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Ontario Hansard - 20-October2021

QUESTION PERIOD

HEALTH CARE WORKERS


Mr. John Vanthof: My question is to the Premier. Ontarians have praised the hard work of nurses on the front lines of our health care system. They’ve been some of the heroes of the pandemic, but they are overworked and burnt out all across the province, including in the north and rural areas. We are in a nursing shortage. It’s simple, Speaker: We need more nurses to help Ontarians. Why has the government failed to recruit and retain nurses in Ontario?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: I thank the member opposite for the question. We recognize and value greatly the work that nurses have done since the beginning of this pandemic and have continued to do for the past 18 months, but we do realize that many of them are exhausted. They need a break. That is why we have invested over $52 million already to recruit, retain and support over 3,700 more front-line health care workers through our COVID-19 fall preparedness plan.

We do have further plans to recruit and retain more workers because we know, especially with the increase in care hours in long-term care, that we will need more support. We will need more workers in our health care system, and that’s in home and community care and in long-term care, as well as in our hospitals.

We’re continuing to build on that and we are going to graduate more nurses because we know that we need more registered nurses, RPNs, personal support workers and everyone on the front line.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): And the supplementary question.

Mr. John Vanthof: The Ontario Nurses’ Association says some nurses are so burnt out they are quitting, creating even more gaps.

The Premier’s science table said yesterday, “There is already significant fatigue and burnout among hospital health care workers. They will be further strained and at risk for burnout if their unvaccinated colleagues are unable to work due to COVID-19 infection.”

When will this government mandate vaccines for health care workers and ensure that the risk of disruptions drops, instead of getting worse?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): To reply, the Premier.

Hon. Doug Ford: I find it ironic the NDP are saying one thing: “Fire 20,000 nurses,” but we need more.

I will tell you what we’re doing, Mr. Speaker. We’re investing over $1 billion to make sure the temporary wage enhancement takes place. We’re investing $4.9 billion over four years to create more than 27,000 new positions for nurses and PSWs. This includes the most recent announcement of $270 million to hire 4,050 new long-term-care staff across the province, partnering with publicly funded colleges with investment—by the way, the colleges are doing an incredible job in training the nurses and the PSWs.

We’re investing $121 million to accelerate the training of 9,000 PSWs and investing $86 million to train up to 8,600 PSWs.

We are getting some of the greatest front-line health care workers anywhere in the world right here in the province because of our investments.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The final supplementary.

Mr. John Vanthof: Despite the Premier’s statement, the government has made it clear that they do not appreciate nurses. Bill 124 strips nurses and other front-line workers of their rights to bargain their wages. They need to rip up that bill.

We need a new plan to train and retain nurses, with a government that is willing to invest in this training, recruitment and retention. We need a government to say yes to more nurses instead of always saying no.

When will this government withdraw Bill 124 and ensure that every Ontario community has the nurses they need?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: As I’ve indicated before, we greatly value the work that nurses have always done, especially during a pandemic.

We are recruiting more people. We are recruiting more nurses, registered practical nurses, personal support workers and others. We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars in order to be able to do that.

We also recognize that many nurses are feeling burnt out. That’s why we have made mental health supports available to them. We need to make sure that our providers are well to be able to continue to provide care. So we are providing those supports to nurses. We will continue to do that because we want to make sure, as we finally exit this road map, that we will make sure that our front-line workers are well and safe and able to carry on their work in the future.

PREMIER’S COMMENTS


Mr. Gurratan Singh: My question is to the Premier. On Monday, when the Premier should have been talking about growing our province with new Canadian immigrants, he instead made comments that play into racist stereotypes about new Canadians. Those comments were hurtful, divisive and wrong.

Immigrants and new Canadians struggle and work day and night to survive in Canada, working to build this province and this country.

Yesterday, the Premier was given an opportunity to apologize, and he refused. So I’m going to ask the Premier again: Will he apologize for his hurtful and divisive comments towards new Canadians that are just plain wrong?


