Archive for category Ontario Politics
(Ontario Ombudsman Taking A Hands Off Approach To Systemic Issues With Ontario’s School Boards)
Just as the Ministry of Education’s probe of more mishandling of public funds at the York Region District School Board becomes clearer, the Ontario Ombudsman has sent a strong message to tax payers that it will not comment on the lack of systemic investigations into the education sector.
In a response to questions this blog sent into the Ombudsman’s office outlining several concerns of those that have written into this office over the past two years, spokesperson Lina Williamson had this to offer:
Your email asks our office to comment on complaints and issues in a public forum (your blog). Due to the confidentiality of our process, this would not be appropriate. We invite you and any parents with whom you are in contact who have unresolved issues with school boards to contact us through our confidential complaint process (more info at this link):
Williamson also has a message for parents of special needs kids that have complained into the office and feel that the Ombudsman isn’t taking the issues seriously:
[Their] allegations that the Ombudsman has not been tackling issues that matter to Ontarians are unfounded and contrary to the facts. The Ombudsman and his team are deeply committed to enhancing governance in the public sector by promoting transparency, accountability, and fairness. We do that by resolving more than 21,000 complaints and inquiries every year in the most efficient manner and at the lowest level possible. In fact, 80% of cases are resolved within two weeks. In the 19 months since his appointment, Ombudsman Paul Dubé has published two Annual Reports, reported on 47 investigations of closed municipal meetings, and published five reports on systemic investigations, calling for policy and procedure reforms in police training, the placement and tracking of inmates in solitary confinement, supports and services for adults with developmental disabilities, and most recently, the provision of school busing services in Toronto. All of the Ombudsman’s 161 recommendations in these investigations have been accepted, and the organizations in question have pledged to implement them.
The office seems to be deeply concerned about transparency, accountability, and fairness just not within the education sector or for children with disabilities this sector serves. With respect to the Ombudsman’s mandate, Williamson had this to offer:
As is typical of a Parliamentary Ombudsman, we are an office of last resort. The Ombudsman is appointed by an all-party committee of the Legislature (not by the government), is impartial (not an advocate), and is completely independent of government, all political parties and interest groups. Anyone with questions is welcome to contact us through our website or at 1-800-263-1830.
Finally, our office recommends all school boards and municipalities have independent integrity commissioners. This is a widely recognized best practice, as local accountability mechanisms within the communities they serve can usually resolve complaints and issues more efficiently (the province recently amended legislation to require all municipalities to have an integrity commissioner by March 2019). The Ombudsman does not replace local accountability officers, but can take complaints about them.
Once again, anyone who has an issue with a school board or other public sector body within our mandate is encouraged to contact us through our confidential online form, complaints phone line, or by emailing email@example.com/
UPDATED: 11/9/2017 7:15pm
In the quest for transparency, I’ve followed up with the Ombudsman’s office regarding their responses. There’s been some back and forth since the original posting. Here’s what has transpired:
JK: The allegations surrounding your office not tackling the issues in the education sector, are not my own. Those allegations come from those who have directly complained to your office and are being referred back to their respective boards for complaint resolution. Your response below to questions regarding a specific mandate the Ombudsman has on the education sector, seems to be more generalized. Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved? Can you please clear that up.
LW: “Are you stating on the record here, that the reason why the Ombudsman hasn’t followed through with SORT investigations into the education sector, is because those complaints that have come into your office regarding school boards have been resolved?”
No. First, the Ombudsman has done a SORT (systemic) investigation in the school board sector: The report The Route of the Problem was released in August, and all of Mr. Dubé’s recommendations were accepted. It can be found here: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Investigations/SORT-Investigations/Completed/Toronto-school-busing-issues.aspx
Second, we cannot discuss individual cases with third parties. To reiterate, anyone who has a problem that they have been unable to resolve at the school board level is welcome to contact our office through our confidential complaint process.
