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  • mmantha-co

June 21, 2024

Keeping children safe from super hot classrooms a low priority to Doug Ford


I have to say; given all of the conditions and experiences we see with increasing frequency throughout the year, it is hard to fathom how there are still climate change deniers. Yet, according to an international survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, people seem to doubt the existence of any type of human-caused climate change.

Granted, I have a definite bias toward the sensibility of Canadians in general, but I was aghast to learn that studies show that among the top 15 largest emitters of carbon pollution, Canadians are ranked a shocking fourth place, being most likely to dismiss the existence of climate change. Fourth in the world!? We are only exceeded by the USA, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

Unbelievable.

I raise this issue now out of concern for the students and staff working in Ontario schools. According to weather experts, Ontario is being affected by what they call a heat dome. I’m no meteorologist, but my understanding is that the dome traps high-pressure air systems that push warm air downward to the surface. The dome also magnifies the sun’s energy. The result is huge atmospheric domes that cause blistering heat temperatures, drought and wildfires.

And it seems this is a phenomenon that we better get used to.

When we were kids, our classrooms at school were hot and uncomfortable. But conditions back then pale compared to what our children and school staff are experiencing today. In mid-June, Ontario saw temperatures peaking in the 30s and even 40s. Most schools today were built years ago before we even heard of climate change and heat domes. Most don’t have enough windows that open and are large enough to let air flow to cool things down. And the vast majority of Ontario schools don’t have any air conditioning. So our students and school staff are stuck in conditions that we, as kids, never experienced at school.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but more importantly, real risks come with today’s conditions. Of course, academic achievement and learning decline, but worse still, experts say hot classroom conditions pose serious health risks. Today’s conditions cause students and adults to feel lethargic, lack focus and become dehydrated, physically ill or even faint.

Our schools need to be brought up to meet today’s conditions. It is not like we did not see this coming. The issue has been raised repeatedly under both Liberal and Conservative governments with virtually no headway gained. The Ford government has been at the helm long enough to see this danger creeping up on our schools, so they have had time to create a plan and make a substantial dent in the problem.

The new Minister of Education, Todd Smith, was recently asked if the government has plans to install air conditioning in Ontario schools. The response was that since school boards have autonomy over how dollars are spent, it is up to them to assign priorities and address concerns. CTV news reported that a spokesperson for Minister Smith said, “It is the responsibility of the school board to have protocols in place as to how they deal with heat in schools, as well as addressing school renewal needs and requirements. We expect schools to listen to the concerns of parents and needs of students.”

Well, okay, that is fine. But the money has to come from somewhere. All of their funds are already allocated to essential costs and services. So, the only way for the boards to follow the minister’s advice is to rob Peter to pay Paul. In other words, the government has other priorities ahead of the care and health of our children – especially with an election on the horizon.

Environmental controls such as heating and air conditioning are actually an infrastructure concern of importance to everyone. Schools are not only used during the day to teach. They are important hubs of activity, especially in Northern and rural areas like ours. It shouldn’t matter whether a publicly funded school is located in Mississauga, Manitouwadge or Moosefactory; all schools should be treated equally.

Algoma-Manitoulin is currently witnessing a perfect example of boards being forced to make absolutely impossible choices because of funding cuts. The June 13, 2024, issue of the Sault Star, “ADSB warns of possible bus cutbacks, featured an article concerning funding cuts. The board says that about two-thirds of their students ride buses. That is to be expected in Northern and rural communities where distance is a geographic reality. The Ministry’s funding cut to the 2025 – 2026 school year budget means there will be a “significant funding gap.” So, not only is the board facing issues of trying to keep students safe in our schools, but they will also face greater risks in getting our children safely to school.

Let there be no doubt that all of this falls directly at the feet of the Ford government. It has the combination to the vault. It is up to the provincial government to address school safety issues, including infrastructure and getting children to school safely.

It is evident that Premier Ford is content to keep pushing this matter a little further down the line until, God forbid, we see a child or worker suffer an extreme illness, injury or worse due to heat exhaustion. Then, watch the political finger-pointing festival play out.

 The Ford government has demonstrated a pattern of mixed priorities when it comes to protecting and meeting the needs of Ontarians:

  • Favouring developers over the environment in the Greenbelt scandal

  • $225 million payout for an early exit from Beer Store contract

  • Years-long waiting list for publicly funded therapy and support for children with autism

  • Out-of-date Ontario Works and ODSP rates

  • Forcing Northern seniors waiting in hospital for LTC space to move up to 150 km from their community

  • Lack of effective plans and funding to address doctor recruitment – especially in the North

  • Lack of effective plans and funding to address abhorrent hospital emergency department and surgical wait times

And the list could go on.

Undoubtedly, our environmental, atmospheric and meteorological realities are worsening faster than anticipated—the rise in temperatures and catastrophic weather conditions. The Ford government chooses not to step up to the plate to update air quality issues in our schools. How long will Mr. Ford sit back, letting our children experience avoidable health risks – or worse?

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at mmantha-co@ola.org or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha, MPP

Algoma-Manitoulin 

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