSP recipients with Employment Ontario, and urge the government not to return to the failed workfare program of the past that hurt vulnerable Ontarians.

We strongly oppose the government’s plan to slash the budget for Indigenous Affairs by half. These cuts will have serious implications for our Indigenous communities.

We need bold action from the government to tackle housing affordability for low and moderate income renters. Unfortunately, although we are glad to finally see the Province commit to the National Housing Strategy, the funding falls short. $450 million per year, including federal loans, will not do enough to tackle the deep housing crisis that is sweeping across the Province. The budget lacks any details about how deeply affordable rental housing will be created. We’re also concerned about the Province’s plans to “streamline” the social housing waitlist. We urgently need more affordable housing, not a limit on the number of people who can apply for social housing. The budget for the Ministry of Housing has been cut by $300 million — what does that mean for low and moderate income renters? It’s also important not forget the Province gave MPPs a 20% housing allowance increase only this year.

Education and health care cuts will hurt the Province’s most vulnerable. Funding for health care is less than inflation and population growth; this will mean services will suffer. We do not support the government’s sweeping plans to restructure health care which will cost billions and lower the quality of our health care system. In addition, despite the government flaunting its seniors’ dental plan in the press this week, almost 95% of seniors won’t be covered as the program is limited to seniors earning $19,300 a year, or $32,300 for couples. Nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars is being cut from post secondary education and free tuition is being cut for low-income students. Universities and colleges are also being threatened with funding cuts if they don’t meet performance targets.

With the highest child care fees in the country, often over $15,000, Ontario parents need universal child care. The child care tax credit proposed by the Province is severely inadequate. We are disappointed that the maximum rate of 75% is only available to families earning less than $20,000; the rebate is also capped at $6,000. This will keep low and moderate income families in poverty. No information has been provided about funding to licensed child care.

Low and moderate income Ontarians who hoped for some meaningful measures in this budget to make life more affordable will be deeply disappointed.

Ontario’s low-income tax credit doesn’t make up for minimum-wage cut, watchdog says

The Ontario government’s new low-income tax credit will result in less money for workers than the cancelled $15 minimum wage, and will add $1.9-billion to the deficit, according to a new report from the province’s fiscal watchdog.

In a report released Tuesday, Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman found that Ontario’s new Low-Income Individuals and Families Tax Credit (LIFT) provides less money to fewer people than a planned $1-increase to the province’s minimum wage would have. On average, the report says, minimum-wage workers will receive about $400 less per year under the new plan, which was announced in last fall’s fiscal update.

“Ultimately what we found was, under an increased minimum-wage situation, more people would get a higher benefit versus the LIFT credit,” Mr. Weltman said.

“The LIFT credit, however, is more focused or more specifically targeted to those low-income individuals.”

The report also found that, due to lost provincial tax revenue from cancelling the minimum-wage increase combined with the cost of the LIFT credit, the province’s pocketbook will worsen by $1.9-billion over the next five years.

However, the report noted that the LIFT credit does not impose direct costs on businesses, which could have impacted employment, as well as increased prices.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said his government “would never apologize” for bringing tax relief to low-income families, while the NDP and Liberal leaders called on the government to increase the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.

Mr. Fedeli pointed to a previous FAO report from September, 2017, when the Liberals were in government, which stated that Ontario’s proposed minimum-wage increase would result in a loss of approximately 50,000 jobs, primarily among teens and young adults. He also said Ontario has added 132,000 since forming government last June.

“Our strategy has been working correctly,” Mr. Fedeli told reporters. “There’s no sense having a higher minimum wage if you don’t have a job.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called it “shameful” that the government cancelled the planned wage increase. She said the previous Liberal government should have raised the minimum wage during its 15 years in office, instead of six months before last June’s election.

“People deserve to earn a wage that allows them to raise a family and build a decent life in our province,” she said, without elaborating on what she thought the minimum wage should be.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said about a third of people living on minimum wage are seniors, and most are women. “They would have done better,” he said. “[Mr. Fedeli] can cherry-pick, and the evidence is not there. We’ve had the lowest unemployment rate we’ve had in decades.”

The Progressive Conservative government announced last fall that it was halting the planned increase to the minimum wage that was scheduled to kick in this year, following up on a promise made during the spring election campaign.

Ontario’s minimum wage remains at $14 an hour rather than rising to $15 as planned by the previous Liberal government.

The FAO report said of the 2.9 million people making less than $38,500 a year, some one million would benefit from the LIFT credit. On average, they will receive $409 this year. Only 19,000 people will receive the maximum $850.

