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COLUMN: Mantha's office reopens to in-person visitors

In this column, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha airs some concerns about Ontario's back to school plans
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Algoma-Manitoulin MPP, Michael Mantha writes a regular column about provincial initiatives and issues impacting our community. This column was originally released by Mantha's office.

Those readers of a particular age will readily remember a movie called Rocky. One would be hard-pressed to find many who don’t know the movie because, with eight sequels to follow the first, it is pretty hard to ignore.

For those unfamiliar with the series, in a nutshell, the world-famous boxer Rocky Balboa’s success in the ring sends his popularity to the stars. Then tragedy hits and he falls into a canyon of despair after losing his trainer and father figure Micky. Then he loses his title to a boxing nemesis.

Oh how far the mighty man fell. However, in the tradition of Hollywood, viewers witness his mighty climb from the depths of despair and ridicule to become the title champ once again.

If you give the story half a chance, one cannot help but be inspired by the Rocky character.

Viewers witness the fallen man’s devotion to his wife and his determination to redeem himself to those he let down. I get shivers every time I hear the movie theme song, Eye of the Tiger, by a group called Survivor. Each time I watch Rocky III I get that shiver of inspiration.

For the last two years, Canadians, like the rest of the world, have had to endure the serious blows of the COVID-19 virus.

None of us could escape the effects of the pandemic, losing friends and loved ones, suffering isolation and loneliness, loss of education, job and income to name but a few effects.

But now as I look around and talk to more and more people, I am seeing exactly what I knew was just under the surface the whole time – the strength and resiliency of Ontarians as we now are seeing some light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.

Now that I am able to again connect with people I am seeing the characteristic strength, compassion and resiliency of the people of Algoma-Manitoulin rising. When I see such evidence, Eye of the Tiger plays in my mind.

Given the above, I am happy to say that my constituency office is also part of this resurgence.

We are once again open to the public to provide assistance. We adhere to standard masking and sanitization protocols. To be certain, my office and team have been available throughout the pandemic as always, even though we had to work from home a great deal. But the team and I have remained accessible the entire time without unscheduled closure.

So, on behalf of my team and me, we continue to look forward to providing the people of Algoma-Manitoulin with the service they need and have experienced for nearly a decade.

On a more serious note, we know that our children and students will be heading back to the classroom – in person in most cases – in just a few more weeks. It is the resumption of this most desired routine that students, parents and educators have been looking forward to for months. Let there be no question, however, that this re-opening must be carefully planned and carried out to prevent the horrendous turmoil of more school closures in the future.

For months, Andrea Horwath and my NDP colleagues have been calling on the government to create and release a detailed plan to get our students back to school safely for a Safe September. But it seems that Premier Ford and Education Minister Stephen Leece have put off working on this major “term paper” assignment until the very last moment. Such delay is entirely unacceptable and unconscionable.

The truth is that, right now, parents, teachers, and students of every age are exhausted from a year of upheaval and painful remote learning.

So many of our children are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. Many will have a hard time catching up after over a year of disruption. So much learning time has been forever lost, and so much social and emotional growth has been delayed.

While there is definitely some value in online learning in certain circumstances, there is no replacement for a dedicated, live, classroom teacher. Now that so much has been irrevocably lost, there is no time to waste. We have to get this return-to-school plan right – the first time without the likelihood of closures down the line.

To date, Doug Ford has chosen to cut $800 million from schools for this year, and he’s making almost no new investments to give kids a Safe September.

He has kept his plans completely under wraps so that there will be no time to provide parents and educators with an opportunity to offer input or feedback prior to implementing the plans – such as they are.

Doug Ford and Stephen Leece are blatantly rolling the dice with our children's physical and mental health, their education and overall well-being. The scheme does not add any mental health or educational supports to help kids recover. It offers nothing in the form of paid sick days for parents and educators who find it necessary to stay home due to infection. And the plan has absolutely nothing to improve much-needed youth vaccination rates.

From the outset, the NDP has stood shoulder to shoulder with parents, educators and public health professionals in calling for reduced class sizes to prevent overcrowding and reduce the likelihood of infection.

Most school ventilation systems are out of date and inadequate to meet the demands of current ventilation needs. Ford’s plan to improve ventilation involves supplying classrooms with HEPA air filters in hopes it will capture any suspended COVID-19 virus. It is interesting to note that according to Ontario Public Health, “no direct scientific evidence was identified that demonstrates the effectiveness of portable air cleaners in reducing COVID-19 transmission” and that portable air cleaners should not be the only mitigating measure.

The NDP, as well as the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario among others, has been calling for the government to fund upgrades to the internal ventilation systems in schools. Given that children under 12 aren’t eligible at this point to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, is it really too much to ask that all schools be equipped with ventilation systems that will provide our children with greater viral protection and parents with peace of mind?

And now, it looks like we may be heading into a fourth round, all we can do is go with the flow of Ford’s plan and just hope he gets it right, but…. I think this time Premier Ford might find himself ‘on the ropes.’

But for now, get out and about and reconnect with friends and neighbours that you have missed for so long. It wouldn’t hurt to also plug in your earbuds and search out Eye of the Tiger for some added inspiration to help remember things are finally looking up. It is up to all of us to do our part to keep Algoma-Manitoulin moving onward and upward.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha MPP/député