LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L'ONTARIO
Wednesday 18 May 2005 Mercredi 18 mai 2005
The House met at 1845.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
EDUCATION AMENDMENT ACT, 2005 /
LOI DE 2005 MODIFIANT LA LOI
Mr. Kennedy moved third reading of the following bill:
Bill 194, An Act to amend the Education Act / Projet de loi 194, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'éducation.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bruce Crozier): Mr. Kennedy.
Hon. Gerard Kennedy (Minister of Education): It gives me great pleasure to rise in the House and give support to the bill we have brought forward. It is not the most momentous bill that will be considered or passed in this session, but it is, I think, symbolic of the hope and intent of everyone in this House to provide an education for every child in Ontario, irrespective of their position, their social station and, in this case, their immigration status.
It's a factor that I don't think we want to hold against the children and young people who happen to be in these families, particularly because it is almost always because of an administrative process, a designation that doesn't let them be the students they want to become and, I think it's important for everyone to know, that in most cases they are going to become anyway. In most cases these are families who have applied for status or applied for either citizenship or privileges that will eventually be extended. But in the meantime they are in this education grey zone.
I think it epitomizes the overall outlook that a lot of Ontarians share -- in fact maybe all Ontarians at this point -- around the purposes of education in the first place. Education in Ontario is a privilege, but it's also a right. I think we've come to extend that by this time. We actually have a law that says it is mandatory to go to school if you are under age 16 -- between the ages of 5 and 16; 4 is still optional -- and you need to have your child in a recognized educational program. We don't do that very often; we don't say "you must," "you shall." There are, at least on the books, penalties that are occasionally applied for truancy and so on, for someone's children, unless it's a fairly serious matter. And the serious matter is that everybody agrees that publicly funded education actually matters that much.
We didn't start off at the point where we said everybody should be in some form of recognized education. We arrived there by learned experience that this is the way we move forward. Of course this province has defined itself in the fashion of successive waves of immigrants coming to this province. No matter when you did, you were part of that; your family was part of that. Trying to do better for yourself, whether it was your grandparents or great-grandparents -- whoever -- and their kids. The way you do better for your kids, not exclusively in the past but increasingly now, is through education. You have to get into the education system and thrive in it, and we hope you take yourself as far as you possibly can. Our kids are going to be smarter than us because they need to be. That's the nature of the world they are born into. It makes no sense at all, Bill 194 proposes, to leave some kids without a head start.
The Premier and I did an event on boys' reading with coach "Pinball" Clemons. He does an interesting exercise around boys' reading. He takes a young boy and has him stand about 20 feet away, and he has a young girl stand about a foot away. He holds a toonie in his hand -- I shouldn't be revealing this, because both the Premier and I use this routine now when we visit schools. You hold a toonie in your hand and say to the boy and the girl, "This toonie is going to whoever gets here first." The young boy labours mightily and runs like crazy, but of course the girl reaches out and touches it.
The basic thing there is to say, "That's not fair." But that's what happens. That's the fundamental problem, the disadvantage, ultimately the unfairness that is visited upon those who fall behind in education, whether they are boys, who for a variety of factors aren't taking an equal interest in reading compared with girls -- unfortunately they're 20 points behind in this province; something we're now trying to close the gap on -- or whether they happen to be the kids we're talking about through Bill 194.
Why would we want them to start behind? Who would it benefit by having them out of school for six months, 18 months, two years while an immigration status is being resolved? It's going to make it more difficult for that eventual student to learn and potentially more expensive for the system to contend with, and it simply doesn't make sense that we wouldn't follow through on the intentions of generations past and honour the idea that a child should be in school almost beyond any other circumstance.
In recent years we have expanded that definition. In 1984, this Legislature passed a law -- actually, I think it was passed in 1981 and came into effect in 1984 -- that said every child, regardless of their circumstances, had a right to go to school, and that meant children with extra challenges, with intellectual disabilities, with a range of things that were perhaps holding them back. For example, today we had Community Living here.
