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Teachers' union throws weight behind area candidates who support OSSTF's education plan

'There was no direction and no leadership from our current government, and that is what I’m hearing from people at the doors,' says Simcoe North NDP candidate

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) announced it is endorsing certain candidates in the upcoming provincial election during a news conference Tuesday in Barrie. 

Jeff Lehman, the Liberal candidate in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte (BSOM), and Pekka Reinio, who is running for the NDP in Barrie-Innisfil, were both at the OSSTF offices on King Street this morning to talk about the importance of education leading up to the June 2 election. Elizabeth Van Houtte, the NDP candidate in Simcoe North, was also on hand for the press conference. All three were endorsed by the OSSTF.

OSSTF president Karen Littlewood called for Ontario residents to elect candidates who will strengthen critical public services, support publicly funded education and invest in Ontario’s future.

Littlewood said federation officials spoke to several parties and candidates, with Lehman being aligned with their core beliefs on education.

“He reflects our vision, he understands what is needed for education going forward and that education is an investment,” Littlewood said. “We’re so proud to be able to endorse him as a candidate."

The Ontario Liberal Party's platform was released Monday and made promises related to education, such as capping class sizes at 20 students for all grades and hiring 10,000 more teachers. Other campaign promises include ending mandatory online learning and reinstating Grade 13 to allow students to make up credits where needed and offer new credits in mental health and resilience, financial literacy and taxes, civics, experiential or co-op placements and post-high school pathway planning.

Lehman said some of the promises made by the Ontario Liberals are key to shaping the future of the province.

“We know a lot of students do a victory lap of high school, because they feel they’re just not ready to move on to college or university," he said. "Our party is promising financial literacy and civics as part of that curriculum and I tell you, those two things are very important pieces of education right now.

"Our party has been consulting with educators and thinking really hard about how we can now move forward to build a system that responds to some of the needs we see around us," Lehman added. 

Littlewood said the teachers' federation is also backing Reinio, who is a teacher, because he supports the vision they have for education heading into the June 2 election.

“When we presented our education platform, it was without any partisan ties," she said. "What we’re looking for are candidates who are for public education. I know that Pekka stands for what the OSSTF stands for and is a supporter of education. We are not saying we are endorsing all NDP or all Liberal or all Green (Party), but we have endorsed candidates from each of those three parties knowing they fully support our plan for education.”

Reinio, who teaches at Bradford Elementary School, said the recent actions by the provincial government have him upset as both an educator and as a parent.

“As a parent, it riles me up to have school closures for 26 weeks as it affects my own kids," he told BarrieToday. "But I work with hundreds of children and I see the difficult situations they have been put in over those weeks. We could have made investments in our schools to have them open a little bit longer than they were.”

Reinio also says the provincial government “should have invested in smaller classes and proper ventilation, as well as paid sick days.”

Meanwhile, Van Houtte, who also received the OSSTF's support, says she believes the pandemic changed the way a lot of people view the education system and teachers. 

“The pandemic opened the gaping holes in our infrastructure, whether it is health care or education, which affects everyone,” she said. “We saw what the COVID did to our education system and had local boards scrambling to find ways to teach these kids.

"There was no direction and no leadership from our current government, and that is what I’m hearing from people at the doors," Van Houtte added. "Parents see how important teachers are now that their kids couldn’t go to school on a regular basis.”