Under the proposed minimum-wage increase, 1.3 million people would have benefited, and received a net after-tax benefit of $810, the report said.

The LIFT credit also increases the proportion of those making less than $30,000 a year who do not pay provincial income tax from 78 to 90 per cent.

Premier Doug Ford had pledged during last year’s election campaign to ensure that minimum-wage workers pay no provincial income tax. But advocates say those taxes were not high to begin with.

Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto, said it’s “appalling” the government’s policies are not helping minimum-wage workers earn more money.

“What’s really awful about this is 1.3 million workers … would have actually seen a real difference in their take-home pay if the minimum wage had gone to $15. And those are the workers who need it the most,” she said.

Article by Laura Stone for the Globe and Mail

Here are the changes the Ford government has put in place for April 1

Since taking power almost a year ago, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has made a series of changes to programs in the province that are set to kick in April 1. 

1. OHIP+ 

Under the Liberals, all people under 25 got free prescriptions for a list of 4,400 medications as of Jan. 1, 2018. When the Progressive Conservatives came into power, they made changes. As of April 1, those under 25 will get taxpayer-funded prescriptions only if they’re not covered by a private drug plan. 

This means parents may have to pay out of pocket if maximum limits have been reached under their plan or if the plan does not cover a particular drug. 

Lindsay Parks’s two-year-old son Malcolm is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia and takes an expensive chemo drug that his mother’s private insurance doesn’t cover. She’s currently applying to the Trillium Drug Program, which helps families who spend at least three to four per cent of their after-tax income on prescription medication.

“There’s a little bit of a gap,” said Parks.

The PC government says its change will save at least $250 million. 

2. Ontario autism program 

The controversial changes Ford’s government has made to the province’s autism program also kick in April 1.

In early February, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod announced cuts with the goal of eliminating the wait list for government-funded treatment for roughly 23,000 children on the autism spectrum. 

The Ford government’s program would fund families up to $20,000 a year for children under six, and $5,000 for children between six and 18. Families making more than $250,000 annually would not be eligible. 

Parents of children with autism protesting at Queen’s Park. The province’s controversial changes to its autism program come into effect April 1. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Amid fierce criticism from parents who pointed out the plan does not account for severity, the province backtracked by: 

  • Eliminating income testing.
  • Making more services eligible for that funding.
  • Extending therapy children are currently receiving by six months.
  • Consulting on how to support children with the highest needs 

“Our plan was the right one,” said MacLeod. “It still is the right one — we’re just enhancing it.”

3. Pot shops 

Ontario’s bricks-and-mortar pot shops are supposed to open Monday, but only 11 licences have been issued province-wide. (Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty Images)

The province’s first legal bricks-and-mortar pot shops are set to open Monday, though it appears not all of the 25 licence applicants are ready.

Only 11 licences have been issued so far province-wide. In Toronto, only one of the five proposed shops told CBC News it would be open for business.

Ontario NDP deputy leader Sara Singh said the PCs didn’t give the lottery winners enough time to open. “[This is] pushing people to the illegal market for their cannabis,” she said.

Ontario is the last province to open physical stores. Following the federal legalization of cannabis Oct. 17., it has been legally available only from the government-run online store. 

4. Drive Clean 

Drive Clean came under fire for making the government millions of dollars even though it was supposed to be revenue neutral. Under the program, drivers had to get emissions testing every two years on cars and light-duty trucks more than seven years old. 

In September 2018, Doug Ford announced the program’s cancellation, declaring it outdated because the auto industry adopted more stringent emissions standards. The government said only five per cent of vehicles failed the test last year, compared with 16 per cent when it first took effect. 

“We are shifting the focus from family cars to the biggest polluters on the road,” Ford said, referring to transport trucks. 

The province says it expects scrapping Drive Clean will save taxpayers $40 million a year. 

Environmental groups cautioned against letting drivers off the hook. 

5. Carbon tax 

The federal government’s carbon tax — aimed at putting a price on carbon and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change -— kicks in Monday.

A “backstop” will apply in four provinces without their own carbon pricing system (Ontario, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Manitoba). Essentially, it’s a charge on gasoline, light fuel oil, natural gas and propane. The federal government has promised tax rebates to offset the cost. 

Ford and his ministers have been fighting against the carbon tax for a year, saying it will cause a “recession.”

“If we’re hitting [the federal government’s] targets, then why do you want to impose this carbon tax that’s going to hurt families?” said Environment Minister Rod Phillips. 