I grew up with an uncle who was intellectually challenged. He went to school for about five years. In the old vernacular, they called him "tongue-tied." He had a cleft palate. He got a paper route and sold greeting cards and did a range of things. But I grew up with him, and I can tell you that he never got a chance to access his potential because of the attitudes of those days. He did a tremendous amount for himself, but it wasn't recognized in the school system.
What we decided to do for this broader range of children is nothing less than extend citizenship to them. We are saying, "You matter, you count," and even underneath that we're saying, "You can look after yourself to the greatest degree possible." It's a smart thing to extend that citizenship to those classes of children.
What we have here today is small in extent; we may have on the order of 250 or 300 children whom this may affect. But it's a profound tragedy not to have these kids included, to actually think that they would be excluded, that they show up at the school door, meet with the principal and can't be put on the register. Can you imagine the frustration? They look outside and see the kids playing, they see the classroom, they see the teacher, but they can't access them. They're here, they're in this country, and we're told by the most reliable data we have that in 85% or 90% of cases they're eventually going to become citizens. They shouldn't start behind the eight ball; there's no need for it. We can accommodate this. This is not about extending any particular benefits; this is a reciprocal benefit. That child comes ready to learn. Let's give them the chance. They'll do better than if we exclude them or shut that school door.
I appreciate that there have been expressions of support for this bill on the part of all members in this House. I think it is nothing less than a punctuation, an expression of a very widely shared and strongly held sentiment that we in this province define people by where they're going, not by where they came from. This is something that needs to be expressed over and over again. Some of us represent newer Canadians, whether it's Polish Canadians or Filipino Canadians or any background. Some of the home countries have institutions that, at different times, have been under some risk, haven't necessarily had democracy for a long time or have had big interruptions in that democracy. There are things they have had to fight and struggle for that we take for granted.
I think it's important and refreshing for us to wrestle a bit with those corners of our own system that we would be so likely to take for granted if we didn't try to stretch that system to make sure it really doesn't exclude anybody, either by omission or by deliberate action on our part. I think it's quite helpful that members are prepared to debate and, we've heard so far, are prepared to support this concept of really extending the reach of education into every corner, to make it so we don't have ignorance by accident, that we don't have exclusion because we couldn't be bothered. We need, in a very large sense, to not take education for granted. Our children and our grandchildren will not thrive if we take a complacent outlook, and by working in this House tonight and on other occasions to extend to this number of children who would fall between the cracks -- we're reminding ourselves of that. We have a much bigger job to do in education, but this is a good symbol for it.
We're going to need to try to find -- and some of those children that we want to get a good education are in the system. There may be 250, there may be 300, and there may be 3,000 of them. They may be in a rural school that isn't getting all the resources it needs. They may be in an urban school with an English-as-a-second-language challenge that we haven't met yet, or an aboriginal child in the northwest that has similar early needs that we need to get to.
With this bill, we're sending a signal all across this province that, whether your child comes gifted and ready to go as far as the system will challenge them or whether they have some of these extra challenges, we will not take it for granted that the system can do that. It will be the absolute commission of this House to make sure that every child is reached, and that's what this bill does. There is a saying down in the south, "No child left behind." That is what this bill intends to accomplish.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments? There being none, further debate?
Mr. Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant): I would ask unanimous consent to stand down our lead. I wish to speak for 15 minutes or so.
The Deputy Speaker: The member for Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant has requested unanimous consent to stand down the lead and that he be allowed to speak for 15 --
The Deputy Speaker: OK, just standing down the lead is what we're after. Agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Barrett: Thank you, Speaker, and thanks for that vote of unanimity. With respect to Bill 194, An Act to amend the Education Act, again, on behalf of our caucus, we do make it very clear that we support the fact that all children in Ontario should have access to an education.
Our concern and a message we do wish to convey to this government is to continue your efforts with the federal government. This is one case where the federal government should be bearing much of the cost, a cost that can range from $7,000 a year to $12,000 a year. I certainly know it. A number of years ago, education costs in my riding in Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant were certainly considerably less than they were in the Toronto area, for example. Our point is that immigration falls under the responsibility of the federal government, and we submit that the McGuinty government should be demanding of their federal cousins payment for the cost or part of the cost involved in sending children to school, the children of families who have very recently arrived in our country.
