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Cancelled school repair fund will affect some local projects, says school board

The Upper Grand District School board was to get nearly $800,000 from the program, which Doug Ford's new PC government has cancelled
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The Upper Grand District School Board says the elimination of a provincial fund for school repairs will have a long-term effect on the board's operating budget.

The new Ontario PC government cancelled the $100-million Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund earlier this month. It was earmarked for school repairs across the province, funded by the previous Liberal government's cap-and-trade system, which Doug Ford has announced is also being cancelled.

The UGDSB was notified about the cancellation of the fund on July 5, said Heather Loney, communications and community engagement for the board.

The memo, obtained by The Canadian Press, advises school boards to stop spending the cash that was allocated in April immediately.

“Please maintain detailed records of the contracts that have been signed as ministry staff will contact boards to collect information on the scope of the work underway,” the memo said.

The board's 2018-19 allocation from the fund amounted to $788,900.

"Some of these projects are already underway and will be completed," said Loney. "Some of our work was designed, but not yet contracted, and unfortunately that work will have to stop."

At this time, Loney said she is unable to provide a dollar figure for the amount that will be eliminated at the board or which projects are affected.

"The elimination of this fund will have a long-term impact on our operating budget, as the projects we had planned were to create energy savings for our board and reduce our environmental footprint," said Loney.

A renewal plan for school repairs will continue, said Loney.

"We have a good solid program to keep our schools in good shape and we take very seriously the renewal and refresh of our schools. This year we have allocated $16 million for school renewal projects and that work will continue," she said.

Stephen Seaborn, spokesman for the education advocacy group Campaign for Public Education, said the cut will hurt schools across Ontario.

“It’s bad,” he told the Canadian Press. “It was done just like as if it was nothing. There was no discussion about what would be done about the budgets of the schools.”

Seaborn said the cancellation of cap and trade has clearly had unintended consequences and cutting funds for the renovation program is a prime example.

“My message for the premier is watch what you do,” he said. “It has huge implications for 2 million school kids across the province.”

Ford campaigned on a promised eliminate cap and trade and revoked the regulation laying out the program as one of his first acts after he was officially sworn in on June 29.

Ford’s spokesman Simon Jefferies told the Canadian Press the Tories received a strong mandate from voters to end cap and trade.

“To ensure an orderly wind-down of programs funded through the cap-and-trade carbon tax, the government will honour arrangements where contracts have already been signed and orders have already been made,” he said in a statement.

“Decisions to continue any specific initiatives will be made on a case-by-case basis.”

A spokesperson for the Wellington Catholic District School Board was not immediately available to speak about the effect on the Catholic board.

—with files from The Canadian Press