BRAMPTON, Ont. - Schools are the heart of Ontario communities and could be better used after classes to provide affordable programs for kids, parents and seniors, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wednesday as she campaigned for the June 12 election.
During a stop in Brampton, north of Toronto, Horwath promised an NDP government would create a $60-million-a-year fund, starting in 2016, to help boards keep fees down for sports clubs and community groups that want to use the schools after hours.
"Schools serve even a greater purpose than just that of education, and our open schools fund will help school boards keep the lights on, keep cleaning staff in place, keep staff around," she said.
The fund could be used for renovating schools to make space more appropriate for community use, and would also be used to keep fees down or even eliminate them, added Horwath.
"(It would) make sure the schools are accessible at a reasonable rate, either without cost or at a very, very low fee, for community organizations, for sports clubs, 4-H clubs, for seniors organizations, so those schools can continue to provide important service and opportunity to local communities," she said.
The NDP said 28 per cent of the groups that rent school space after hours had to cancel or reduce their programs between 2008 and 2012 because of rising fees.
Horwath blamed broken Liberal funding promises for forcing school boards to jack up the fees, and said the Progressive Conservatives have no plans to support the community use of schools.
"Unlike the Liberals who continue to close schools and tear the heart out of communities, and Conservatives who have been silent on this issue, New Democrats believe that an open schools fund will help serve communities," she said.
The NDP leader expressed surprise that Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak would not attend a campaign debate on northern Ontario issues in Thunder Bay because of scheduling issues. Hudak was the first to criticize former premier Dalton McGuinty for skipping the northern debate in the 2011 election, noted Horwath.
"In the last election campaign it was the Liberals that gave a backhand to the north and this time it's the Conservatives that are giving a backhand to the north," she said. "New Democrats have been there for the north from Day 1, and will proudly take part in the debate again this time around."
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