Cam Jackson, MPP from Burlington, brought the problem of these fees to the attention of the Minister of Education over a year ago. At that time, as I understand it, the government chose to ignore that. As a result of the government not acting on this immediately, children awaiting landed immigrant status were prevented from attending a school and receiving the kind of education that we do wish them to receive.
We have a situation in rural Ontario -- of course, busing is a factor, and busing is becoming ever more a factor in our area, with the ongoing closure of elementary schools. I lost a high school a couple of years ago. You can imagine the economic impact alone that shutting down a high school would have on a town. I think of the town of Burford, where the high school closed a few years ago.
We have a threat now in the community of Delhi, again in part because of the approach this particular government takes to tobacco in the province of Ontario. You have pretty well shut down much of the business and industry in the town of Delhi. You cannot buy a new car in the town of Delhi now. All three dealerships have closed in the town of Delhi.
Shortly after the election, I called for action following a decision of the Grand Erie District School Board. At the time, they were in the unfortunate position of delaying a decision with respect to closing Seneca Unity Public School in Caledonia until they could find out more about the province-wide moratorium on school closures. At the time, if the government had made more clear their commitment with respect to an effective moratorium on rural school closures -- they were dragging their heels at the time, even though this was clearly articulated during the 2003 election campaign.
Regrettably, the school board has now decided to close Seneca Unity. It's a consolidated elementary school. I think it was built in 1960. The reason I say that is that John Robarts attended the opening ceremonies for Seneca Unity Public School. John Robarts was the Minister of Education of the day. I do know that our Conservative predecessor, MPP and cabinet minister Jimmy Allan, attended the opening ceremonies of Seneca Unity. Jimmy Allan probably would have been Treasurer at that time. I'm very proud of the fact that both myself and Tim Hudak, I guess, were next in line on the PC side to fill the shoes of Jimmy Allan in our particular areas. Jimmy was from Dunnville in Erie-Lincoln, now represented by Tim Hudak. Jimmy Allan certainly represented Haldimand and Norfolk county, where my farm is.
Again, this board decision was made. It followed, at the time, after the 2003 election, what I considered a fairly lukewarm government request of school boards to abide by a moratorium on rural school closures; despite any mention of new dollars, no dollar announcements to keep these schools open. At the time, Education Minister Gerard Kennedy admitted that, in some cases, boards may proceed with closures, despite the request. Regrettably, in the next few weeks, there will be an afternoon ceremony at Seneca Unity, just north of Caledonia, as that school closes its doors. Children will not be attending Seneca Unity.
Like business, school boards have a difficult time operating in a climate of uncertainty. Across the province, many boards were left with the unfortunate task of making these kinds of school closure decisions in a vacuum. I certainly indicated in this House, as with our immigrant children -- and certainly over the time that I was in both elementary and secondary school -- that I saw so many children, seatmates of mine when I was attending elementary school, who had arrived with their families after the Second World War. Again, they went through what I considered an excellent education system.
At that time, we were all in one-room public schools. That's, as you know, eight grades, one teacher. A music teacher would come around once a week. I felt that system worked for me. I felt it worked very well. There was essentially no administration. The students themselves in the senior grades, grades 7 and 8, took on somewhat of the mantle of administration, and certainly took on the role of teaching. When I arrived and was learning how to read in grade 1 or grade 2, students in grade 6 or 7 would sit down with me, tutor me and teach me how to read and how to spell. A number of years later, when I was in grade 7 and grade 8, I would be assigned a much younger student every day and would spend part of my day in that one-room school as a teacher. We made it work. As students, we ran the school; we took responsibility for the school. In many ways, when I think of it now, I think the teacher was there essentially as a consultant.
