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Ontario rolls back gathering limits in some areas as 293 new COVID-19 cases reported

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Ontario is rolling back gathering limits in some areas of the province, and also implementing new fines for people who host and attend large gatherings during the pandemic, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.

This comes as the province reported 293 new cases of COVID-19. Infections in Ontario have been on an upswing since mid-August.

Ford said that starting Friday in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region, gatherings are now limited to 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors. Those new caps don’t extend to places like restaurants, movie theatres, banquet halls, gyms and convention centres.

Ford said that the new gathering limits don’t apply to those areas, as well as to schools, because they have “really strict protocols in place.”

“We’re comparing apples and oranges here,” Ford said. Instead, the new measures are meant to discourage things like parties.

People at any gathering must also maintain distancing measures with people outside their social bubble, Ford noted. 

“This is to send a message to the reckless, careless people who want to hold these parties,” he said.

The premier said the province is also instituting a minimum fine of $10,000 for the organizers of illegal social gatherings, as well as a $750 fine for people who show up to them.

“We will throw the book at you if you break the rules,” Ford said. 

“They must be a few fries short of a happy meal, these people.”

Ford also said the province is freezing residential rent increases in 2021 and extending Ontario’s current ban on commercial evictions.

Most cases found in people under 40

According to provincial data, there were 35,134 tests completed Wednesday in Ontario, which is the most since the end of July. There is also a backlog of 37,624 tests currently under investigation.

In a tweet, Health Minister Christine Elliott said 85 new cases were found in Toronto, with 63 discovered in Peel and 39 in Ottawa.

Elliott said that 70 per cent of the new cases were found in people under 40.

“With a slight increase in hospitalizations to 53, ICU admissions and vented patients remain stable,” Elliott said.

Twenty-one patients are currently in intensive care, with 12 on a ventilator.

The province also counted an additional three deaths Thursday, bringing Ontario’s total to 2,825. A CBC analysis of local public health units, which is more up to date than the provincial figures, had the real total at 2,864 deaths as of Wednesday evening.

The province also marked 179 cases as resolved on Thursday.

Virus cases concentrated in urban areas

A CBC analysis shows that Ontario’s active cases — the bulk of which have been reported since Sept. 1 — are concentrated in the province’s most densely populated urban areas. Ottawa and the five public health units in the Greater Toronto Area account for 84 per cent of the current cases.

Of the more than 2,300 currently active cases in Ontario:

  • The suspected method of exposure for 54 per cent of cases is either unknown, missing or labelled as “no epidemiological link,” which means the novel coronavirus is being spread in the community.
  • More than one-third of active cases are among people in their 20s, even though that age group makes up only 14 per cent of the province’s population. 
  • More than half of active cases are in just two public health units — Toronto and Peel Region.

As cases trend upwards, the Ontario NDP says it plans to force a vote Thursday afternoon in the legislature on a motion to cap class sizes at 15 students.

“Parents are growing increasingly worried about their little ones’ safety,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.

“COVID-19 cases keep going up, and more new infections are being reported every day among the students and staff who are back in school, with one school already being forced to shut down because of COVID-19 cases.

COVID cases have been reported at multiple schools in the province in recent days, largely clustered in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

“Doug Ford is penny-pinching on the backs of students, jamming kids into full-size classes to avoid having to hire more teachers and education workers,” Horwath said. 

“Parents, kids, teachers, education workers, school boards and public health experts recommend smaller class sizes. Today, with the province on the brink of a second wave, I’m calling on the legislature to change course, and finally cap all class sizes at 15.”

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has a majority, so for the motion to pass a number of MPPs would have to vote against their own government’s back-to-school plan. 

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Ford says supporter will not get special treatment in school accreditation process

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Premier Doug Ford says the government isn’t giving any special treatment to a prominent social conservative whose Christian college is seeking permission to become a university.

The government recently introduced legislation that, among other things, would give the Canada Christian College the ability to grant university degrees in arts and sciences.

The college is run by Charles McVety, a prominent Christian activist and controversial supporter of the premier ever since Ford ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership.

