By Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The federal government is providing up to $2 billion in additional funding to help provinces and territories ensure that kids can safely return to class this fall.
The money is on top of $19 billion Ottawa has already promised to help them cope with the ongoing impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on their economies and health-care systems.
Education is not a federal responsibility and provinces are responsible for their own school reopening plans, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, but he said he also wanted to calm the fears of parents by ensuring the provinces have additional resources to make schools safe.
“Over the past week or so I’ve heard from so many Liberal MPs, so many parents across the country who are still extremely worried about how that reopening is going to go,” Trudeau said at a news conference held in a Toronto school.
“We’ve seen the provinces put forward plans for that reopening and they are confident that they are doing what is necessary, but parents were still concerned. So we said, ‘Let’s give the provinces even more resources to be able to do everything that is necessary to keep our kids safe.'”
The money will flow through the new Safe Return to Class Fund — specifically for school reopenings.
Ottawa is also providing an additional $112 million to help schools in First Nations communities with safe reopening plans.
Provinces and territories will have flexibility to spend the money as they see fit to bolster their efforts to ensure schools can reopen this fall as safely as possible, Trudeau said.
“We had no intention of interfering in provincial areas of jurisdiction, that’s why this money coming in to be able to top up the plans that the premiers have set forward is going to be something that will give people confidence, not just in the safety of their kids, but in their ability to get back to work and our economy to get going once again,” he said.
Schools have been shut down across the country since COVID-19 started sweeping across Canada in mid-March.
Earlier Wednesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he believes any federal money given to the provinces for schools should come with explicit plans to address school safety, including mandating smaller class sizes.
“We need to make sure that announcement is tied to schools directly,” Singh told reporters in Toronto.
“We need to make sure that money is actually going toward making schools safer and that there’s a plan in place.”
Singh also says Ottawa must address a pressing need for child-care spaces with funding of up to $10 billion over four years.