When I consider the sad closure of Seneca Unity -- I just use this particular school as an example of a number of schools that are closing across rural Ontario. Seneca's closure comes little more than a year after the Minister of Education declared what many refer to as the much ballyhooed "moratorium" on school closures. As far as Seneca Unity, that moratorium wasn't worth the paper it was written on. That place will have the windows boarded up with plywood and the doors will be locked.
As I mentioned at the outset, the same education opportunities we are talking about this evening and legislating for the children of families of very recent arrivals to our province are fast fading for many students in many of the far-flung communities in the back roads in rural Ontario, in part due to a lack of action to protect our schools by this government. At the time of the moratorium, at that announcement, at that election campaign, I was certainly cautious in any optimism that I saw in people that this would save our schools, for what it would mean for those of us who know the real challenges of keeping these rural and small schools operating, schools that are operating now in an environment of trade unionism that I certainly didn't see when I was going to school in the 1950s and 1960s.
As a former high school teacher, I was a member of OSSTF, an association. There were no walkouts, there were no strikes. There was no law that would permit us, as secondary school teachers, to work to rule. I'm suggesting that there are some added administration costs in addition to the money allocated for wages and benefits.
I guess the bottom line for me is, despite the promises of a moratorium on rural school closures and enhanced funding, the situation does remain bleak for many of Ontario's rural schools. Caledonia's Seneca Unity is the latest area school to face the reality of closure. The doors won't open in September.
Again, as I did as a member of the previous PC government, I call on the current Liberal regime to continue with your declaration, continue with your moratorium on closure, and continue to allocate that additional resource to our rural schools before many more are lost.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mrs. Julia Munro (York North): I certainly want to comment on the remarks made by the member for Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant. One of the things that was referenced in his comments was the whole issue of rural school closings and the shift in population. I think this is something that deserves very serious attention.
I know the current government has made the decision to freeze those closures, but I think that while doing so there's an opportunity to look at different methods of delivery. There is an opportunity to look at the long-term effects of population changes. I would suggest it would be in everyone's best interests if they were to look very closely at those kinds of things, because obviously there is an extremely important role for those community schools. I think there are opportunities to be a little more creative. By having the moratorium on the freezing, this is an opportunity for the government to look at how to be more creative and maintain those opportunities for children in rural Ontario.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments? There being none -- oh, I'm sorry. The member for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.
Mr. John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke): I'm going to have to get rid of this cloaking device. That's the second time today that I've been deemed to be invisible, so we're going to have to do something about that.
Thank you very much for allowing me to speak to this Bill 194 that we're talking about this evening. I'm going to have the opportunity, I believe, to speak in a little more detail on it and other aspects of education, schools, school funding, rural funding, transportation funding and education in general as this debate progresses.
Let me say I was a little surprised to be doing this bill this evening because it was my understanding that we were going to be doing a transportation bill, Bill 169. But apparently the government is doing some kind of manoeuvring at this point. I'm not sure what the end-game is or what the plan is, but they're changing things in midstream to try to put people off.
In fact, it seems that they're not even putting up speakers as debate progresses. The minister only did a short lead. He is allocated an hour, as you know, Mr. Speaker. There's no need for me to tell you. You know all the rules, of course. But the minister is allowed an hour to do a leadoff on a bill as important as Bill 194, the Education Amendment Act. The Premier calls himself the education Premier and must feel that the minister is the best person in the province to handle the education file, yet he doesn't even want to stand up for more than a few minutes to support his own legislation.
We will have the opportunity to speak in a little more detail later on in the evening. I'm sure that the member for Perth-Middlesex will remain here and will not leave his seat until such time as I've had that opportunity, so I'm looking forward to it.
Mr. Mike Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence): It's very clear here that it's sometimes difficult to understand who's making the decisions in the official opposition. We are getting changing --
Mr. Ted Chudleigh (Halton): Look over in the corner there.
Mr. Colle: Which corner? I'm not sure.
Mr. Chudleigh: Over here.
Mr. Colle: I'm just looking --
The Deputy Speaker: Order.
Mr. Colle: It seems that every five minutes in the House this week there have been different people making leadership decisions or a lack of leadership decisions over there, and I really wonder who is in charge.