For your general information, we oversee more than 1,000 public sector bodies and receive more than 21,00 complaints per year. Most are resolved informally. Receiving multiple complaints on an issue does not necessarily mean the Ombudsman can, should or will conduct a systemic investigation. Several factors go into any decision to conduct a systemic investigation, including the number of complaints, available resources, whether other resolution mechanisms can address the matter, whether there is evidence of a systemic issue, whether the matter relates to administration rather than broad public policy, and whether is being addressed by the institution in question.
JK: I’m not asking you to comment on individual cases, just systemic issues that your office should be aware of through individual complaints, and media reports. While I congratulate this office for ensuring school children get to school on time in an isolated incident within the province, I’m more than curious to see such a reluctance to put forth investigations on what happens when these kids get to school, the lack of support for special needs, the lack of application of the education act systemically, and a general lack of accountability within the school system itself. These issues are not just widely known to your office through individual reports, they are widely documented in media.
There’s no valid excuse for not following your mandate when it comes to the education sector. It’s truly unfortunate that our most vulnerable are caught in the middle and paying a heavy price due to the unwillingness to further, and independently investigate. That will surely reflect on policy discussions as it comes to any future mandates your office will or will not receive by government post 2018. The lack of engagement by your office on education issues over the past two years has been duly noted by Ontarioians who have written in to your office for help and have been slapped in the face by this office, and their respective boards. It’s unfortunate.
JK: While the discussion revolves around recent issues, I’ve attached a response this office gave to 400 individual complaints in 2010, in which your office has outlined concerns regarding the lack of independent oversight on the education sector. There has been very little movement in law regarding those concerns since 2010 other than your mandate. As a result the education system is in crisis, with our most vulnerable taking most of the hits in the classroom. I’ve attached this offices 2010 response, and I’ve highlighted what should be self-explanatory. Your office is fully and completely aware of the problems. While I know that your office can not comment on these 400 individual complaints, it will make for some interesting public discussions around your mandate moving forward. I’m still waiting for an interview with Dupe. The people of Ontario would like to hear directly from him on his mandate and the independence of this office please.
What has your experience been with the Ombudsman’s office, and the school boards? We would like to hear from you. Leave a comment, or message us anonymously at jkobopoli at rogers dot com
(CUPE Says Money Should Go To Its Members Rather Than Autistic Kids)
CUPE who is the union representing educational assistants (EA) in the province of Ontario released a press release this week in which it has lambasted the provincial government for piloting a project which will allow autistic kids to receive privately purchased therapy to be administered in public schools. CUPE says by doing this would open the door to privately funded education, and that its current members are not qualified to handle special needs students despite millions that have been negotiated in front line workers with the province over recent years.
As part of its revamp of Autism services in Ontario the provincial government is expected in the next few months to allow families a choice to purchase Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for kids with autism privately or go through publicly funded Centre’s. This move by the province to offer a private option paid for by the province is expected to reduce wait times for this needed therapy.
The move by the province to pilot a project to allow privately purchased workers to administer this therapy in school would be a necessity to the success of students receiving that therapy at the choice of the families, and lighten the load on parents who often have had to drive autistic kids to and from these appointments, often in separate cities in which the these children are being educated in and miss days at work. CUPE on the other hand thinks that the province should shell out that money to retrain EA’s across the province, rather than give parents a choice or say in their child’s therapy:
“We represent 13,000 Educational Assistants who work hard, with other Board employees and parents, to develop and deliver individualized educational programs to assist students with multiple challenges, including those with autism,” said Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “They are deeply concerned by any initiative that opens the door to the privatization of those critical services in our schools.”
Parents of children with special needs, including children with autism, have every right to expect they can walk into their local school and receive the services their children need, fully funded and publicly provided,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “They shouldn’t have to worry about securing outside funding, finding a private provider or paying out of their own pockets, to ensure their children succeed at school. That is the responsibility of the government and instead of just abdicating their role to private operators, they should be properly funding and providing all the necessary services students with special needs require.”
The ABA therapy these kids will be receiving will most likely be publicly funded as part of the new Ontario Autism Program. Terri Preston, Chair of the CUPE Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee essentially stated in this bizarre press release from CUPE that the union negotiated $52 million from the province for front line workers recently, who by admission of this press release are not qualified enough to be working with special needs kids in our public schools, and the government must pay for unqualified staff to get degrees in behavior analysis (which is a two year full time university course at Brock University):
“As education workers, we know students with special needs need more front-line staff support,” said Preston. “It’s why, in contract extension talks with the government, we negotiated $52 million over two years to increase front-line staff working with students with special needs. Even with those hard-won investments, more support is needed for students with a variety of complex needs and that’s why the government needs to finally conduct a long-overdue funding formula review.”
The press release gets a hell of a lot weirder as you read on. In its closing remarks after blasting the government for allowing parents a choice and complaining that its membership is under-qualified to support kids with special needs ended the press release with this statement:
“Many of us already have ABA training or incorporate ABA principles into our work with students,” said Laura Walton, an Educational Assistant who is also Vice-Chair of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee. “Educational Assistants are constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge, often at their own expense, so any funded training opportunities are always welcome. We have been asking the government to ensure Educational Assistants, and all board employees who work to address the complex needs of our students, have access to an array of professional development opportunities, including ABA training.”
Wouldn’t working with privately funded ABA therapists which I would think would be the goal of the government here, be more beneficial to both their own members and the students they serve? Wouldn’t that give EA’s workplace experience in ABA working alongside these therapists? Where’s the outrage from CUPE that university or college programs educating future EA’s are not required under law to ensure an extensive ABA training? After a $52 million investment from the province in front line EA workers to support special needs, why is the province agreeing with CUPE to hire unqualified staff in a $52 million negotiation in the first place? In our view it should not be the position of the province or tax payer to front the bill for unqualified staff. Simply hiring qualified staff would be a better more economical option, or better yet CUPE can pick up that tab.
The problem that exists right now in the education system is one where there is money in the system, but it’s not getting to the students that need it. There’s no accountability in the education system right now. From this press release, it sounds that CUPE wants to be showered again with government coffers, while the rights of special needs kids in the system are yet again pitted against the needs of education sector unions. For its part, in its press release CUPE blames successive Liberal and PC governments for the lack of supports in our school system, yet falls short on criticizing the NDP who have yet to come out with a platform recognizing the lack of accountability the public education system is currently facing right now – the lives that have already been lost across the province to due education sector unions ignoring student mental health issues – the full time battles parents of kids of all levels have had to deal with as a result of these unions – yet we continue to shove money down the throats of this unaccountable system in hopes it gets better. $52 million CUPE negotiated went towards unqualified staff. When will the rights of all students in Ontario be put before union demands, and when will we have an accountable public education system?
A new poll conducted by Ipsos found that 76% of Ontarians want a new party in the Ontario Legislature in 2018. The Ontario Liberals have long ignored calls from people across the province and from members of their own party that current leader and premier Kathleen Wynne needs to be ousted and people want change. Are the Liberals now poised to recreate the mistakes of the Democrats south of the border with Hillary Clinton in ignoring calls for a change election?
Last week TVO’s Agenda aired a one on one interview with Wynne. Steve Paikin didn’t mince words, and put Wynne on the hot seat from everything from Hydro, to Green Energy, to her unpopularity across the province, and calls for her to step down. Wynne’s responses seemed rather tone deaf to a lot of the concerns of most people in Ontario, and she didn’t seem rather confident in her prospects post 2018.
Wynne over the past few months has been focusing the party more towards the left. She has been trying to move people over from the NDP over to the Liberals in policies such as free tuition, and a $15/hour minimum wage hike, however that may be of more benefit to the NDP come election time as Wynne’s personal popularity has plumbed and people are looking for change.
Ipsos currently puts the PC’s upfront at 39%, Liberals at 32%, and the NDP at 22%. The PC’s out of all the major parties have risen quite a bit of money for 2018. The big problem is with its leadership. No one truly knows what Patrick Brown stands for on policy other than opposing Wynne on everything she does. He often takes up popular movements, only after the popular movement has died down. He’s not a family man, and no kids. The party has also been plagued with infighting in nomination races, with accusations of corruption and ballot stuffing. We’ve been following Brown on a number of policy fronts over the past year, and we think that the more people get to know him, the more people will discover that Brown’s PCs will be too much of a risk to take since by all accounts the party and the leadership looks unstable under his rein.
