The Ontario Legislature resumed sitting on February 21st. There are many issues we’re facing and, since the legislature rose in December, questions around how the Government is managing the healthcare crisis, the Greenbelt, housing, and the cost of living, have proliferated. I am looking forward to continuing to advocate for our community and for Ontario during this upcoming session.
Your Health Act
On February 21st, the government introduced the “Your Health Act,” which would expand the role of for-profit clinics in providing surgeries and other medical procedures. The “Your Health Act” builds on the Government’s January announcement that they will rely more on for-profit clinics to reduce wait times and backlogs. The Act includes safeguards like requiring for-profit clinics to consult with public hospitals before being licensed. Concerns have been raised about the Act’s lack of specificity regarding regulation and inspections of for-profit clinics. I spoke in the House and asked why the Government removed the current requirement that the Director of licensing and inspections be an employee of the Health Ministry. The new Act would allow, for example, an industry panel to take on the role of Director.
New Funding Deal Between the Province and the Federal Government
On February 8th, the federal government presented an offer to the premiers that increased federal healthcare transfers by $46.2 billion over the next 10 years, $8.4 billion of which will go to Ontario. The offer requires that some of the funding be used to expand mental health services, address the surgical backlog, and develop a national healthcare database. On February 13th, the premiers accepted the offer.
A separate bilateral agreement-in-principle came on February 23rd seeing Queen’s Park and Ottawa settle on a 10-year, $8.4 billion deal which covers four areas of “shared priorities”: supporting better access to family doctors in rural and remote areas, the healthcare workforce, mental health and substance use, and digitizing health records. Given that some provinces, like Ontario, have underspent their healthcare budgets, federal funding will come with conditions allowing the federal government to track progress to ensure the provincial government spends more money on healthcare. More information on the agreement in principle can be found here: Government of Canada and Ontario Agreement in Principle
Understanding the Family Doctor Shortage
I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Michael Green, Head of Family Medicine at Queen’s University, to discuss the family physician shortage. One thing we talked about was how population-based primary care might work. The idea is that everybody in a geographic region would be covered by a team and spread out the effects of staff shortages. Currently in our system, some have full access to primary care and others have none.
One solution that would address the need for increased access to primary care, and the hesitancy of new physicians to start private practices, is the primary health team model. These teams are comprised of inter-professional health providers. They typically include one or more family physicians who work with nurse practitioners, mental health workers, dietitians, physical and occupational therapists, social workers and others to coordinate care. Primary care teams provide value for health dollars by speeding up access to care and offering a wider range of programs and services to promote health and manage chronic disease. Dr. Green emphasized that continuity of primary care is associated with better access, preventive care, and improved health.
On February 17, the Public Order Emergency Commission published its report on the Emergencies Act Inquiry. The Report by Justice Paul Rouleau found that the Prime Minister’s decision to invoke the Act, to end blockades across the country, was justified. The inquiry also investigated the province’s response to the disruptions in a section titled “Ontario’s absence.” Our Premier and Solicitor-general turned down requests to be involved in high-level talks as the “freedom convoy protest” rolled into Ottawa in the January 2022, bringing unrest, and causing severe disruptions to businesses and residents.
The provincial government increased its engagement only a week later, when protesters started blocking the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, with economic and trade repercussions. Both the Premier and the Minister refused to comply with a summons to testify at the Inquiry, invoking parliamentary privilege which, in Rouleau’s words, put him at a “regrettable disadvantage” in “understanding Ontario’s perspective”. The full report can be read here: https://publicorderemergencycommission.ca/final-report/
Ferry Disruptions and Skyrocketing Wages
After months of disruption in ferry services, we have found out that the Ministry of Transportation has been paying substantially higher costs for temporary agency workers on the Wolfe Island ferry. After I tabled a written question in the Legislature, the Government was forced to reveal that they had spent over $240,000 on temporary workers from July to September of last year. Temporary workers are expensive. Regular workers make between $23 (deckhands) and $38 (captains) per hour. Temporary agency workers cost over $86 per hour! I believe that the Premier has mismanaged the labour shortage and contributed to disruptions and delays in ferry service by suppressing wages (Bill 124), thereby allowing ferry workers to be scooped up by the private sector. My full statement can be viewed here: https://mpptedhsu.ca/ferry/
After speaking in the House Chamber to the Labour Minister and the Transportation Minister several times last year, I am pleased that the Ontario government has given one year of funding to a Kingston-based program called Careers on the Water, to train crew for Great Lakes vessels. This is a step in the right direction. I hope that funding will continue for several years.
Supporting Black Owned Businesses: Meeting with CBCC
The Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC) is a new organization that started in 2018, with roughly 800 Black businesses across Canada as members, including approximately 500 in Ontario. The chamber offers mentorship, financial literacy, HR programs, and entrepreneurship training. On Friday, February 24th, I had the opportunity to discuss the challenges hindering CBCC members, namely, access to bank funding, and obtaining more information about non-bank sources of funding for Black businesses. I will continue to keep in touch with the CBCC and its members in Kingston and the Islands.
Affordable and Inclusive Housing Crisis in Kingston: Meeting with the SPCKD
During a recent meeting, I had the chance to speak with The Social Planning Council of Kingston & District (SPCKD) to discuss potential ways to advocate in the Ontario Legislature for affordable housing, housing for disabled adults, and support for the homeless. SPCKD is a non-profit organization that has been operating in Kingston since 1930. It envisions Kingston as an inclusive community that is civically engaged, socially responsible, economically, and environmentally sustainable, respectful of diversity, and supportive of positive change.