Ontario Premier Doug Ford‘s office responded Monday to claims made by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau regarding the province’s policies on education.
Trudeau was in Mississauga on Sunday to unveil a number of measures he said will help post-secondary students.
During the announcement, Trudeau took aim at Ford by saying, “Education matters to young people across the country, of course, but it’s especially top of mind here in Ontario, as Doug Ford slashes education funding and makes it near impossible to pay for tuition.”
Among the measures announced by Trudeau, one would allow new parents to take an interest-free break from paying off student loans until their youngest child turns five. Mississauga’s University of Toronto campus served as the backdrop for Trudeau’s announcement, an image intended to highlight the contrast between Trudeau’s policies and Ford’s.
Ivana Yelich, a spokesperson with the premier’s office told Global News in an e-mail Monday, “Our government lowered tuition province-wide for the first time ever and gave students more choice over their fees in order to improve affordability across the province.”
“The previous Liberal government promised that their “free” tuition scheme would improve accessibility – yet the Auditor General showed that enrollment stayed virtually flat at colleges and universities – while expenses were expected balloon to over $2 billion, compromising the sustainability of the program for the students who need it for decades to come,” she continued.
The Ford government is taking fire from all sides on education. The government is locked in a bitter labour dispute with 55,000 CUPE educational support workers who launched a work-to-rule campaign Monday. Teacher unions, including the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, are also turning up the pressure by taking aim at Ford’s negotiation tactics.
Trudeau added, “When he was campaigning, Doug Ford said that not a single person would lose their job to pay for his massive cuts. Well, tell that to the 10,000 Ontario teachers who are losing their jobs.”
The claim comes after the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario announced Thursday that Ford’s cuts would lead to 10,000 teaching positions being lost in the province over the next five years if the ministry of education does not change course.
Yelich claimed Monday the numbers are premature.
“Our government has invested more in education than any other provincial government in Ontario. The number the federal leader is referring to is based on positions that do not exist. The data in the Financial Accountability Officer’s report is based on projections from the previous government on class sizes,” she said.
“The fact of the matter is, the Financial Accountability Officer confirmed what we have been saying all along: No teacher will lose their job as a result of our class size policy.”
Trudeau also repeated a familiar talking point about his federal rival Sunday, saying, “You want a proof point of what Andrew Scheer…would do? Look at what Doug Ford has done.”
Sarbjit Kaur, a political strategist with KPW communications, said that Ford’s education policies are hurting Scheer In Ontario.
“The Doug Ford government is associated with Andrew Scheer and the Conservative party of Canada, so anything he does will reflect on the federal party, especially during an election race. The liberals have been warning Canadians that they can expect the same type of policies, cuts, austerity from an Andrew Scheer government and voters are seeing a stark contrast in governing styles, in real time.”
However, Amanda Galbraith with public strategy and communications firm Navigator said, “I don’t think it’s the provincial government’s policies that will influence the election so much as the political climate and the realities of labour negotiations with an incredibly politically active and aggressive teachers union.”
Galbraith also said the move to shuffle former education minister Lisa Thompson out of the portfolio was wise.
“The good news for the federal Tories is there is a very capable communicator in education minister in Stephen Lecce who has been managing this issue, both publicly and privately, quite well. But it’s early days in the negotiation timetable and the election. And this does have the potential to become a major issue in the coming weeks.”
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It has also been pointed out how Sheer has been seen campaigning with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, but has kept his distance from Ford. Aleem Kanji, VP of government relations at Sutherland Corp., told Global News Monday that this may prove to be strategic.
“The contrast to Premier Doug Ford and Jason Kenney will continue on big ticket Provincial files such as health, infrastructure and education” said Kanji. “In the case of Ontario, this may prove to be a tactical strategy for the PM as the province has historically voted one colour party as their Federal and the other as their Provincial representation.
“The ongoing job action by teachers in Ontario is also something the Federal Liberals are going to leverage as a pinch point to shore up voters for the Oct. 21 election.”
—With files from The Canadian Press