Hon. Doug Ford: To the member from Brampton: I was inundated with people from Brampton, from your community, from the Sikh community, who said, “You were bang on.” They told me the story of how they came here and worked their back off, and they said, “They’re just playing politics with you.”

Our base, my base, our family’s base is made up of great, hard-working immigrants. I’ve been calling on the federal government for three and a half years to have more immigrants. This province was built on hard-working immigrants. I will support them. I ask them to come here and work and contribute like everyone else does. That is the backbone of this province—our great, hard-working immigrants.

So stop playing politics, and let’s speak the truth.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Gurratan Singh: Back to the Premier: I don’t think the Conservative government and the Premier understand how problematic the Premier’s comments were, so let me break it down. Immigrants often come to Canada with nothing. Some work in gruelling jobs with low wages, struggling to get their education recognized, struggling to find housing and more. And yes, they face racism and racist stereotypes. Instead of recognizing this struggle, the Premier of Ontario made comments that feed into division and into these racist stereotypes—a dog whistle that is hurtful and wrong.

So I’m going to ask the Conservative government and the Premier of Ontario to do the right thing: Show leadership and apologize for the Premier’s reckless and hurtful and just plain wrong comments.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Members will please take their seats.

Premier?


Hon. Doug Ford: Mr. Speaker, I asked the member to stop playing politics.

It’s very simple. My phone has blown up all night, all day, the day before, from immigrants telling me their story of how they have come here with absolutely nothing and how they’ve started at low-level jobs, they’ve worked up, they’ve built companies, they’ve started restaurants. That’s the type of Ontario we need.

I find it very ironic: I’ve been the one asking for 294,000 immigrants to come here and build the GDP. But guess what? Under the NDP and the Liberals, they never had to worry about that for 15 years. They lost 300,000 jobs. They had more people than jobs. Since we’ve taken government, we have more jobs than we have people.

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I welcome everyone around the world, no matter where they come from. Come here, start a family, start a business and get back to the greatest jurisdiction anywhere in the world, and that’s Ontario.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Members will please take their seats. Stop the clock.

Restart the clock. Final supplementary?


Mr. Gurratan Singh: Back to the Premier: Harrmandeep Buttar is a new Canadian, living in Brampton. He is an essential worker. He worked throughout the pandemic. He drives a truck. He works six days a week, 12 hours a day, and in the evenings and on weekends, he delivers food. He easily works 16 hours a day, six days a week. He lives in a basement apartment where he provides for his wife and his daughter. His is a story of so many other new Canadians who are struggling to make a life here in Canada. Do they sound like immigrants who are here only to collect the dole?

What possible excuse could the Premier of Ontario have for saying his reckless and irresponsible comments? Why would he say that immigrants are only coming to Canada to collect benefits, and why won’t he apologize?

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Order.

Premier.


Hon. Doug Ford: First, Mr. Speaker, I didn’t say that. Again, they’re playing politics. I’m the biggest pro-immigrant Premier we’ve ever seen here—ever.

Our family has been the same way. Again, I go back to our base. This is how we were created. That’s the reason I’m down here: Because hard-working immigrants couldn’t pick up the phone and call any of their MPPs; they wouldn’t return their phone calls. They can call the Premier, and I’ll return their phone call. They called the mayor of the largest city in Toronto, and they returned the phone calls and went to their door.

I challenge my friend Mr. Singh. I will go to his community. I’ll door-knock and I’ll see the response from the Sikh community. The Sikh community that came down to visit me and said, “You’re bang on, Doug. Just keep going and stay focused.” That’s what we’re going to do.

We’re going to continue to create jobs. We’re going to make sure that when people come here, they have affordable housing that the NDP and the Liberals voted against. We’re going to have highways for people to drive on that the NDP voted against. We’re going to increase health care that the NDP voted against. It’s no, no, no from these people across the aisle—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Stop the clock. Members will please take their seats.

Start the clock. The next question.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY


Mr. Taras Natyshak: Speaker, yesterday afternoon, the Premier revealed that he would be bumping up his House leader to this brand new, never-before-heard title as Minister of Legislative Affairs. We know this isn’t just a title bump; it comes with a $27,000-a-year pay raise.

