By Mira Williamson

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday the provincial government’s $12 billion investment over the next decade for building and renovating schools.

“One area that we must always invest in is our youth. And in growing communities like Brampton, we need shovels in the ground now to build a strong foundation for our children’s future. The investments we make today will send our students down the path of lifelong success,” said Ford.

During Ford’s announcement in Brampton, he highlighted the government’s investments in the city, including over $46 million for the Brampton Civic Hospital, $160 million on new public transit, $4.6 billion toward the Hurontario LRT project, and over $20 million to keep the Peel region safe from “guns and gangs.” 

Ford said his government is committing over $500 million to build 30 brand new schools and expand 15 existing schools this year, including two new schools in Brampton and one addition.

These projects will create over 25,000 more student spaces by 2023 and nearly 900 new, affordable and licensed child care spaces in schools, he said. The investment is also part of Ontario’s plan to add 30,000 licensed child care spaces in schools over the next five years.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said there are over 330 schools and childcare projects in the planning or construction stages, and roughly 90 of these projects are projected to open in September. 

The government will announce their plan to safely resume classes full-time next week, Lecce said. The premier and ministers are working with health officials and evaluating approaches taken by other countries to ensure a safe reopening, he said.

“We are going to do whatever it takes to keep kids safe,” said Lecce. He said Ontarians have worked hard to reduce the risk and flatten the curve. 

“As a consequence of that good work, we’re able to really focus on that conventional, five-day-a-week experience for elementary and secondary students. That is important.”

Marit Stiles, the Education Critic for Ontario’s Official Opposition, said the provincial government should have been thinking about the return to school since schools moved to remote learning.

“I think that they’ve really dragged their feet on this. I would have liked to see, certainly, a commitment to an increase in resources much earlier because school boards needed to be hiring people months ago,” said Stiles, the NDP MPP for Davenport.

“I know that there’s some really great, smart, hard-working people in our school boards, but it’s going to be hard to turn around for sure.”

The provincial government told school boards to have their reopening plans by August 4. People are uncertain about what to expect because the government keeps changing the “goal post,” he said. 

“I know that a lot of school boards are now, especially trustees, are saying publicly that they’re confused,” said Stiles. “I think an indication of how badly the government is managing this situation.”

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