But anyway, getting to the bill, as we must, this is a bill for the benefit of Ontario students, whether they're new Canadians, whether they're new arrivals. It's a bill that's going to help people who, right now, are not being helped, and that is why the Minister of Education has put this bill forward.
I think all three parties agree that the content of this bill is a no-brainer. It's for the benefit of all of our constituents, and we agree. In fact, I think the member from Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant made a good point. He said, "I think the federal government should also be paying their fair share or giving back our fair share of our own Ontario taxpayer money so we can help all of Ontario's students." We feel they're being shortchanged by what's happening with the equalization payments.
This bill should proceed. It's good public policy. It helps children right across the province of Ontario, from Wawa to Windsor, from Thorold to Thunder Bay. Let's get on and do it. I think the Minister of Education is quite clear, he's ready to debate as long as you want, but we also have had a process here and we want to get on and do the business of the people of Ontario. We're ready to do that. I just wish the opposition would make up its mind who's in charge over there.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments?
Mr. Chudleigh: This House is full of surprises, and today was no exception. We came to work today fully prepared to debate the transportation bill. Here we are this evening debating the Education Amendment Act. Those kinds of rapid changes that happen in this place are of great concern to many of us.
There is no agreement attached to third reading of this bill. I think the government of the day, and certainly the backbench members of this government, should understand that although this bill will pass during this session of the Legislature, and it will probably pass with unanimous consent, this bill will not pass tonight. I think you have to understand that a majority government does not constitute a dictatorship, and a dictatorship in Ontario doesn't occur.
Mr. Chudleigh: No, it doesn't. I take issue with my friend from Welland-Thorold.
Mr. Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre): You've been here since 1995.
Mr. Chudleigh: Yes, I've been here since 1995, and I well understand that for the vast --
The Deputy Speaker: Order. I feel a little left out of the conversation.
Mr. Chudleigh: Mr. Speaker, for the vast majority of the time that I've spent in this House, it has been brought to my attention time and time again that a majority does not constitute a dictatorship. If the government wishes to change their mind, change their bills, then the government House leader is going to have to pay the price for those rapid changes which put the opposition at an extreme disadvantage. That disadvantage manifests itself in the kinds of things we're going to see existing in this House tonight. It's too bad. It's not a good way to govern, it's not the right way to govern and it's unfortunate.
One thing that did happen this evening is that the Minister of Education was making his comments and he was cut short. I would move that --
The Deputy Speaker: Another thing that happened is -- I'm sorry.
Mr. Chudleigh: I would move for unanimous consent to allow the Minister of Education to complete his comments on his opening statement.
The Deputy Speaker: The member from Halton has asked that the minister be allowed to complete his comments. Is there unanimous consent? I heard a no.
Hon. Rick Bartolucci (Minister of Northern Development and Mines): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker: Just to ensure that the record is correct, I wouldn't want to think --
The Deputy Speaker: No. Whose record are you correcting? Yours?
The Deputy Speaker: I'm afraid you can only correct your own record, so that's not a point of order.
The member for Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant has two minutes to reply.
Mr. Barrett: I welcome the opportunity to reply to -- there were some comments on my presentation. The point I wanted to make was that the past year and a half has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for parents, in particular, in rural Ontario, teachers, obviously the students and the community supporters of these very small schools. In my area they witnessed a relatively hard-fought election campaign, and it was a campaign where commitments were made. This government was victorious and the people in the community look forward to the fulfillment of a number of election promises. The one promise -- and I know this was in documents -- was "a moratorium on rural school closings." I read this quote in the context of about a week from now --
Hon. Mr. Kennedy: You guys closed 250 rural schools.
Mr. Barrett: I will maybe remind the Minister of Education, who was not in the House when I was talking about this, that I will be attending a rural school closing ceremony in the next week or so. I regret that, and I make reference to -- I don't know whether the Liberals have eliminated this Web site or not: www.ontarioliberal.ca. I'd ask the Minister of Education to look this up. The title is, "McGuinty to Save Rural Schools." McGuinty didn't do an awful lot for Seneca Unity, and the Minister of Education across the way obviously didn't lift a finger to save Seneca Unity either. I suggest to you, sir, that you are the victim of a toothless moratorium. You don't seem to have the wherewithal to enforce it yourself.
