How public opinion polling might affect Doug Ford's back to school decision

The decision on whether to leave Ontario classrooms closed for the remainder of the school year is partly based on public opinion polling, commissioned by the Progressive Conservative government, which pitted schools against the economy.

The internal polling conducted by Campaign Research, obtained by CTV News Toronto, shows a majority of Ontario residents do not want in-person learning to resume if it would jeopardize the economic reopening plan.

Sources have told CTV News Toronto that the government's planning and priorities committee made an initial decision on Monday not to reopen schools for the remaining weeks of June, including on a regional basis.

Premier Doug Ford is set to meet with his cabinet today to make the final decision on whether or not to keep schools closed for the rest of the school year as the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, local medical officers of health, the Ontario Science Advisory Table and Sick Kids hospital urge for a reopening. 

While the premier has been on the fence for weeks about returning students to the classroom, his government made the decision on Monday amid concerns that reopening schools could create between 2,000 to 4,000 cases of COVID-19 by July, according to modelling data.

However, internal polling shows the government is also weighing the impact of schools on the economy.

A survey of 1,246 people across the province asked respondents whether the province should “reopen schools for three weeks in June even if that means Ontario’s reopening plan is delayed by one week from June 14 to June 21st.”

Most — 56 per cent — who responded rejected the idea, and instead said the province “should not reopen schools for three weeks in June if that means Ontario’s reopening plan is delayed.”

The survey also asked if respondents were comfortable with the back to school plan jeopardizing other parts of the economic reopening such as summer camps and retail shopping.

Again, a majority, 63 per cent, said the province should prioritize the economy and jobs over schools.

The internal polling arrived days after premier Ford issued a letter to health and education stakeholders asking for their opinion on returning students to the classroom.

The vast majority supported the decision to reopen schools pointing to low transmission rates, manageable caseloads, and the ongoing mental health effects of extended virtual learning.

Premier Ford is expected to make an announcement at 1 p.m. on Wednesday about the issue.