Premier Doug Ford’s classroom changes appear to be getting a failing grade from Ontarians, according to a new public-opinion survey.
The Corbett Communications poll suggests there is opposition to larger class sizes and to forcing students to take online high school courses, and indicates there is concern with Ford’s plan to eliminate thousands of teaching positions.
“Teachers are everywhere. It’s not the union that you really want to try to bust,” veteran pollster John Corbett said Monday.
“It becomes a real problem,” said Corbett, noting the effects could be felt in Progressive Conservative ridings across Ontario.
Using Maru/Blue’s Maru Voice Canada online panel, Corbett Communications surveyed 1,836 Ontario voters last Thursday and Friday. A sample of this size would have a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points, 19 time out of 20.
Even though the question echoed Ford’s insistence that no current teachers will lose their jobs, 62 per cent still opposed the change, with 23 per cent in favour and 15 per cent neither supporting or opposing or unsure.
Increasing class sizes from Grade 4 to Grade 8 from an average of around 23 students to 24 students was opposed by 47 per cent of respondents, with 30 per cent in favour and 23 per cent neither supporting or opposing or unsure.
But when those surveyed were asked about increasing high school class sizes from an average of 22 students to 28, 59 per cent were opposed, compared with 25 per cent in supporting and 16 per cent neither supporting or opposing or unsure.
“They do get the quantitative difference,” Corbett said of the respondents’ concern at larger class sizes.
Similarly, those polled were not enthusiastic about the government’s plan to have high school students take four online classes over four years, with 57 per cent opposed, 21 per cent supportive, and 22 per cent neither supporting or opposing or unsure.
“That’s because they see exactly where the Conservatives are going with that. They want to eliminate teachers. They’re trying to diminish the role of teachers,” the pollster said.
“I think people really look at that and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m paying my taxes to have good teachers educate my child and they want him to learn from the internet?’ They understand what’s going on.”
Ford’s plan to allow beer and wine to be sold in corner stores was more popular, with 42 per cent in favour, 34 per cent opposed and 24 per cent neither supporting or opposing or unsure.
But support plunges if liberalizing sales came with a cost of up to $1 billion in financial penalties for breaking the government’s 10-year agreement with the Beer Store.
If there is a payout to the brewers’ retailer, only 33 per cent would favour expanded sales, with 59 per cent opposed and 17 per cent neither supporting or opposing or unsure.
On Monday, Mayor John Tory suggested that the province is slashing public-health funding to Toronto because it will have to pay hundreds of millions in broken contract fees to bring beer to corner stores.
Ontarians appear split on Ford’s mandatory gasoline pump stickers that warn of the impact of federal carbon-pricing measures, with 37 per cent opposed and 36 supportive while 27 per cent were neither supporting or opposing or were unsure.
A majority of respondents did not approve of the $10,000-a-day fines scofflaws could face for not posting the stickers, with 52 per cent opposed and 25 per cent supportive and 22 per cent neither supporting or opposing or unsure.
Finally, Ontarians appear cool to the new licence plate design unveiled in last month’s budget.
Only 20 per cent favour the blue plates with the slogan “A Place to Grow” replacing white plates with the motto “Yours to Discover.” In comparison, 48 per cent opposed them and 31 per cent neither supported or opposed or were unsure.
A majority — 58 per cent — want the old white plate and slogan back, while16 per cent favoured the new design and 24 per cent said either is fine and 1 per cent didn’t know.
“We showed the pictures of both plates … and they preferred the old one,” said Corbett. “That, I think, you can ascribe to the essential conservativeness of the Ontario public. We don’t like change just for the sake of change.”
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie