Uncertainty and fear for the future of vital Ontario services
Math teacher Karen Ebanks says the province’s education cuts have already taken a toll at her school – St. Elizabeth Catholic High School in Thornhill – and she and her colleagues are bracing for more hits to come.
Morale among teachers at her school is at an all-time low, according to Ebanks. Faced with the government’s new funding model and directives on average class sizes, school administrators have so far cancelled 40 courses for next fall. Across the York Catholic District School Board, cancellations number in the hundreds, she says.
Many of her fellow teachers have been told they may not have a position next year, and everyone is concerned about how larger classes will affect students.
“The levels of frustration, deep exhaustion and uncertainty about what lies ahead have devastated the spirits of our teaching staff,” Ebanks says. “One teacher told me it’s been so hard – trying to give your best to your students every day, while not knowing if you will have a job next year, and when you feel so undervalued. That really touched me.”
A teacher for 20 years, Ebanks loves what she does. “It’s a blessing to be able to work with young people, day in and day out. What I love about math is that when students can’t solve a problem, I can guide them to use critical and independent thinking to find a solution. These are skills to help them prepare for a successful future.”
Ebanks is worried about the impact of all the changes on students’ futures. “Fewer courses mean less room for student choice and diminished opportunity to pursue their personal passions,” she says. “Larger classes will make it hard to provide individual attention to struggling students, and mandatory e-learning will devastate students who don’t do well with online courses.”
Uncertainty is making the situation worse, Ebanks says. The government has said it will provide extra funding to protect jobs as well as for special programs and supports, but no details have been released.
“I’m worried that we are going to lose high-quality teachers to other provinces,” says Ebanks. “If we see a mass exodus of teachers on top of all these short-sighted changes, I am truly concerned about the future of Ontario.”
Hervé Cavanagh says his 25 years as a physiotherapist at the Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital have been rewarding. He values the relationships he builds with his patients as he guides them towards recovery from injury or illness. It is fulfilling to help people get moving again and back to productive living, he says – whether they are an older person who needs physiotherapy after surgery to repair a broken hip, or someone who needs to regain movement and function after a stroke.
“I listen to my patients’ concerns and together we come up with a treatment plan aimed at getting them back to where they want to be,” Cavanagh says. “I provide therapies, as well as exercises and other tools to improve their quality of life; at the same time, I’m giving them hope. It’s important work.”
Cavanagh feels like his important work is under siege, as the Ford government moves to tighten the reins on health-care spending and to find new “efficiencies.”
“Hospitals in Ontario have already maximized efficiency through years of underfunding,” he says. “There are no more savings to be made in that way, and we’re at the point where service cuts, hospital closures and job losses will come next.”
Cavanagh notes that the province’s plans will not only mean service loss for the 60,000 people in the region, but they will also cause economic harm.
“Services will be moved from small hospitals to large, already crowded urban hospitals with long waiting lists. This hospital is also the largest employer here; with job losses, the local economy will suffer.”
According to Cavanagh, the provincial government is trying to hide its real agenda: to position the healthcare change to health-care system’s challenges because of lack of investment as a “crisis” – one that can only be solved by privatizing some services.
“Transferring services to profit-driven entities won’t make health care cheaper,” he says. “It’s just going to download costs to the user, and people’s access becomes based on ability to pay.
“That’s not the society that I want to live in. We need to invest in the health and well-being of the people of Ontario.”