6. Environmental commissioner

The province’s environmental commissioner position, most recently held by Dianne Saxe, is officially eliminated and will be absorbed by the auditor general’s office. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner called it a “tragic loss.”

Ontario’s former environment commissioner Diane Saxe issued her last report Wednesday. The Ford government has eliminated her position and has rolled its responsibilities in with the ombudsman’s office.(Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario)

Saxe, who issued her last report on Wednesday, said the province cancelling energy conservation incentives was counterintuitive. 

“It means cutting off our nose to spite our face,” she warned. 

Phillips said his climate plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent.

7. Ontario child advocate 

The same day the province announced it was shuttering the environmental commissioner’s office, it also said the Ontario Child Advocate’s office (and the French-language services commissioner’s office), would be rolled into the ombudsman’s. 

Critics said the move would erode government accountability, while the PCs said it would not put children at risk. 

“I can assure everyone in the legislature that the fiercest child advocate in this province will be me,” said Macleod, the social services minister. 

Meanwhile, Irwin Elman, who was appointed in 2008 and has been the only person to hold the role in Ontario, said he worries for the province’s most vulnerable children, calling the closure of the office a “lost opportunity” to build on the work its done.

Lisa Xing for CBC News

Ford warns teachers’ unions not to dare protest class-size increases

Premier Doug Ford is warning teachers’ unions against taking any action to protest his government’s move to increase class sizes to save money.

“If the head of the unions want to hurt the children of this province by doing walkouts and everything else, I’d think twice if I were them,” Ford said Friday in Ottawa where he was touting the province’s $1.2 billion investment in a local light rail transit project.

“You know I think the world of teachers but I might differentiate between labour and labour leadership, public and private sector unions,” the premier said.

“I love the front-line teachers and we may not see eye to eye with the head of the unions because all they want to do is collect their union dues and start pocketing (them) into their pockets,” he said.

Ford’s comments came after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said a high school with 800 students would lose 11 teachers — from 46 to 35 — due to changes introduced by his government.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said that’s the toll from increasing the average secondary school class size from 22 student to 28 over the next four years and it could trigger “disruption” this fall with teacher contracts expiring at the end of August.

“You know I think the world of teachers but I might differentiate between labour and labour leadership, public and private sector unions,” the premier said.

“I love the front-line teachers and we may not see eye to eye with the head of the unions because all they want to do is collect their union dues and start pocketing (them) into their pockets,” he said.

Ford’s comments came after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said a high school with 800 students would lose 11 teachers — from 46 to 35 — due to changes introduced by his government.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof said that’s the toll from increasing the average secondary school class size from 22 student to 28 over the next four years and it could trigger “disruption” this fall with teacher contracts expiring at the end of August.

By Robert Benzie and Kristin Rushowy for the Toronto Star

Mandatory online courses in Ontario high schools raise concerns for educators

Is Ontario’s move to mandatory e-learning off the mark?

In a massive shift to digital coursework, Ontario will soon require high school students to earn four online credits before they graduate — a first in North America.

But with few details about the move, which begins in 2020-21, critics are questioning the rapid push to so much virtual learning so soon.

“Although e-learning classes provide a modernized learning experience for students, these courses are not a good fit for everyone,” said Amal Qayum, president of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, which found in a 2017 survey of teens that three-quarters felt online lacked when compared to a regular classroom setting.

The group called on the Ford government to “reverse the rule mandating that all secondary school students take four e-learning courses” out of the 30 required for graduation “as different learning styles cannot be accommodated by an all-encompassing change in graduation requirements.”

The government’s plan would see teens earn one e-learning credit a year in online classes with an average of 35 students.

“Further information will be available at a later date,” said Kayla Iafelice, a spokesperson for Education Minister Lisa Thompson.

Speaking in the legislature, Premier Doug Ford said “we’re focusing on technology as well” as a package of education reforms that will also see the average secondary school class jump from 22 students to 28 over the next four years.

But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said with larger classes — and an estimated loss of 10,000 teaching positions — the “Ford government’s plan for our kids (is) fewer teachers, larger class sizes, more Googling.

“The premier says he consulted with parents,” Horwath said. “Can he tell us how many of those parents asked for larger class sizes and learning from YouTube?”

A handful of American states already require one mandatory online course in high school, while others simply recommend it.

In Ontario, about 50,000 high school students took at least one online course in 2018.

Clare Brett of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, who has been researching online learning for 30 years, said “on the face of it, it’s a good idea. It’s a good experience for students to get — if it’s a good experience.”

