A few days ago I was scanning through Premier Doug Ford’s latest offering, Bill 97 (aka “ Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act”).
I was looking for references about the possibility of extra severances for farmers and the concept of extra taxes on unoccupied houses (similar to what the federal government is doing). Towards the end of the wad of papers and still none the wiser on these two topics, which locals are talking about, I did come across something which opened my eyes and made me think, “Here we go once more. Back to the future again!”
This Bill had its first reading in Queen’s Park on April 6, then went on to be debated. On April 20 it received its second reading and was referred to the Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy. It is well on its way to becoming law.
Including all manner of changes, even as far as permitting landlords who pay electricity for their tenants to charge them more if they use air conditioning units in the summer, it has a section towards the back entitled “Schools.”
Stopping me dead, I read “Establishes schools as an element of a “complete community” and collaboration between planning authorities and school boards is specifically directed.”
Immediately this took me back to the Kathleen Wynne years (2013 to 2018) when the then Premier Wynne, despite her numerous degrees in education and having sat as a trustee on a school board, took it upon herself and her government to dismantle the long existing system of most towns having an elementary school combined with an area high school. Bigger was better! As were more buses!
In their eyes, students of every age spending one to two hours a day on a school bus was a good thing. Large classes, especially for elementary schools, were a good thing, where those having a hard time got lost and ignored in a sea of those excelling. Communities lost their meeting and club rooms, the use of the gym/auditorium, the sense of community created by the schools being used by all ages.
I remember the rallies and meetings, letters to the editor, interviews, signs on every lawn, all aimed at telling the provincial government “NO!! It isn’t what is good nor what we want.” The Wynne government ignored it. They knew better and countless small town elementary schools were closed to conform to what they wanted. Schools were not important.
Here we lost two elementary schools, one in Martintown, the other in North Lancaster. One became a doggie day care/ training/ boarding facility. The other sits there, the only activity is one car parked outside. Meanwhile the Williamstown elementary school took in all those kids, spreading many prefab classrooms over the playground. I believe some children even cross the road to use Char-Lan High School. Last summer, they did an enlargement of the elementary school …. and still have pre-fabs sitting there. Where was the sense?
Many who would have gone to Char-Lan HS now bus to the big separate school board high school on the boundary of South Glengarry and Cornwall. With all the classrooms at Char-Lan being used, the number of subject options has decreased, and so did the sense of community in our teens.
Now that Bill 97 specifically recognizes the importance of schools to a community, and actually legislates schools and other necessary infrastructures into the plans for new communities, maybe, just maybe, Ford’s government might be open to helping redevelop the schooling system in rural Ontario that Kathleen Wynne demolished.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.