Over 1 million students strike for the environment

Skipping school is not something that ought to be encouraged, but that is what 1.4 million students did world wide on Friday, March 15th. Young students from across the world, from New York to Berlin, to Mexico City, across all five continents, came out in the hundreds of thousands last week, in one of the biggest coordinated global demonstrations ever. 100,000 youth in Montreal alone participated.

They were taking part in what seems to be an unprecedented civic movement amongst youth. Most of the participants were not yet adults, but they are striking because they think that they do not have the luxury of waiting another 10 years. They are telling us that by then the planet may already be beyond the turning point of environmental salvation.

A recent study by the UN recently published gave us a collective deadline of 12 years globe wide to enact changes to our economy or be beyond the threshold of no return. We all know that people are having a significant negative effect on the environment. Some people may not care about it for different reasons. The oil industry wants to continue to burn fossil fuels, some people figure they may not be around for the worse part of the changes, others may not think the changes are serious. The youth participating think otherwise.

We hear a lot about millennials and how they vote and think differently than baby boomers. The next generation will have an even bigger contrast in values. Most millennials are actually in their 20s and 30s. The last millennials to enter University will do so this year and then a new group will start to be old enough to vote. The new generation, dubbed “generation Y” will have an even greater concern for the environment, because the facts and science demand it.

The reasons for this are clear. Study after study shows that man-made climate change is having a significant effect on our planet. It is the only planet we have. As a young person, feeling like they are not ever going to be able to buy a home may be difficult. It is more difficult now for a person with a median wage to buy a home than it was in the 1980s. It is hard to start a family that way. In fact, young people in significant numbers are starting to delay starting families for environmental reasons too, because they are worried about climate change.

We need to create a better future for our youth, and we need to listen. The youth are learning how to make change happen, the rest of us need to do better and catch up fast before it is too late.

A new City Council faces new hurdles

The City election is over, and it was a wild, unprecedented ride. Changing the number of Councillors and changing the boundaries for each of the Wards had a significant toll on voter turnout. Changing the rules for the election while the election was already started was unfair and confusing to the public. Many people who voted in the previous election did not vote in this election as a result.

Voter turnout was lower City wide. Here, the Downsview area had one of the sharpest declines in turnout – over 28,000 people voted in 2014 however, in 2018, only 22,500 voted. This is a 20% drop.

Doug Ford forced the changes to the election because he reasoned it would save money, but that seems to be mostly words to rationalize his dislike for the City of Toronto Council as a body. He did not make the same
demands of other Ontarian cities and was in a rush to push this through, even creating a constitutional crisis in the process. Reasons as to why Ford did this never add up- many speculate that it is because he has a personal vendetta against Toronto.  

It was unfair to Torontonians who were given such little time to assess and adjust to the new changes. One fifth of voters in Downsview reacted by staying away from the polls and this is bad for our community. We may not like one politician or another, we may not like a party or we may not like the whole of them in power, but our democratic system is based on a number of principles that we need to protect. Fairness and predictability are pillars of a democratic society.

I think most would agree that we ought not to mess around with the rules during an election again. At the basis of any democratic election is a sense that people need to be given equal and fair opportunities. Elections are races and imagine training for months for a 100 metres dash race only to be told once the race starts that you have to run a kilometre instead? This was unprecedented. Let’s not do it again.

Our Schools in Disrepair and Disarray

Our schools are valuable public assets. They help set the prices for homes in our neighbourhoods. They set the standard by which our children are able to thrive. They are central parts of our communities and their health affects everyone, whether directly or indirectly. Letting them fall in disrepair to the tune of $15 billion across Ontario, like the provincial government has done, is letting our communities down and putting our kids at risk.

Just recently at Derrydown Public School, multiple news sources reported an incident where three children were injured as workers were doing repairs to the school’s roof. Tar dripped down through the ceiling on children below during gym class. Two children were taken to hospital, but thankfully, they are expected to do fine.

The larger issue is that this is not an isolated incident. A website called www.fixourschools.ca details some of the incidents: scaffolding injuring a child; another child suffering cuts due to lack of lunchroom supervision; a railing in a playground giving way and resulting in a child breaking her wrist; the list goes on. These are recent incidents that speak to the backlog of disrepair and to the larger issue of inadequate funding for our public schools. Moneys needed for emergency repairs have been taken away by more immediate operational budget needs in our schools for years. This ultimately affects the quality of education in our classrooms over time as the budget gets tighter with the growing backlog of repairs. Today we have less specialized assistants to deal with children that need one-on-one help, we have fewer lunchroom supervisors, and parents are increasingly asked to fundraise more and more to fill in gaps.

In the 1990s, the Progressive Conservative government gave developers a tax break by structuring development fees in such a way that they would no longer have to contribute toward new schools in school boards like the TDSB. As a result of this, new construction projects in the City of Toronto have not led to more investments in public schools. This system has been maintained by the current Liberal government, despite their protestations about investments in our schools. Ultimately, developers saved hundreds of millions of dollars through this tax cut in Toronto. The tax cut reduced the funding school boards depended on for capital investments and, as a result, schools in Toronto have millions of dollars worth of disrepair despite the longest continuous real estate boom in Canadian history. The repair work that does take place is often done in case of emergencies, rather than to systematically maintain buildings in a financially responsible way.

We can all change this.

There are two million school children in Ontario. Our city is growing and we need to ensure that our schools are safe places of learning and that we invest in the public assets that we all own so that they can be used by future generations.