The biggest beneficiary to a change election could be the Ontario NDP. The only people that have their arms up over Wynne’s leftist moves in policy are the traditional PC hardcore base. Liberal and NDP voters are likely to vote NDP next election due to this being a change election. It would be a very hard sell to see Liberal voters voting for Brown in next election. The move to the left by Wynne in policy will likely gravitate Liberal voters who are upset with Wynne over to the NDP.
Another big factor is an aging demographic, and health care. Boomers who have been supporters of the PC’s in the past do remember the Harris cuts to health care. With the PC’s vaguely calling for a value for money audit on all government ministries, this screams of cuts to services. Who determines the value for each ministry, and how will that be decided is quite a mystery at present. Millennials are now the main demographic in Ontario and are more than likely to vote on the left. A low voter turn out usually benefits conservatives, which is unlikely in a change election.
Traditionally when Liberals are in power federally, Ontario goes PC. The problem is that tradition in politics globally and also across the country is no longer exists. Free tuition, and drug plans are to be a big hit with the Millennials in which both the NDP and Liberals have adopted in policy. With Ipsos polling NDP Leader Andrea Horwath as the most supported for premier in 2018 at 42%, one can probably expect Ontario will be Orange in June of 2018.
(Businesses Across Ontario Are Being Too Penny Wise With The Proposed Wage Increase)
Scary clowns are a big hit these days at the box office, and while the people of Ontario get acquainted with a clown called Pennywise from the latest version of Stephen Kings IT, the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario [FAO] is warning tax payers and job seekers of another scary metamorph; a proposed minimum wage hike of $15/hour. This increase is set to be fully implemented by 2019 and came under fire yesterday in a report from the FAO. The FAO stated that it will cost the Ontario economy 50,000 jobs if it goes ahead with this wage hike.
It’s not a surprise that businesses – whom over the past several years have enjoyed a tremendous amount of federal tax breaks – are lining up to oppose this policy and demonizing it as being economically unsound. Ontario Progressive Conservatives leader Patrick Brown had something to say about it as well, however he brushed off the wage increase a distraction in a bizarre rant on twitter, and Brown isn’t clear on his stance on the policy at all and what he would do differently if he became Premier:
— Patrick Brown (@brownbarrie) September 12, 2017
Brown seems very comfortable in the opposition benches. Offside of the very off tone Ontario PC response, there seems to be a lot of red balloons around the economic storm drains on this policy and it isn’t even Halloween yet.
Since the market crash of 2008, we’ve been shifting from traditional conservative economic ideology (which failed miserably) towards one of managing the economy on several different levels in a bi-partisan way. Corporate tax cuts have not produced substantial jobs in Canada, in fact the opposite has happened. A study by the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives in 2011 found the biggest employers were sitting on the money they saved from these cuts:
“From 2005 to 2010, the number of employed Canadians rose 6% while the number of jobs created by the companies in the study grew by only 5%. In essence, the largest beneficiaries of corporate tax cuts are dragging down Canadian employment growth.”
In 2013, federal conservatives were warned by then Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney that Canadian companies were sitting on vast sums of cash they have saved through tax cuts, and bail outs rather than creating jobs to bolster the economy. As I remember it Carney stated this several times throughout his time at the Bank of Canada. While company CEO bonuses grew, so did the economic divide in Canada and in Ontario as well as a result of businesses not investing what they should in the local, regional, and federal economies. The economy has changed post 2008 not just in Canada but globally, and managing this economy has changed as well.
If the cost of living is high throughout the country and the province, than a minimum wage increase to ensure people have the means to survive should be something we all should be embracing patriotically. Businesses will adjust. Yes there may be some job losses (in my opinion way less the FAO has reported will happen) in the short term by companies who are not willing to spend profit margins on their employees, however just as those jobs are lost, they will be offset by more spending power by the general worker. As the minimum wage increases, so should increases to everyone’s wage as the economy grows as a result of more spending power. At least that would be the working economic theory on this policy. The wage increase is cycled through the economy. Employees who make more, become more productive and contribute more to the economy on whole. With many people in Ontario living paycheque to paycheque, and the fact that over the past several years businesses have sat on cash from tax cuts, they can suck it up and do their part.
The Ontario NDP has been calling for this wage hike for some time. This ideology was also adapted by conservatives who bailed out auto sectors, and bailed out the economy through “stimulus” after the disastrous effects of traditional conservative ideology of deregulation and corporate tax cuts took hold in 2008. Change is difficult, but necessary post 2008 economics. Greed is no longer good economics, nor is it socially acceptable post 2008.
(Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath Could Be the Strongest Leader In Contention For 2018)
With the next provincial election coming into view in Ontario, have the Liberals made a fatal mistake on keeping Kathleen Wynne at the helm? Recent polls put Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown up front, however many don’t know what he stands for besides opposing the current government, and the PC’s base in Ontario are widely viewed as far right Donald Trump supporters, rather than progressives. Could Ontario see a collapse of the right in 2018, and the NDP climb to power under a protest vote against, both the PC’s and Liberals?
The NDP in Ontario under Andrea Horwath have been pretty upfront over the past few years, including putting out some of their platform for the Ontario 2018 election which includes a universal pharmacare plan in Ontario. The major voting demographic in Ontario are the millennials, which far surpass the aging boomer population and are more left leaning in their voting tendencies. Over the past few months the Wynne Liberals have been trying to occupy some of the NDP’s platforms by instituting pharma and dental care for kids in Ontario. They’ve also instituted free tuition for lower income students, and piloted a guaranteed basic income project, all of which come from the left side of the political spectrum to try and win over those votes.
Wynne is banking on a few things to secure her win in 2018. The fact Brown is not a strong leader, and she’ll bring up memories of the health care cuts under Harris, which will be an attempt to move the aging boomer vote towards the Liberals. Brown also has had to deal with issues over infighting for local nominations for the party, and has been tone deaf on a lot of the issues the people of Ontario are faced with until they end up in the media. He often jumps on popular movements far too late, and takes credit for sticking it to the Wynne Liberals. We saw this during the autism movement where Brown in question period for three weeks during the parent’s protests, not once brought up any support for that movement. He recently claimed victory for parents stating that he fought for extra money from the province for autistic kids and won. Over the past year, things have got worse not better for these kids, and we haven’t seen any new money flow from Wynne, instead we’ve seen cuts to support, funding for special needs education cut, and wait lists that have grown substantially from what seemingly looks like a “net zero” approach to pay off 2,100 families waiting for services in June of last year.
Wynne is also banking on making an argument that Ontario can’t afford Horwath, and bring back big bad memories of former premier Bob Rae, which is an argument that is pretty much mute since Wynne is trying to occupy the NDP platform, and to many millennials Rae is a Liberal. Horwath is nicknamed the “Hamilton Scrapper”. Over the past few elections Horwath has had to deal with the ghost of Rae, which has overshadowed a lot of her strengths. Horwath when she sat on Hamilton City Council was a super star in her riding. She fought vigorously for the people and businesses she represented, and got things done. Not just done, but done correctly and fast. If Horwath can shake the ghosts of leaders past, and come out swinging, she’ll be the only leader that will look strong from the three traditional parties on that stage come 2018.
Brown for his part will not just have an image problem because he is tone deaf, but will have a very hard time shaking off Trump when the failure of that movement could come to a head in the US during our provincial election. With a lot of Canadians paying attention to how Russia was involved in developing fake news, and directing fake social media accounts to push the alt-right into the White House, it’s going to be very difficult for Brown to run an effective social media campaign.
For Wynne, this is a change election heading into 2018. With the Liberals in power now for over 14 years, and the people of Ontario reminded almost weekly about mismanagement, its going to be a very uphill battle to sell that change isn’t needed and Ontario needs to stay on its current course. For its part the Liberal Party in Ontario, may have made a grave mistake in leaving Wynne at the helm during a “change” election.
