The Ontario Liberals offered a stark choice at the top of the provincial election campaign on Wednesday: $10 billion more for schools or Doug Ford’s Highway 413.
The party's leader, Steven Del Duca, said the influx over five years was "more than a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get this right" instead of pushing through a highway that experts say offers little benefit even to those who will use it.
"The commitment that I can make right now is that we as a government will build 200 new schools across Ontario and we will repair what needs to be repaired in 4,500 additional schools," he said during a campaign stop.
The NDP, who had many more seats than the Liberals in the last legislature, countered that the Liberals closed schools when last in power, and pointed to their party's commitment to clear a massive repairs backlog within 10 years.
Del Duca said the redirected funds would also add to technology budgets and reverse Ford’s budget cuts to after-hours community programs in schools, and would strengthen all four of the province's publicly funded school boards (secular and Catholic boards in English and French).
“This is not the right time for us to have a discussion about how we can further undermine or disrupt publicly funded education,” Del Duca said, responding to a question of whether the province should be funding religious education after reports that a recent Grade 8 assignment at an elementary school in Woodstock had students making posters including the phrase "Unborn Babies Matter."
Reproductive rights are protected in Canada, but have been shaken anew in the United States by a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicating it may soon rescind the constitutional right to choose.
Repeatedly noting he is the father of two young daughters (in public education), Del Duca said it was “deeply disturbing and frankly scary” what was happening south of the border and that as premier he would “make clear to everyone, including Catholic school boards, that certain behaviours are not acceptable in a province like ours."
But while a Liberal government would tell Catholic schools and their boards they could no longer compel students to make anti-abortion posters it won’t consider cutting public funding to them, Del Duca said on the first day of the provincial election campaign.
The doctrine of Catholic school boards and Ontario’s human rights code are often in conflict, and boards across the province still wrestle with (or remain silent on) whether to raise the rainbow Pride flag on certain days to support the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer