Lecce leaves strong legacy in education portfolio, hits the ground running in energy

The stakes are high. The energy portfolio, like education, is critical to Ontario’s future economic success. Pictured: Energy Minister Stephen Lecce. Photo Credit: Stephen Lecce/X. 

Stephen Lecce certainly didn’t waste any time after the recent cabinet shuffle landed him in the expanded portfolio of energy and electrification, ending a relatively successful five-year run as minister of education. 

Within days he had signed a new deal with Romania to allow Ontario Power Generation to project management the refurbishing of one of that country’s nuclear reactors.  The agreement not only highlights Ontario’s growing international reputation in the nuclear industry, but it will also produce more high-quality jobs here at home. 

As one of the longest-serving education ministers, Lecce pushed through a long list of badly needed reforms. Strengthening math, science and literacy curriculums, expanding technology education and early reading screening programs to identify struggling students so they can get the help they need, increasing co-op opportunities, introducing a mandatory financial literacy test as a graduation requirement, giving parents more power, focusing home economic courses on needed life skills. The list goes on. 

And it is also worth noting that the changes were made without the constant warfare that has so often characterized the relationship between teachers and the provincial government, regardless of which party was in power.  

The tiresome and repetitive rhetoric from most teacher union leaders never seemed to go away but remarkably, there were few significant labour disruptions. With the exception of the controversial COVID shutdown of schools, kids have been able to stay in class.  

There is no doubt that generous wage settlements of more than 11 per cent, achieved through arbitration, eased the usual tensions between unions and the government. But it is also clear that Lecce can be an effective minister.  

Randall Denley, a Postmedia columnist who has witnessed many education ministers come and go, described Lecce as “one of those relatively rare politicians who wants to accomplish something in the job and has the skills to do it.”  

He will need them. The stakes are high. The energy portfolio, like education, is critical to Ontario’s future economic success. Electricity demand continues to grow faster than our supply as more and more processes are electrified and more electric cars hit the roads. 

While supplies are estimated to be sufficient until the end of this decade, the many years it takes to bring new energy supplies on line makes it a critical race to win.   

The previous energy minister, Todd Smith, took a practical approach, a direction that Lecce was quick to adopt, calling it “an all-of-the-above approach to build for the future.”  

The Ontario Government has been criticized both for its reliance on nuclear power – over half of the province’s energy needs are supplied by its three nuclear plants – and for its decision to increase the use of natural gas to better meet demand fluctuations.   

But one of the major strengths of the province’s electrical infrastructure is its diversified approach with nuclear, natural gas, hydro power and the addition of more wind and solar all contributing to our growing needs.

This has created an electrical grid that is 87 per cent free of carbon emissions, commonly regarded as a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Critics point out that before the government expanded the use of natural gas, the grid was 96 per cent free of carbon emissions.  

But Lecce has pushed back, noting that the province’s approach will continue to be practical, not ideological.  

“We will not pursue an ideological path that will deny some forms of energy when we need all of them to help fuel our economy,” Lecce said. 

It is an important point. Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has been enticing more and more international companies to establish operations here, many building electric cars and their battery components. 

A relatively clean and reliable energy grid is part of the attraction. Thousands of jobs and the province’s economic health are on the line. Ensuring the power is there must be a major priority. 

If Lecce’s run in the education portfolio is any indication, the province should be in good hands.  

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