Ford says the college will be evaluated by an independent agency that will decide if it gets the ability to call itself a university before his government’s legislation takes effect.

Former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne denounced the legislation today, saying the province should not “extend the mandate” of McVety.

McVety, who did not immediately respond to request for comment, was an active opponent of Wynne’s move to update Ontario’s sex-education curriculum when she was in office.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020.

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Learning about residential schools in elementary grades ‘non-negotiable,’ education minister says

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Despite the recommendations of hand-picked government advisers, Alberta elementary school students will learn about residential schools in a new curriculum, the education minister says.

“We are absolutely committed to facing reconciliation and to ensuring that the truth about residential schools, about that content, is in our K-6 curriculum. That is non-negotiable,” Adriana LaGrange told reporters at the legislature on Wednesday.

However, she wouldn’t say at what grade level she thinks those lessons should start.

Leaked documents obtained by CBC show that advisers recruited to revise drafts of the incoming K-4 social studies curriculum crossed out any references to harm done to Indigenous people by European settlers.

In the documents, an unidentified adviser writes that negative effects of the arrival of Europeans in Canada is “too sad and upsetting” for fourth graders. The documents suggest students begin learning about them in Grade 9 or high school.

The adviser, or advisers, also say lessons should cover residential schools in the broader context of “harsh schooling.”

“The ugliness of Dickensian schooling, boarding schools, 19th-century discipline methods and residential schooling that applied to some Indigenous kids can probably best be saved for later when learners are more mature and less emotionally vulnerable to traumatic material,” the documents said.

The documents also said the problems of residential schools applied to “a minority of children.”

The recommendations are counter to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, which compelled all schools to teach children in all grades about residential schools, treaties and the contributions of Indigenous people.

This summer, the Alberta government hired 17 advisers to review existing drafts of a new curriculum and provide suggestions. The social studies adviser is Chris (C.P.) Champion, a history writer and former staffer to Premier Jason Kenney when he was a Conservative Member of Parliament and cabinet minister. He is currently a visiting fellow at Queen’s University.

LaGrange’s press secretary has previously said Champion was one of several people who authored the leaked social studies documents.

LaGrange would not say which of the recommendations she plans to include in the new curriculum.

“Advice is advice,” she said. “No final decisions have been made.”

Other suggestions a ‘major loss’ for francophones: scholar

The Opposition NDP called for the government to fire its advisers.

NDP Indigenous relations critic Richard Feehan says the UCP government should fire its curriculum consultants that are making recommendations he says are racist. (CBC)

Indigenous relations critic Richard Feehan said the government knew what kind of advice it would get when it selected its consultants.

“You always bring people to you who you think will give advice you think you will take,” Feehan said. “In this case, they seem to have brought people to them who seem to have this racist attitude toward Indigenous people.”

Also missing from the suggested curriculum are any references to the history of francophones in Alberta, said Raphaël Gani, a PhD candidate who is studying francophone perspectives in the province’s social studies curriculum.

“For francophones, it’s a major loss,” Gani said.

The current social studies curriculum was written alongside francophone and Indigenous contributors, he said. None of that collaboration is evident in the draft of recommendations, he said.

“The dream is now over,” he said. “To work as equal partners is not the way this program has been made.”

The Alberta Teachers’ Association issued a statement saying the organization has lost faith in the government’s curriculum redesign process. The United Conservative Party government previously tore up an agreement that made the association a partner in writing curriculum.

The recommendations are “regressive and inappropriate” and highlight the risk of cutting teachers out of the process, the statement said.

LaGrange said working groups of subject-area experts, which include teachers, will have a chance to review curriculum proposals later this fall.

She said she will release the elementary school curriculum to the public in early 2021.

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Manitoba looks to Tennessee model in efforts to tailor post-secondary education to labour market

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Premier Brian Pallister is looking at the example of an American state that pioneered performance-based funding for post-secondary institutions, as Manitoba seeks a new way to finance higher education.

