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Has the pandemic made us realize schools are an essential service?

News

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on children across the country, but Ontario’s kids have a good case that they got the worst of it.

The Ontario government closed schools for a total of 29 weeks over the last two years, meaning kids missed about seven months of in-person learning. Not only does that lead the country, it’s the worst record for any jurisdiction in North AmericaOpinion: The wrong people are making decisions on school closures. Our children deserve better.

A new studyAssessing Ontario’s Pandemic School Closures and What Students Need from Joanna DeJong VanHof, a researcher at the Cardus think tank, argues that Ontario’s pandemic experience shows that schools should be an essential service.

“The question of whether to designate education as an essential service contains deeper, more foundational questions at its core: What place do children and their education hold in our society? Should education be considered fundamental to the well-being of children?” wrote DeJong VanHof.

The study points to the repeated claims by the government that schools would be the “last to close and the first to open,” when in reality, the decisions on school closures seemed arbitrary compared to related decisions on business closures.

DeJong VanHof writes that making schools an essential service would require the government to thoroughly study the effects of school closures on children, from the mental health outcomes to the academic issues, to give a clear sense of the consequences of closing schools in future crises. In the event of another pandemic or health crisis, it may even require the government to make health-care investments, rather than relying on school closures to ease the burden on the health-care system.

Some experts have argued that schools were incorrectly treated as uniquely dangerous areas for COVID-19 transmission when the evidence shows the opposite effect.

Most cases found in schools were contracted in the community, with a recent study showing that only one percent of casesSARS-CoV-2 transmission in kindergarten to grade 12 schools in the Vancouver Coastal Health region: a descriptive epidemiologic study were acquired in the school itself. Another study found that teachers were less likelySARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence among Vancouver public school staff in British Columbia, Canada to be at risk than other workers.

“Many jurisdictions around the globe, with far fewer mitigation measures, have managed to keep schools open without harming children, teachers and their communities,” wrote physicians Alanna Golden and Martha Fulford, in the National Post.

DeJong VanHof argues that designating schools an essential service would not be easy. For one, it would require negotiations with teachers’ unions and a study of the potential impacts on collective-bargaining agreements.

But the potential harms of school closures are slowly being revealed, as data collection catches up after two years of pandemic schooling. Early data shows a six-fold increase in “extreme absenteeism,” which refers to students who have missed more than 50 percent of classes. It could take years for students to catch up from “learning loss,” and governments have only now started to develop plans for tackling the issue. Students have also missed extra-curricular activities, graduation ceremonies, and everyday socializing.

The mental health effects could take years to come to light.

“Social workers describe being overwhelmed with requests from parents and students for help navigating symptoms of anxiety and depression,” wrote DeJong VanHof.

In January, Dr. Elisabeth Canisius, an Ontario paediatrician, argued that schools should be designated an essential service due to the spike in depression and other mental health issues she was seeing and hearing about from her colleagues.

“In-person learning is essential,” said Canisius, in an interview with Global NewsPaediatrician talks about the mental health effects of Ontario’s latest school closures. “School helps kids with their sense of belonging. That may be their only predictable space, so it represents so much for kids.”

Charest vows to protect border crossings with new campaign promise

News

It’s only the first week of April, but we already have our first confirmed contender with a spot on the final ballot of the Conservative leadership race.

Leslyn Lewis boasted on Monday that she’s officially in. No official word from the other candidates, yet, but they have until April 29 to gather the cash and signatures to get on the ballot.

In our weekly round-up of the Conservative leadership race, we’ll take a look at Lewis’s fundraising prowess, examine some new ideas from Jean Charest, and count the crowds at Pierre Poilievre’s recent campaign rallies.

Leslyn Lewis is first on the final ballot

Conservative MP Leslyn Lewis announced on Monday that she is the first candidate to submit paperwork and cash to be on the final ballot of the Conservative leadership vote.

To be on the final ballot, candidates must pay a $200,000 fee and put down a $100,000 deposit. The candidates also have to collect 500 signatures from 30 different electoral districts and seven different provinces or territories. The deadline for submissions for the final ballot is on April 29 and the new leader will be announced on Sept. 10.

There is some strategic decision-making to be made by candidates on when to pay the fee and put down the deposit. Some candidates may want to spend cash holding events and campaigning, rather than tying up scarce fundraising money too early.

Other candidates may see some value in being on the final ballot as soon as possible, to demonstrate that they are a serious contender.

Lewis, who has been attracting crowds in the hundreds at some campaign stops recently, may benefit from her fiscally conservative method of campaigning. Her campaign manager Steve Outhouse recently described her strategy to Politico’s Playbook:

“Fly somewhere, rent a car, start driving,” he said.

Convoys and defence spending

Jean Charest revealed two flagship policy proposals this week. With Thursday’s federal budget dominating the news cycle, Charest promised he would achieve the NATO target for defence spending of two percent of GDP as “quickly as it can be responsibly done.”

At a campaign stop in Nova Scotia, Charest promised to purchase two armed icebreakers and establish two new military bases in the Arctic, including a deepwater port, according to the CBC. Charest also promised to explore the idea of upgrading Canada’s submarine fleet.

Charest also made some waves on Wednesday with a promise to introduce a Critical Infrastructure Protection Act to “put an end to illegal blockades.”

“We must never allow illegal blockades to interfere with our supply chains and critical infrastructure,” Charest wrote on Twitter. Charest specifically vowed to protect border crossings in a short document explaining the proposal.

The announcement has been seen as a reference to the trucker convoy that occupied Ottawa and blocked border crossings earlier in the year and which Charest’s leadership rival Pierre Poilievre has supported.

The issue is a murky one for anyone looking to woo Conservative Party members because sympathy for the trucker convoy fluctuates based on how the question is asked.

A recent poll by IpsosThe poll was conducted between February 8-9, 2022, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed. The poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. found that Conservative voters are more likely to sympathize with the convoy in general. The pollster found that 59 percent of Conservatives say they “may not agree with everything the people who have taken part in the truck protests in Ottawa have said, but their frustration is legitimate and worthy of our sympathy.” That number falls to 46 percent among the general population.

Conservatives were also far more likely to agree that, “while they might not say it publicly, they agree with a lot of what the truck protestors are fighting for,” with 63 percent of the party’s supporters agreeing compared to 37 percent of Canadians as a whole.

The Ipsos poll also found that Canadians under 35-year-old were more likely to sympathize with the convoy.

Crowds are growing for Poilievre

The media is starting to notice the massive crowds gathering at Pierre Poilievre’s campaign events.

Poilievre recently drew 1,000 people at a campaign event in Lindsay, Ontario and 1,200 people in Windsor-Essex. Hundreds of people attended Poilievre’s anti-carbon tax rally in Ottawa last week.

The other candidates will ask the obvious question: will it actually turn into votes, or are people just letting off steam? We likely won’t know until September, but it’s worth noting when journalists are describing Poilievre’s rallies as unprecedented.

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