Mr. Kormos: Speaker, I seek unanimous consent for the lead comments by our education critic, Rosario Marchese, the member for Trinity-Spadina, to be held down until the next sessional day on which this bill is called for third reading debate.
The Deputy Speaker: The member has asked for unanimous consent. I think we all heard it. Is there unanimous consent? I heard a no.
The Deputy Speaker: Hey, let's try this all over again, and let's all listen. You heard what he said: unanimous consent for standing down the critic for the third party. Do we have unanimous consent? Agreed.
Mr. Kormos: Thank you to the persons present in this chamber for granting unanimous consent, because Mr. Marchese, as you can well imagine, is anxious and eager to get into this chamber and on to this floor to use his one hour to speak to Bill 194. You heard his comments on second reading and those of Mr. Prue, the member for Beaches-East York. Mr. Prue's comments warrant some special consideration, because the member for Beaches-East York, as many of us know, has a special professional background in the area of immigration and immigration law. I treat Mr. Prue, the member for Beaches-East York, and his comments with respect to Bill 194 with some considerable weight and value.
The crux is the cost. No school board denies access to a kid lightly, knowing full well that whatever things that kid's parent has done that brings that child into Canada, into Ontario, which are perhaps capable of being subject to judgment, are certainly not the error, the sin or the omission of the child.
Let's understand that this law is very clear and this amendment is very clear about the categories of persons whose children are entitled to education. They talk about people who are here on a work visa. That means a person who is legitimately in the country. One of the examples might be of people doing nanny or child care work, who have their own children. Clearly, we don't want to deny that child who should properly be in a classroom from being in a classroom.
In the course of examining the bill, we talked about a temporary resident permit issued under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. We talked about somebody claiming refugee protection. Again, it's the child who is suffering, should that child not be in a classroom where that child properly belongs.
I think Canadians and Ontarians believe that those children should be accorded that opportunity. That's a good thing; it's a reasonable thing. But it comes down to the cost, and there are parts of the province that are going to be harder impacted than others. Toronto is certainly going to be heavily impacted -- down where I come from, in Niagara region, where we have huge new Canadian populations, people arriving there, and new Canadians with any number of designations, including the designations described in this bill, with children. The problem is that our school boards are already hard-pressed to fund quality education and are continuing to have to scrimp and save and do without essentials. They're going to be hard-pressed to absorb this cost.
New Democrats have been very clear: We support the legislation, but in conjunction with our support for this legislation we, like so many others in this chamber, call for the province to come up to the plate and fulfill its responsibility for funding. The province has clearly downloaded this responsibility on to municipal boards of education. In conjunction with that, the province has to accept responsibility for the funding required.
I appreciate this opportunity at third reading. The bill has been debated at length at second reading. I appreciate this opportunity at third reading to indicate NDP support for this legislation, and I reiterate: New Democrats will be standing in this House, on behalf of their own constituencies or others, calling for adequate funding to flow as a result of this bill, but we insist that funding has to accompany this obligation being imposed on boards of education.
The Deputy Speaker: Questions and comments? Further debate? Is there anyone who wishes to speak further on this?
Mr. Kennedy has moved third reading of Bill 194, An Act to amend the Education Act. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.
All those in favour, say "aye."
All those opposed, say "nay."
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Call in the members. This will be a 30-minute bell.
Pursuant to standing order 28(h), I have received a request that the vote on the motion by Mr. Kennedy on Bill 194 be deferred until deferred votes on May 19, 2005. It's signed by the chief government whip.
Hon. Mr. Bartolucci: I move adjournment of the House.
The Deputy Speaker: It's been moved that we have adjournment of the House. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
This House is adjourned until 10 of the clock on Thursday, May 19.
The House adjourned at 1928.