The premier met with the University of Manitoba’s new president, Michael Benarroch, in September. The premier expressed interest in following the lead of Tennessee, says Benarroch, but perhaps not that of other Canadian provinces that have explored performance-based funding, like Alberta and Ontario.

“Interestingly, the premier said in our conversation that he didn’t want to make the mistake that some of the other provinces have made — he didn’t want this to be a hammer,” Benarroch told a U of M senate meeting on Oct. 7.

“And he referred to, as our [economic development] minister has done … the Tennessee model, which is one that shows up in the United States as the ideal of these kinds of models.”

Benarroch later urged his colleagues to explore what Tennessee has done.

“We can help to influence government’s direction as they move forward with this,” Benarroch said in an audio recording of the virtual meeting, which CBC News requested from the university.

Michael Benarroch took over as president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba earlier this year. (Alia Youssef/University of Manitoba)

In the last year, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has repeatedly signalled it wants to tailor universities and colleges to more closely meet labour market needs, but hasn’t explained what that might look like.

If Manitoba emulates Tennessee’s policy, it wouldn’t be the only jurisdiction.

A majority of American states have developed post-secondary funding models based on performance — rather than enrolment numbers — since Tennessee started doing so in 1979. The use of the model has varied significantly, however, and been discontinued in some cases. 

Tennessee bases about 83 per cent of its post-secondary funding allocation on a set of weighted outcomes and “quality standards,” and the remaining 17 per cent on fixed costs, according to a state document.

The lion’s share of funding is based on outcomes like graduation rates, the number of degrees awarded, the number of credit hours obtained and the certificates and degrees granted per 100 full-time students. Lower-performing schools receive a smaller grant.

MacGregor Obergfell studied Tennessee’s approach as a former research intern with the New America, a public policy think tank.

“It can work, but you have to be very careful with how you develop it,” he said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

A funding model incentivizing graduation rates and certain majors may stop some students from applying, Obergfell said.

“If they’re not set up in a way that really makes sure that the institution is still a place that is accepting of students and is there to help them succeed through enrolment to graduation, they can actually be counterproductive in practice.”

Disadvantaged students prioritized

Tennessee’s financing model has been evolving, in part, to address these criticisms. The funding formula can be revised every five years, and a premium is now placed on advancing students from disadvantaged backgrounds. As well, institutions can weigh some metrics as more valuable, depending on their priorities. 

The financing model is also helped by a suite of other initiatives to encourage enrolment, Obergfell said, including free community or technical college for some residents and a campaign to get post-secondary credentials for 55 per cent of Tennesseans by 2025.

An outcomes-based model “has to be incorporated with other programs designed to increase access” for students, he said.

Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations, said these policies yield minimal, if any, benefits, but come at a significant cost.

“The universities, if they’re penalized for having lower participation rates, lower graduation rates, lower retention rates … simply change their entrance standards,” said Forbes, referring to research that found these models tend to exacerbate challenges for low-income and minority applicants.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister told University of Manitoba administration that he likes the Tennessee approach to post-secondary funding. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Forbes said any outcomes-based model would require an influx in new funding, but he isn’t confident the Pallister government will follow suit. Manitoba post-secondary institutions have faced funding freezes, and in one year, a cut

Benarroch said in an interview he recognizes the trepidation over a new financing model, but he believes it can help.

“I think as you become more informed and more aware of how it works, some of that fear dissipates,” he said, adding that any system should account for differences between institutions.

“You begin to realize that in places where this has been implemented and implemented well that, in fact … it can help to improve outcomes over time.”

In an email, the province wouldn’t discuss its meeting with the U of M, but said it would prioritize accountability in any outcomes-based funding model.

It’s also reviewing the approaches in Alberta and Ontario, which haven’t implemented their models yet because of the pandemic.

“The Tennessee model was established in the 1970s to fund institutions based on performance instead of enrolment numbers, and it includes easy-to-understand metrics that capture each school’s uniqueness and an external review committee to ensure the metrics are fair and effective,” the statement said.

“We are working to develop a model and funding metrics that best fit Manitoba’s needs and will involve our seven publicly funded colleges and universities throughout the design, development and implementation process.”

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