Jason Koblovsky is a freelance political and policy analyst, and syndicated political blogger commenting on Ontario, Canadian and US Politics. He is also a senior writer and contributor to Mind Bending Politics. If you would like to have your Op-Ed featured on Mind Bending Politics, send submissions to jkobopoli at rogers dot com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14th, 2017
TORONTO – The parents of several autistic kids will be rallying at Minister Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau’s constituency office on Friday, June 16th, 2017 at 1:00pm. Parents are concerned that transitional services over the past year to the new Ontario Autism Program have not been equally distributed, leaving many children suffering. Last week Coteau announced changes to the Ontario Autism Program, and that it will include a direct funding option (DFO). Last June, the DFO option was only given to a few families on wait lists, leaving many children suffering without appropriate service options over the past year. The announcement last week by Coteau did promise DFO to all families by the end of the year, however details on how that will be rolled out, and exactly when each family can expect that option remains unclear.
Jason Koblovsky, a parent of an autistic child has witnessed first-hand the suffering of his son as a result of the government not offering appropriate transitional services to a majority of families affected by Autism over the past year. “Quite simply, you cannot accommodate some with transitional support to the new Ontario Autism Program, and leave the rest of us hanging like this, which is what has happened over the past year.” Koblovsky said. “There is nothing available for my son who has been waiting, and who has had an extremely rough year with behavioral issues. All I have been offered as transitional support are group “workshops” in which due to my family situation I can’t even get to. My son needed the same access to ABA as those who have received DFO over the past year. The decision last June to provide “some” families with appropriate transitional support and not all represents a major lack of understanding on what our kids go through on a day to day basis without support, and a lack of understanding on how wrong that decision was, which continues to this day by this government. My patience has run out.”
Another parent Angelina Palmisano had to also watch her son suffer as a result of the lack of appropriate supports stated: “For over a year I heard promises from the government. My child has not had any early intervention. EVER! But the government has now decided to accommodate a small demographic of children and leave out a large portion of children out. The turmoil it has caused me watching my son struggle with behaviors that are severe, is unbelievable and the future scares me.”
Brenna Bloodworth who heads up the Alliance Against The Ontario Autism Program agrees: “Children still left waiting while Direct Funding continues for a minority. That’s not right.”
The rally to support children current suffering and in need of transitional support will get underway on Friday, June 16th, 2017 at 1:00pm. Address 1200 Lawrence Ave East, Toronto.
Minister of Children and Youth Services Micheal Coteau has been a champion of human rights especially in the black community and around racism, but when it comes to autistic kids it may be a different story. Coteau made an announcement yesterday that was very short on detail regarding the roll out of the direct funding option for many Ontario families. I sent an e-mail to Micheal Nicin who is Coteau’s chief of staff today for further followup and clarification on several key issues relating to the transition over the past year, and providing unequal level of services to children and families. E-mail is as follows:
Your ministry appears to be in violation of Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code which states:
- Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 1; 1999, c. 6, s. 28 (1); 2001, c. 32, s. 27 (1); 2005, c. 5, s. 32 (1); 2012, c. 7,
There was a lack of detail in the Ministers response yesterday, that further confirms the government is not acting within the law.
Last June, the government immediately implemented a direct funding option for 2,500 families. I argue the government as a result has waived any legal argument under section 14 of the human rights code due to those services not being equally distributed to other families on the wait list at that time, nor any new adds on the wait list during this transition over the past year. The government also had a legal duty over the past year to accommodate those children on wait lists with equal access to services under the code as well, in which undue hardship would not apply since the Minister during his teleconference a few weeks ago stated to parents that there was money already in the system, and that “Money isn’t the problem.” I also argue that if there was any question regarding capacity going forward that those 2,500 families shouldn’t have been given priority treatment over the past year while others have suffered as a result of not providing them with equal treatment in services (documented), in order to be within full compliance of the law.
Can you please explain to me what is being done to ensure that the Minister and his staff are properly following the law, and exactly what the details are with respect to the roll out of the direct funding option so that all families currently on wait list currently have that option in a reasonable time frame. I require specific details at this time.
I will keep everyone informed of any responses.