By Cole Morrison
I have had 72 hours to ponder on the results of Thursday’s provincial election, as well as the feedback that has come from all sides of the political spectrum. My initial reaction, which seems to be shared with the majority of the left-leaning voters of Ontario, is that the biggest loser coming out of this election is Ontario as a province in itself. That being said, I do not feel this way because this election resulted in Doug Ford being voted back in as our Premier. I do not even feel this way because it resulted in a PC majority government. First and foremost, Ontario lost this election through our voter turnout, which was truthfully embarrassing, coming in at only 43.5 per cent of eligible voters. A record-low for Ontario, the province has never been more poorly represented on a democratic scale. That being said, my belief that Ontario lost this election is primarily based on one aspect that hits a little closer to home for me:
Stephen Lecce is still our Minister of Education.
To clarify, this is by no means a personal attack on Lecce, or even his ideologies as a political figure in our province. What really unsettles me about this result is Lecce’s experience in the educational field, or lack thereof in this case. Lecce has been a full-time politician between the Conservative Party of Canada and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario since he graduated from Western University with a degree in political science. Furthermore, he is the owner of a public relations consultancy firm.
Looking at Lecce’s track record as Minister of Education since he assumed the role in 2019, it leaves a lot to be desired. Lecce sat in compliance when Ford’s legislative assembly announced changes to the provincial budget, which would lead to the cutting of $1.6 billion for educational funding. Furthermore, he backed the increase in standard classroom sizes, which is estimated to cost 10,000 teachers their jobs over the next five years according to The Canadian Press. Not even a career as a public relations consultant could keep Lecce’s public figure in tact from the backlash that he faced from teachers, which led to a united strike from all four teachers’ unions of Ontario. Lecce responded to this by publicly denouncing all four unions as “irresponsible”, which bares a striking similarity to the response former Minister of Education Lisa Thompson had to the walkouts that were occurring in support of teachers’ unions in April of 2019. Lecce replaced Thompson as Minister of Education only two months after her statement.
What astounds me about Lecce’s support of continuing to cut the educational budget is that we are already in the midst of an extreme teacher shortage in Ontario. It has opened the doors to multiple school boards taking in current Bachelor of Education faculty such as myself as emergency supply teachers to cover such a vast shortage. Do not get me wrong, I am grateful for the opportunity to grow my experience as an educator, but is this really a more beneficial alternative to the long-term contracts that we supposedly have to cut to “balance the budget”? Do our students really deserve to have a merry-go-round of unqualified supply teachers rather than one consistent and experienced educator helping them to develop their future?
As a Bachelor of Education student with one year before I can properly enter the educational field, I find myself equally concerned for my own future as I do with the future of our province. If my first year of the Bachelor of Education program has taught me anything, it is that my top priority as an educator is to advocate for the wellbeing and growth of my students. Minister Lecce has shown no interest in advocating for us as educators based upon his history with teachers’ unions, so who is meant to speak on behalf of us? Although the election is still fresh in my mind, I feel as though I have considered international or out-of-province teaching jobs much more seriously than I had beforehand, as I feel as though it is my only chance at feeling a sense of job security as a new teacher.
In case my thoughts on the matter were not clear enough, I am in full belief that the Minister of Education should either be a former teacher or an educational administrator with significant experience in the field. As far as I am concerned, the political party in which this minister is affiliated with is not a concern to me as long as they have first-hand experience within the operations and management of everyday school functions. At this rate, anything is better than having a businessman or a public relations specialist advocating for us as educators. It has been far too long that we as a province have settled for our provincial legislative assembly treating the field of education as a business sector. There should be no quota to meet that takes priority over the development and education of our province’s future.
Bill Gates once said “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids to work together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” If Ford’s legislative assembly can be open-minded enough to stop treating teachers as tools and host one as their Minister of Education, I truly believe that we will see a future where teachers’ unions and provincial government will share similar goals and work together to grow the educational potential of Ontario.