She’s said quality, however, can be an issue, and she’s also not keen on the credits being mandatory. “What does it mean? You do not graduate if you don’t have four credits?”

The government has said students with special needs can be exempt.

Some U.S. studies have shown online achievement equal to or marginally better than in school, though concerns about higher dropout rates are common. However, Brett said that could be because it’s the easiest thing for students to drop and pick up later.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said “there is a value in online education in certain cases,” especially in remote and rural areas where there is not a broad range of course offerings.

For students who are highly motivated, they can work well, but “our experience shows that credit delivery through online learning is not very efficient, whatsoever,” Bischof said.

Article by Kristin Rushowy for the Toronto Star

Ontario’s plan to raise class sizes will lead to loss of 800 public high school teaching jobs in Toronto, TDSB document shows

The Ontario government’s blueprint to increase class sizes will mean the loss of approximately 800 public high school teaching positions in Toronto, according to a TDSB document obtained by the Star.

It’s a number that, according to a local teachers union executive, would decimate the city’s secondary school system

“No government cuts what amounts to close to 20 per cent of the expert classroom staff from programming and at the same time says that they are doing their best to help students succeeed,” said Leslie Wolfe, head of the Toronto local of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

“This, to me, is a decimation. They are in the process of manufacturing a crisis in publicly funded education at the high school level.”

The plan, announced by Education Minister Lisa Thompson on Friday, will bump up the number of students in each class from Grade 4 to Grade 12. At the secondary level, the average class size will grow to 28 from 22. In the lower grades, an average of one student will be added to each class.

The Education Ministry is still holding consultations with families, staff and school boards but Friday’s announcement was to provide school boards with information to build their budgets and staffing models.

The Toronto District School Board, in a document distributed to school trustees, did the basic math on the announced changes to gauge the impact on how many teachers will be lost. It calculated that there will be 216 fewer teachers in Grade 4 to Grade 8 in addition to the 800 at the secondary level. Approximately another 82 high school positions will be gone with the reduction in funding for secondary programs.

In protest, classroom teachers began an online campaign over the weekend encouraging each other to wear black on Monday as a symbolic form of resistence.

More positions will also be lost starting in 2020-21 when students are required to take four of their their 30 high school credits, one per year, through online learning. Wolfe said “it’s not catastrophizing” to suggest that will mean 20 per cent of her federation’s almost 5,000 members will ultimately be elimated under the government plan.

The reductions will take place over four years. Thompson said the changes will come through retirements, resignations and other attrition. No teacher will lose their job due to the class-size strategy, she said.

Still, that is a significant number of positions removed from the system, sparking concerns among educators that smaller, specialized classes will have to be chopped and there will be less opportunity for students.

TDSB chair Robin Pilkey said the numbers in the TDSB document are extremely preliminary and a clearer indication of the impact of the government’s plan will come this week when the board does staffing allocation for the next school year.

“We know it’s going to be significant,” she said. “We are concerned because we want to make sure kids get as much opportunity as possible. Fewer teachers means fewer different types of classes. The government has spent a lot of time talking about preparing kids for the future … (but) if there are fewer teachers, there’ll be larger classes and less opportunity — fewer courses, I think, is kind of the logical conclusion. That’s going to be not great for kids who are trying to figure out what to do with their future.”

To put the loss of teaching positions in perspective, Wolfe said there are approximately 100 secondary schools in Toronto and so that would mean an average of eight educators gone from each school. Obviously, small schools wouldn’t be losing eight teachers but it offers an idea.

“What I really want to underscore,” she said, “is that while no one may be losing a job, people need to understand that’s 800 fewer adults in our schools. It’s not about job loss, it’s about the reduction and expertise in our schools. And it’s about the potential loss of programs that run with smaller class sizes that serve students who need those smaller class sizes.”

Under the Ontario government’s proposal, which would save about $250 million in the first of year of a four-year plan, class sizes from kindergarten to Grade 3 would maintain their current caps.

Thompson’s announcement Friday also included a back-to-basics math curriculum, a ban on cellphones in classrooms for noneducational purposes and revisions to the health and sex-ed curriculum, including clear provisions for opting out and the opportunity for families to use the eduational materials online to teach the subject at home.

The e-learning classes will be even larger than 28, with an average of 35 students, according to a ministry memo obtained by the Star. Some educators expressed concern because there are students who don’t have a computer at home while others would miss the benefit of personal interaction that research has shown helps students succeed.

Article by Paul Hunter for the Toronto Star