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Ottawa gives billions in COVID-19 aid for school reopenings

Wednesday, August 26, 2020 @ 4:35 PM | By Terry Davidson


Canada’s government will be giving $2 billion to the county’s provinces and territories to help with the safe reopening of schools during the ongoing pandemic.

On Aug. 26, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement from inside the gymnasium of school in north Toronto.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

According to a news release, the money from the new Safe Return to Class Fund, which will be on top of the $19 billion already offered to provinces and territories to assist in restarting their economies, will help with “adapted learning spaces, improved air ventilation, increased hand sanitation and hygiene, and purchases of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.”

Trudeau said he had spoken with the country’s premiers the day before about the reopening of their respective schools.   

“This money … will help keep students and teachers safe as schools reopen,” he said. “Our children must always be our top priority — as parents and governments. Once people know their kids are safe, they can get back to work with less worries.”

The funding will be provided in two instalments, the first one being for the start of this school year and the second being slotted for early 2021.

Trudeau said each province and territory will give the federal government a progress report before receiving the second half.  

“We’ve put forward $2 billion in a way that is entirely flexible, so that they can do the things that are necessary to keep kids safe in their jurisdictions. … What we’ve asked for is that, come December, they tell us what they did with the money, how they kept kids safe so that we can release the second half of this money. This is something that will allow the money to flow quickly and to do those extra things that will reassure parents that their kids are safe in terms of that.”

The amount for each province and territory will receive is based on its respective populations of children ages 4 to 18, with Ontario getting the most, at $763.34 million, and Yukon getting the least, at $4.16 million.

“At our First Ministers’ meeting yesterday afternoon the premiers and I discussed the measures we’re taking to keep Canadians safe in the weeks and months to come,” said Trudeau. “That includes today’s federal support for schools and progress on everything from personal protective equipment to help for the most vulnerable.”

During questions from the media, Trudeau was asked why his government waited until right before schools are to open to hand out this money.

The prime minister did not specifically answer the question.  

“We recognize … the principles of our Constitution. It says that K-12 education is a provincial responsibility. … However, over the past week or so I’ve heard from so many Liberal MPs, so many parents … who are still extremely worried about how that reopening is going to go. We’ve seen the provinces put forward plans for that reopening and they are confident they are doing what is necessary, but parents were still concerned, so we said let’s give the provinces even more resources to be able to do everything that is necessary to keep our kids safe. What they choose to do will be up to them and the conversations they have with parents and with citizens in their provinces.”  

On this note of autonomy, Trudeau acknowledged that education is a provincial matter and said he assured the premiers that Ottawa respects that.

The Trudeau government is also giving $112 million to schools on the country’s First Nations reserves.  

Shortly after Trudeau’s announcement, Ontario Premier Doug Ford weighed in on his province receiving the first instalment of money from Ottawa. But first, he insisted that his province has “the safest and most cautious plan in the entire country.”

Some would disagree.

Ford has been under fire from school boards and teachers unions for what they say is a provincial plan that fails to include necessary health precautions, such as keeping class sizes small to prevent any spread of the virus.

Similar concerns exist in other provinces, as well.

Ontario has reportedly mandated face masks for middle school and high school students but has taken heat for not providing enough funding to lower class sizes when it comes to younger students.

At one point, Ford was asked why he accepted Ottawa’s money if his government’s school reopening plan is, indeed, the best in the land.

“Why wouldn’t we? When I met [with] the prime minister on Friday, he asked me about the going back to school plan and I explained it to him and I said, ‘We’re all in this together.’ We need all levels of support. We need the federal government, the provincial government and the school boards, school trustees and the teachers unions all on board. This just enhances the plan we have. And I stand by it. We have the safest and the most cautious plan in the entire country.”

Ford went on to emphasize the province’s hiring of new public health nurses, as well as new school cleaners, teachers and support staff. He also said money has been spent on cleaning supplies, masks, school bus cleaning, updates to ventilation systems and online learning resources.

He also said his government is now releasing its COVID-19 management plans for schools and school boards.

“We have robust plans for schools and school boards so that when a case or an outbreak occurs, everyone knows what to do, so we can quickly find, isolate and contain the virus. We’re providing public health units with guidance on how to assist schools in the event of an … outbreak. But we’re also providing guidance documents to parents because, as parents, you deserve to see the same information I see.”

The allocation breakdown of funds from Ottawa’s Safe Return to Class Fund is as follows:
  • Alberta: $262.84 million
  • British Columbia: $242.36 million
  • Manitoba: $85.41 million
  • New Brunswick: $39.79 million
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: $26.18 million
  • Northwest Territories: $4.85 million
  • Nova Scotia: $47.88 million
  • Nunavut: $5.75 million
  • Ontario: $763.34 million
  • Prince Edward Island: $10.39 million
  • Quebec: $432.15 million
  • Saskatchewan: $74.90 million
  • Yukon: $4.16 million

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at t.davidson@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5899.