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Who is in charge? Minister Lecce declares war on truth and consequence

TORONTO – Let’s begin with accountability and transparency, two words whose meaning in the hands of spin doctors can be turned to nuisance, disjointed alphabet particles. There are two departments (Ministries) of government whose combined budgets account for the bulk of government expenditures. 

They are Health and Education. That should surprise no one. We all need the services of the educational system or hospital/medical services. Teachers, nurses, doctors, administrators, schools, hospitals… they all cost money.

So, how many times was Education mentioned in Premier Ford’s Speech from Throne earlier this week? Zero. Either it does not figure in the priorities of government, or the Premier has NO confidence in the ability of his Minister, Lecce, to do the job.

“In the 2021-22 Expenditure Estimates, the Ministry of Education (EDU) is projected to spend $33.0 billion in the 2021-22 fiscal year. This is a decrease of $0.8 billion (2.3 per cent) from 2020-21 interim results reported in the 2021 Ontario Budget” (Financial Administration Office, FAO, May 31, 2021). It is a lot of money and a huge number of moving pieces for inexperienced people to oversee.

Lecce’s background is in the role of press secretary, a valuable role in the communications business where the objective is to exert efforts to frame someone else’s decisions in the most positive light.

Currently, given the Covid pandemic all educational issues are subsumed into health, safety, infection aversion/transmission, mental health and staffing (class sizes). Parents are right to ask how Lecce as the Minister is addressing their needs and those of their children.

Keep in mind that people’s attention has been distracted by a federal election campaign (just ended), and that school boards took a vacation in August while waiting for the Province to decide how schools would operate going forward.

The blah, blah nonsensical mantra announced on May 4, 2021, that the Province is “making more than $1.6 billion available in COVID-19-related funds for the 2021-22 school year” was supposed to put everyone at ease.

In reality, according to the FAO, of “the $1.6 billion in COVID-19-related supports, only $623 million will be spent by the Ministry of Education, with $576 million in 2021-22 and $46 million in 2022-23”.

“The $1.6 billion commitment also includes up to $536 million for PPE procurement and school-focused nurses that will be funded by other ministries.” More significantly, “the remaining $478 million in announced funding will only be committed in the second half of the 2021-22 school year, if necessary”.

This is part of what the FAO calls the spending gap: the difference between what the government says it will spend on its plans and what is actually required.

According to the FAO report on Education, “There is a spending gap between the FAO’s projection and the ministry’s spending plan of $0.2 billion in 2021-22 and $0.6 billion in 2023-24.

Over the recovery period, the spending gap increases each year, reaching $2.9 billion in 2029-30. Overall, the cumulative Ministry of Education spending gap from 2021-22 to 2029-30 between the FAO’s forecast and the Province’s 2021 budget spending plan is $12.3 billion.”

In other words, Lecce will be spending less, not more on our children’s education and safety.

A spokesperson for the Minister took exception to our headlines pointing to shirked responsibility by her Minister and regaled us with numbers derived from the above.

She even provided background numbers repeated by Dr. Moore (Chief Medical officer for Ontario) in support of her claims.

Unfortunately, they are not congruent either with hers or with those of the FAO. Poor Dr. Moore should plead for misrepresentation. While he is at it, he might ask why they wanted to tarnish his professional image by sending out an unedited (four lines) transcript where he intersperses, on 18 different occasions, ums and ahs as he attempts to recount the party line on health and safety in the classroom.

He comes across as unconvinced. He’s not the boss. Lecce is the one who is mucking up.

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