By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
No matter how old you get, this time of year is back to school season.
As an MPP, going back to Queen’s Park is a little like going back to school. My life is much more scheduled and like students, bells ring to call us into the Legislature.
Much like school, and pretty much everything else we do, this fall is a little different.
MPPs are wearing masks. The Speaker has mandated that masks be worn in public areas of Queen’s Park and has encouraged us to wear them in the Legislature any time we are unable to maintain physical distancing.
The public and visitor galleries at the Legislature are closed.
Instead of singing O Canada we are listening to a recording.
One of the changes at the Legislature that I really regret is the fact that the Page Program has been paused. Pages are grade 7 and 8 students who come to Queen’s Park to work in the Legislature for a few weeks. This time last year it was a pleasure to meet Laura Foell from Huntsville and see how excited she was about being in the Legislature, meeting the Premier, the Speaker, Ministers and MPPs. She had a great experience and I am so sorry that there is going to be a cohort of students who miss out on that opportunity.
Normally industry associations and advocacy groups would come to Queen’s Park to meet with as many different MPPs as possible and I would have multiple meetings almost every day.
These meetings have moved online. Last month the Association of Municipalities of Ontario held their annual conference completely online. It was really well organized. I took part in 16 meetings between local municipalities and ministers—more than I have attended at an in person AMO conference.
Changes to school are similar to changes at the Legislature. Students are wearing masks. Many field trips, guest speakers and assemblies won’t happen this year. Some students are learning from home and even for students attending school in person I suspect technology will play a greater role. Unfortunately there are some opportunities that won’t be able to be offered right now because they involve greater risk like travel or large gatherings.
Like everyone else, students, teachers, and parents are adapting. I’ve seen news coverage about students learning to sign O Canada instead of singing it. While the weather allows, classes are happening outside. Parents who can are choosing to drive their children to school to avoid them taking the bus, and some students are taking their classes online.
So this fall I am back at Queen’s Park and my two school-aged grandchildren are back to school and one back to daycare. Absolutely there are risks and it can be scary. But we are adapting because we don’t know how long we are going to have to live with COVID-19 and we can’t put everything on hold indefinitely.
Children will continue to grow up regardless of the pandemic. Keeping them out of school indefinitely would hurt their learning, social development, and mental health. So in order to make schools as safe as possible, our government has invested almost $1.3 billion in a plan developed in consultation with medical officials, school boards, and educators.
Our government has provided more funding than any other jurisdiction in the country to implement physical distancing measures, support the hiring of about 1,300 custodians, adopt enhanced cleaning protocols in schools and on school buses, and hire more teachers to reduce class sizes. We have provided funding for 625 public health nurses to support schools and boards and facilitate public health and preventative measures including screening, surveillance testing, tracing, and mitigation strategies.
PPE has been delivered to all 72 school boards, including more than 17.5 million masks, 13 million gloves, 300,000 face shields, 380,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, and 186,000 containers of disinfectant.
But no matter how much we invest, the biggest threat to our students and our schools comes from cases in the community. There was a poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies released this week that said 25 per cent of Canadians felt that warnings with regard to COVID-19 were being exaggerated by public health and government officials. That is what scares me most of all.
We managed to flatten the curve this summer because we accepted and followed public health advice. We need to continue to do that.
Recently the numbers are up and that is concerning but the majority of the cases can be traced to close contact with other infected individuals. There isn’t widespread community transmission right now. That should mean that by being careful and following public health advice we should be able to get this back under control.
Part of that is testing. We do need to increase accessibility to testing in Muskoka and I have been speaking with the Minister of Health about that. Like everything else in the pandemic the testing strategy is evolving over time and I am confident we will make it easier to get tested here in Huntsville.
Right now many of the new cases are in younger adults. I know you want to socialize but like everyone else you’ll have to adapt how you do that. Socialize online, meet in smaller groups and keep your distance from one another. It is a sacrifice but Thanksgiving is coming up and you really don’t want to be the person responsible for infecting your parents or grandparents.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!