Opinion

Education minister ignores rural closings

By Jim Merriam

Mitzie Hunter looks on as Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal addresses participants during a consultation on the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) held at the Holiday Inn in Peterborough, Jan. 22, 2015. (Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/Postmedia Network)

Mitzie Hunter looks on as Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal addresses participants during a consultation on the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) held at the Holiday Inn in Peterborough, Jan. 22, 2015. (Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough Examiner/Postmedia Network)

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter packed more bologna than was thought to be humanly possible into a short letter to the editor last week.

To call the letter disingenuous would be a kindness. It was full of unadulterated nonsense.

"Our government remains committed to students in rural Ontario." Some plans to close rural schools involve disrupting student education and busing youngsters as long as 90 minutes a day one way. Some commitment.

The minister goes on to say the government spends $1,000 more for each rural pupil compared to urban pupils. So what? Of course education in rural areas will be more expensive. It's the density thing.

Hunter then detail all the money that has been spent on rural education, the new schools that have been built and schools that have been renovated.

Thanks very much, but what about the schools that have been closed?

Hunter takes on the Ontario Conservative leader for demanding a moratorium on school closings.

Hunter: "We continue to see Patrick Brown's Conservatives wanting to restrict the local decision making power of school boards limiting a board's ability to prioritize student needs.

"He wants the decisions that impact local students and communities to be made at Queen's Park without giving the locally-elected trustees . . . the opportunity to have these important planning conversations."

However, Hunter fails to mention these are decisions within a framework of her ministry's making. Local decisions are dictated by funding models that come right out of her department.

Under those models, local boards close schools or lose money. The bureaucrats who run local boards also fall out of favour with their counterparts at Queen's Park if they don't get on the school closing bandwagon.

Of course, this is all about politics and the provincial election in June 2018. Hunter's Liberals are about as popular in rural Ontario as a drunk at a Women's Christian Temperance Union meeting.

Two schools in the Georgian Bay region have escaped the ministry's guillotine at least temporarily because their communities came up with plans to provide financial help.

Private industry is in involved. Local government is involved. A developer is involved.

Neither Hunter's ministry nor the local school board lifted a finger to help keep these schools open, even though the case for closing them was weak at best.

The fact these two schools have been saved was just announced. Hunter is expected to visit the schools in Paisley and Markdale Wednesday.

No reason for the visit has been announced, but if she claims any credit for her ministry she should be shown the route out of town.

jmerriam@bmts.com