London

Province continues 2016 practice of inviting minister to all school ribbon-cuttings

The province says it's standard practice to invite the ministry to all ribbon-cuttings but London North Centre MPP Terrence Kernaghan says the province is making public relations the priority.

Local MPP says edict shows Ford government's 'obsession' with public relations

An addition at London's Eagle Heights Public School is one of the Thames Valley District's School Board's submissions for capital funding from the province. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

A London MPP is lashing out at a directive from the province that requires local school boards to invite the education minister to all new school openings.  

The edict is part of a memo sent to school boards in July from Ontario's Deputy Education Minister Joshua Paul. It outlines guidelines for local boards that are applying for capital money for new schools. 

The memo's overriding theme is controlling the cost of new capital projects, but it also puts a priority on making it clear where the money is coming from. 

"The minister of education must be invited to all public events relating to ministry funded capital projects," the memorandum says. "All public announcements regarding capital investments in the publicly funded education system are joint communication opportunities for the provincial government, the school board ... and or/community partners."

The memorandum says the province must be acknowledged in any reports, speeches, signage and announcements about new schools. 

It also requires boards to invite the minister to any ribbon-cutting ceremonies, with six weeks advance notice. 

Liberals first to implement

The Wynne Liberals first introduced similar requirements in the spring of 2016. In an memo obtained by CBC, the former government said the "Minister of Education must be invited as early as possible to the event." 

NDP MPP Terrance Kernaghan says the directive is part of what he calls an "obsession" the Doug Ford government has with public relations and message control. 

"It shows their priorities are all wrong," said Kernaghan, who represents London North Centre. "Some of the language in there is disturbing. They're saying the ministry may issue its own news release and that they want ultimate control over this."

Kernaghan said it makes him wonder whether Ontario News Now — an arm of the premier's office that produces partisan TV news style videos — will start covering school openings.  

However, ministry spokesperson Alexandra Adamo said it's standard practice that the ministry is included as part of the communication plan at ceremonies that mark the start and completion of new schools. 

Province wants 'modular' design for schools

The ministry directive also calls on school boards to "standardize the design" of new school construction, with boards being encouraged to move toward modular building designs as a way to keep costs down.

Kernaghan said this could lead to cookie cutter schools in a system that already has too many portables.  

However, Adamo said modular building design is the standard in other building sectors and has been proven as an effective way to build cheaper and greener. 

"We are taking decisive action to ensure students have safe and modern learning environments that enable their success in the classroom, in life, and in the labour market," she said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

Adamo also said it doesn't mean schools will be built without amenities like cafeterias or gymnasiums. Instead, she said "modular" means building designs that can be easily scaled up or down as enrolment changes. She also said it does not mean portables will be used as a substitute for permanent buildings. 

Corrections

  • CBC received new information after this story was first published showing that the practice of inviting the minister to school openings was actually started in 2016 by the Wynne Liberal government. It is not, as initially reported, a new practice started by the Ford government.
    Sep 25, 2019 11:58 AM ET

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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