Ontario cuts to classes show problems with two-tier services

While families with children in public schools have to hope for the best, wealthy families who are sending their children to private schools will be able to avoid the effect of the Progressive Conservatives decision to cut the number of classes.

Ottawa (18 Sept. 2020) — When the Progressive Conservative government in Ontario chose to cut the number of in-school classes, instead of making classes smaller, most parents were outraged. The number of children taking classes online this fall provided an opportunity to make in-school classes smaller and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in schools. Instead, the Progressive Conservatives used the opportunity to cut the number of classes.

At the same time as the Progressive Conservatives were putting cutting costs ahead of safety, the private schools that many children of wealthy families attend were putting additional safety measures in place. While families with children in public schools have to hope for the best, wealthy families who are sending their children to private schools will be able to avoid the effect of the Progressive Conservatives decision to cut the number of classes.

What is happening to education in Ontario takes place all too often when the wealthy are able to avoid the consequences of cuts and under-funding by buying services privately. And if it is happening with a service as important as education, we can be certain that it will happen in our health care system if the operators of for-profit clinics succeed in the Cambie case.

Private schools allow the wealthy to opt out of the public education system

Private school fees for one child can be as much as $62,524 per child per year. That’s more than the median family income in Canada. For low- and middle-income Canadians, the public school system is the only affordable option.

That’s not the case for the wealthy. If cuts and underfunding undermine the quality and safety of the public school system, they can afford to send their children to private schools.

Cambie case decision agreed that wealthy are less supportive of public services when there are private alternatives

When private alternatives exist, the wealthy are less likely to want to support public services with their taxes. That's true whether its health care, education or other public services.

In the Cambie case, the judge found that "there is some evidence to suggest that a potential long-term effect of duplicative private healthcare is to undermine the willingness of individuals who would benefit most from the private system to fund the public system through taxation."

The decision of the Ontario government to reduce the number of classes in the public education system, even though it will increase the danger to children, shows what happens when the willingness of the wealthy to fund the public system is undermined. Because they can send their children to private schools, the 1% don't have the same stake in the public education system as low- and middle-income Canadians. If the failure to reduce class sizes means that COVID-19 spreads rapidly in public schools, their families won't be directly affected.

Individuals most identified with cutting corners in the public system went to private schools

While there are many individuals educated at private schools, or who send their children to private schools, who do care about the public system, all too often the fact the wealthy are able to opt out of the public system results in decisions that put saving money ahead of the needs and safety of children.

It will shock no one that 2 of the individuals most identified with decisions to cut corners on safety in public schools — Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney — attended private schools.

If private for-profit clinics win Cambie case, health care will suffer

While the British Columbia Supreme Court dismissed the challenge to medicare by for-profit clinics, the Cambie case is not over. It, it is safe to assume that the decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. If the for-profit clinics win at the Supreme Court, as what is happening with education in Ontario shows, it will be the beginning of a two-tier system where the wealthy can afford quality treatment and the rest of us have to hope for the best.

 

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE