To say Doug Ford’s 2022 hasn’t gotten off to a good start would be an understatement. After essentially disappearing from public view for the holiday season (and almost certainly retreating to his cottage), Ford finally returned to face the reality of the Omicron variant and its potentially lethal impact on Ontario’s health-care system.

But his “decisive decision” to introduce new restrictions was mocked by none other than Pizza Hut Canada, which made light of the premier’s words on its official Twitter account. When even Pizza Hut doesn’t take you seriously, you know you have a problem.

But what Ford is putting Ontario’s teachers, parents and students through is no laughing matter. His initial response to the impact of Omicron on Dec. 30, less than a week before classes were set to resume, was to postpone in-class learning for two days, coupled with a reduction in the mandatory isolation period for vaccinated individuals from 10 to five days.

In a letter to Toronto’s medical officer of health, epidemiologist Colin Furness described the plan as “catastrophic” and suggested a three-week closure of schools was needed to prevent a surge of unvaccinated children being hospitalized.

Ontario’s teachers, for their part, were understandably nervous about the government’s plan. “Our staff are feeling abandoned, they’re feeling like they’re being used to create herd immunity,” Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Karen Littlewood told CP24. Eventually, Ford was forced to capitulate and announce a two-week delay to the return to in-person learning for students and teachers.

His government’s failure to plan and prepare for the inevitable just adds insult to these injuries. It’s not as though the current explosion of COVID-19 cases was hard to predict, especially since a similar surge happened over the course of the holidays last year as well. Pro-business politicians like Ford were happy to bend over backwards to support businesses during the holiday season, but they seemed utterly indifferent to the disruptions in the lives of students, parents and teachers that were so clearly building on the horizon.

Ford isn’t the only conservative premier that waited until the last possible moment to tell parents about his plans.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also delayed before conceding to reality and informing Albertans that return to in-class education would be postponed for a week. When it comes to cutting red tape or reducing regulations, Kenney’s government apparently prides itself on “moving at the speed of business.” But when it comes to the province’s schools and protecting them from the spread of COVID-19, it can’t seem to move at all.

That might be because Kenney seems to think more highly of oil and gas workers than his province’s teachers. Within the span of a week, he tweeted his personal appreciation for the latter on two separate occasions, first because of record-high oil and gas production and later because of record cold temperatures and their role in keeping homes heated. But about Alberta’s teachers? Not a peep.

Opinion: We need to look hard at our shared attitude towards public schools and teachers, and why our elected officials have been so willing to make them carry the weight, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #COVID19

That silence is particularly deafening now.

Like Ford, Kenney had plenty of time to prepare for what public health experts told him was coming. The government could have spent the last few weeks installing better air filtration technology in the province’s schools and classrooms. It could have made vaccines mandatory for all eligible teachers, students and staff, as the Alberta Medical Association proposed back in early October. It could have invested in more supplies of high-quality masks and rapid test kits. And it could have done any number of things to temporarily reduce class sizes, from hiring more supply teachers and education assistants to rotating kids through staggered schedules. Instead, it did almost nothing.

If we’re going to actually fix this, it will take more than a few appreciative tweets. We need to look hard at our attitude towards public schools and teachers, and why our elected officials have been so willing to put them in the line of this pandemic’s fire. We need to ask why parents have been left to fend for themselves with online learning and why there aren’t more resources directed towards their efforts. And we need to remember that it has been, by and large, women who have had to set aside their jobs or careers to fill the breach that’s resulted.

Most importantly, we have to make the politicians who treat teachers like cannon fodder pay a price.

We can start with Ford, who is up for re-election in June. For nearly two years now, Ontario parents have borne the brunt of his indifference towards the crucial role that schools, teachers and parents play in their province. His government has asked them to constantly improvise and adapt, often at great personal cost, and has seemed willing to bet that children won’t be affected by a virus whose long-term impacts we still don’t fully understand.

If Ontarians want to put a stop to this sort of recklessness, they need to vote accordingly and send Ford and other like-minded politicians a message they can’t ignore.

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vote him out on June 2. ndp and libs must coordinate ridings and not let tories split the anti ford vote.
Insult to injury was sending 5 rat tests home for all kids but NONE for staff over christmas break.. couldnt be more clear what Lecce thinks of his troops eh?
I keep saying this is calculated indifference to destroy public ed system. if it is gross incompetence, the result is the same.

Totally agree. Please add the Greens to that list of parties needing to co-ordinate ridings. There are hopeful signs of a Green surge in Parry Sound Muskoka. To your other point, PCs have never made it a secret they are out to destroy PUBLIC education and teachers in Ontario.

I agree Valerie - for every day Ford has been in power in Ontario we have fallen back a decade ! He has been completely out of his depth as have all his ministers during the pandemic but glaringly so now as the omicron caught only him by surprise . The rest of the public, the science table, the medical experts and community all knew what was coming . He was begged to take action to stop the spread and instead he demanded the feds close our borders . When the feds took such action he complained that it was bad for business.
Ford and his favourite lackey Lecce are so very reminiscent of former premier Harris and his education minister Snobellen who famously said that if there wasn’t t a crisis in education the would create one to try to bust the federations . They didn’t succeed in busting the federations but the damage they did to education and the respect for it has never been fully recovered .
Conservatives everywhere should be hanging their heads in shame watching Ford and his conservative power mongers destroy Ontario and particularly now when we most need decisive strong leadership .
If he cannot protect the schools, daycares , their staffs and students then none of us have any hope, as they are our future !
Move on back to your business enterprises Ford - we need a strong leader now !

I expect few parents'll be anxious to have their kids use private, on-line schooling, which is the general "choice" strategy where right-wing, anti-public education forces operate. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

But to me, the problem is that Dougie keeps on ignoring what the experts tell him, to placate and pander to those who "want things open": whether all kinds of business and entertainment, or schools (where rather a lot of community spread got going here during the fall months: schools and daycares accounted for by far the most "outbreaks.") The problem's not that schools are closing, but that the decision is way too late in the game. And probably of inadequate duration.

Those two-parent so-called "middle class" families both working from home should live a week or two in the shoes of those completely ignored by Covid supports, shoul probably count themselves lucky they've got kids and the jobs to feed them.

Having observed the primary grades curriculum over time, I'd say that the main reason kids are in school for such long hours to begin with is not because it takes that long, but that school is organized around parents schedules to a great extent. Maybe it's time for those employers to step up, and do more than pay lip-service to the whole "work-life balance" thing.

Here, we've got the likes of the Mirvish scion demanding to "be made whole." Frankly, he's been far past whole his entire life. His theatre venture has few ongoing expenses: property taxes waived for businesses, rent subsidies and employee subsidies. How is it that all the people who actually truly have "enough" and those who have way more than that are the first to holler for more.

Frankly, were it not for all levels of our government being unwilling to take more than minimal measures till things have gotten really bad, either ignoring advice from health experts or from advisors who wilfully choose to act contrary to science, they'd never be as bad as they've got.

One thing I think many ppl are not getting is that kids, while they mainly suffer relatively mild symptoms, are not exempt from death from Covid, and the last information I saw (indeed, there have been cases from the beginning) make it very clear that there can be both permanent organ damage, and "long Covid" as well.

Parents need to get over the idea that kids are safer in indoor group settings than adults are in bars.

Were it me, I'd be refusing to send my child to school, no matter what, while numbers are what they are ... or at any time the numbers are growing.

To me, the very first priority of parents has got to be their safety. Public Health has made it very clear they're not about people, little people or otherwise, but about the Health Care system. And so thousands of people have died.

Sure, some parents have absolutely no choice, but by and large, they are not the parents working from home. Some parents have zero control over their schedules, but by and large, they are not the parents working from home. Some parents are really overburdened, but by and large, they are simply not the two-working-parents earning what they believe are middle incomes (which by and large, they aren't).

I'm in my 70s, and grew up in a rural mountain village, where there was no telephone, no indoor plumbing, marginal accessibility to electricity, highways impassable part of the year, a short growing season and absolute need to grow what one ate. I just can't relate to what I see as whining by people who have no idea what difficult is.

I have a lot of sympathy for kids who are being abused by parents who've not learned emotional continence. That's not a reason for the rest of parents to risk their kids' health; they could just as easily demand truncated work hours, changed work schedules, vacation time now instead of later, or using those "family need" days now, instead of banking them against an early flight to cottage country come summer.

I'm not being cynical. I see and hear an awful lot as people chat on the street. Including those who "went away" for Christmas despite being advised not to.

Everyone seems to think they're exceptions, and that they are so special that their particular situation is unique in Covid. Reality check required.

And for those who think parents and children are being sacrificed here, consider that in BC, in at least one district, all Covid measures are at the principal's discretion. I have been told of a young teacher with two kids under 3, where I am told schools are not only not closing, but the principal has decided that everything should remain as normal: no distancing, no masking, no nothing.

That's insanity, at every level of decision making.

I used to be a fan of Bonnie Henry, but if the information given to me is accurate, at this point, not so much, at all. And that's not a conservative or right-wing government, either.

Parents, and those who are required to act in their place and stead (schools/teachers) need to be considering the welfare of the particular children in their charge: not the welfare of ICU capacity.

Max, the word from ‘eyes on the ground’ here in Muskoka was that Ford was indeed at the cottage for the ‘holidays’.

Max, the word from ‘eyes on the ground’ here in Muskoka was that Ford was indeed at the cottage for the ‘holidays’.

I think that if everyone in public schools had access to daily rapid tests and well-fitted N95 masks and the teachers were all boosted then there may have been a chance that schools could have gone ahead in Ontario and Quebec and Alberta but none of that seemed even remotely ready to go, or even planned to go for that matter.

The reality that Legault, Ford and Kenney were all likely faced with is the same reality as what has hit the airline industry and that is - all (or many) front-line employees out sick. I have friends in the US where some school districts have been mandated to stay open and precisely this has happened: schools did open early this week but few teachers were there to teach. In one anecdote, over 50 teachers in one school board were out sick. Yikes!

Setting aside what's less important for your average fear-driven narcissist in a leadership position - the human cost of this to real people (teachers and kids and families) - one can try to imagine how terrifyingly bad those optics would have been.

The headline should include "children" as they also are collateral damage, as Max Fawcett wrote: "But what Ford is putting Ontario’s teachers, parents and students through is no laughing matter."