Friday, 30 March 2012

Leal Can’t Weasel Out of This One

In a recent reply to a citizen complaint about his failure to act on the PCVS issue, Liberal MPP Jeff Leal vainly attempted to justify himself by claiming that his hands are tied. “In Ontario, we have locally elected trustees to make local decisions,” he wrote, insulting the intelligence of his correspondent, as if she somehow wasn’t aware of this system. “There is no legislation that allows the Minister to overrule a board's decision on a school closing.”

Obviously, Leal left out the two most important facts underlying his comment.

One, Peterborough’s locally-elected Trustees did not vote to close PCVS. The Trustees who did vote to close the school are not elected by Peterborough citizens, cannot be challenged at the ballot box, and therefore are not held accountable to the principal core of taxpayers who not only fund Peterborough schools but also subsidize schools outside the city.

Two, Leal’s government is responsible for creating the very legislation which they now claim renders them powerless.

Nine years in office gave Leal and his Liberal crew ample opportunities to redraw the farcical system of school board governance in Ontario. Instead, they felt it prudent to maintain the facade of “local accountability” in the guise of the democratically-neglected Boards of Trustees. When the chance came to actually reform the system with Bill 177, the “Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act,” all they did was to restrict Trustees’ rights to free speech, leaving virtually all the power in the hands of unelected, unaccountable school board administrators, and in backroom deals at Queen’s Park.

Way to go, Jeff!

How can it be possible to justify a system in which Trustees representing Lakefield, Millbrook, Bowmanville, Port Hope, Cobourg and Brighton have the power to drastically reshape the Peterborough community over the objections of Peterborough’s own elected representatives? How can Leal defend a system in which the people affected, those who are actually footing the bill for the school board’s operations, have absolutely no recourse to run against the decision-makers or vote them out of office, and in fact can be legally prevented from even voicing their own objections in a publicly-funded boardroom?

To add insult to injury, keep in mind that Peterborough tax dollars keep all of KPR running. The property tax rate for businesses, a sizable chunk of which goes to fund education, is seven times the rate for residences. Peterborough is three times as large as the next largest urban center in KPR’s jurisdiction and is the business center of the entire region. Aren’t you so glad to know that your tax dollars are helping keep schools open in Cobourg, Hastings, Bailieboro and Orono, while central Peterborough is about to be entirely deprived of regular educational services?

The injustice at the local level is even more stark.

There are five KPR schools in Northcrest ward, plus two Catholic schools. There are four KPR schools in Ashburnham, plus three Catholic. There are four KPR schools in Otonabee, plus three Catholic. There are five KPR schools in Monaghan ward (if we include James Strath and Crestwood, which technically sit just outside city limits at Brealey and Sherbrooke), plus three more Catholic.

And Town Ward, the core of Peterborough? Just onePCVS. And that’s about to be shut down.

Much of the media coverage to date has focused on the dramatic story of PCVS students fighting to save the school they love. It does make a great story, and we’re proud of those students. Sometimes we hear about the negative impact on Peterborough’s downtown merchants – also an important issue. We’ve also read about the concerns of Peterborough’s physicians on the role PCVS plays from a public health perspective – yet another key consideration.

But what about the deeper, more basic, but less visible issue – the right of people who have no choice but to pay education tax to actually receive neighbourhood services in return? What about the residents and property-owners of central Peterborough, who as a group cough up millions of dollars every year to KPR and the Catholic board, and are then told they have to bus or drive their kids out to the suburban neighbourhoods to go to school?

Can you imagine City Hall treating its constituents the way KPR treats us? Sorry, running water is no longer a priority for downtown residents – you’ll have to go over to East City to fill your Brita. Snowplowing? Sorry, we’re not going to plow downtown streets any more – we need to concentrate on keeping the winding roads of Northcrest clear. Policing? Sorry, the cops are needed in the south end – we can’t spare any for downtown. Come down to Lansdowne if you have any problems.

But, oh, by the way, you’ll still have to keep paying for these services. You don’t mind, do you?

This is the world Jeff Leal and his Liberal cronies have wrought for us. They don’t see anything out of order about it. Democracy? Fairness? Common sense? Not important. Let’s get on with the real business of Ontario – building nuclear power plants and shuttling public money into private corporations like ORNGE.

One year ago, NDP MPP Rosario Marchese introduced Bill 183, which would allow the Ontario Ombudsman to respond to complaints over the mismanagement of school boards (as well as municipalities, hospitals and universities). The Liberals voted it down. You can read the summary of the situation from the  Ombudsman’s office here, and a public  response from concerned and disgusted parents’ groups in York Region and western Ontario here.

Leal’s support dropped from 24,000 votes in the 2007 election to 17,000 last year. PC candidate Alan Wilson and NDP candidate Dave Nickle (a retired KPR teacher) weren’t far behind with 14,000 and 12,000 respectively.

It’s safe to say that if KPR is allowed to close PCVS, Jeff Leal will stand little chance of being re-elected in Peterborough when his government falls. The lone Liberal seat circled by Conservative ridings will soon be gone, and Leal will be remembered as the man who fiddled while central Peterborough burned, tarnishing the Liberal brand locally for years to come.

Leal gives the impression that he’s just going through the motions. One is driven to conclude that he doesn’t actually care. He must be close to retirement. He’s due for a big, fat pension at the public expense. His kids aren’t in the public school system. He doesn’t live downtown. What does it matter to him?

Send us a postcard from Puerto Vallarta, Jeff. Or just send us the bill. 


  1. Hi Brent
    As usual, you frame this argument beautifully and get to the core of the matter - the injustice. Allowing the closure of PCVS suggests that the Liberal government is complicit in actively dismantling the core of Peterborough. Jeff Leal has stood by and watched. How dare he suggest that his hands are tied. We are going to get his and McGuinty's ass over a flame and hold them accountable for this mess and demand they fix it. Marching to his office was a good step in the right direction. More coming from this resilient Peterborough community.

  2. Please send this to newspapers! It is criminal to have information from here be relegated to a blog alone.