The Premier talks a big game about looking out for workers, but he’s the one who passed Bill 124 that targets front-line workers: our nurses, the angels in our community who have seen trauma and tragedy and continue to see it every day. It freezes their salaries for the very people who have continued to keep us safe during this pandemic.

Speaker, can the Premier explain why his House leader, his right-hand man, deserves this generous promotion, but our hard-working front-line workers do not?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): To reply, the government House leader.

Hon. Paul Calandra: I do appreciate the opportunity to answer the question. As I informed the opposition House leader yesterday, in fact the new responsibilities come with a mandate to ensure that the Legislative Assembly, which is in dire need of repair, which is in need of a decanting—the function of that is returned to parliamentarians and away from the public service. I think all members would agree to that. As I said, I informed both the Liberal House leader yesterday and the opposition House leader of that.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, the member is quite correct on one thing. When it comes to investing in health care, a massive investment in his community with respect to a brand new hospital that, of course, was not a priority for them when they shared a coalition government with the Liberals. He never advocated for that. He never advocated for health care workers. He never advocated for long-term care. He never advocated for the twinning of his highways which we’re getting done—


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much. The member will take his seat.

Supplementary question.


Mr. Taras Natyshak: Speaker, what’s quite clear is that when it comes to taking care of his friends and his buddies, the Premier is all ready to say yes, yes, yes to a pay raise for the government House leader, but when it’s time to pay front-line workers, those nurses, it’s no, no, no and he has entrenched it in law in this building.

Speaker, all we know so far is that the House leader will be topped up with close to about $30,000. That’s about six months’ worth of a hard-working nurse’s salary, or an entire year of a minimum wage worker’s salary. But it might not stop there. Can the Premier tell us what other perks or promotions come with this new title? Will the minister have access to private transportation, limousine service, according to this new title that he now holds?


Hon. Paul Calandra: Of course, Mr. Speaker, I understand what the member is doing: He’s embarrassed by the fact that he has sat in this House since what—2011—and has been unable to get a brand new hospital for his region, and we were able to get it in our first term of government. The member is embarrassed—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Essex, come to order. The member for Hamilton Mountain, come to order.

The government House leader has the floor.


Hon. Paul Calandra: The member is embarrassed that, although he has sat there and accomplished very little for his community, in our first term of government, we were able to twin highways in his area, so that we could get people and the economy in his area moving better and people moving around.

The member is probably embarrassed by the fact that, whilst he was in a coalition with the Liberals, the only thing he asked for was a stretch goal on auto insurance, not new long-term-care beds, not hospitals, not transit, not transportation. He sat there and approved the closing of rural schools to the tune of some 600. On every measure he has not delivered for his community, and that’s why, on June 2, 2022, a new Conservative member of provincial Parliament—

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Stop the clock. The government House leader and the member for Essex will come to order.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Perhaps you didn’t hear. The government House leader and the member for Essex will come to order, and we’ll move to warnings if need be.

Interjections.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Hamilton Mountain will come to order. The member for Ottawa South will come to order.

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): It was your facial expression.

Mr. John Fraser: I probably deserve it because of past transgressions. I’ll take it. I’m not complaining.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Start the clock.

The next question.

ACCESS TO MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS


Ms. Christine Hogarth: We want to turn this back to things that are really important to Ontario, which is about the pandemic. The pandemic has caused a lot of economic distress for people in various ways, and during these unprecedented times it has meant that some women have faced the reality that many others well know, about the worry of affording the necessary period products they need each month. It’s not a subject that we often talk about. Some of us never talk about it, but that’s because many of us just take it for granted. But more women and girls are having increased difficulty affording the appropriate menstrual hygiene products, including while in school.

The inability to afford these necessary products is often referred to as period poverty. We see this especially with young women and girls, who may miss out on a day of school and other activities because of the challenges to access the necessary menstrual products. Can the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues tell us how this government is planning to address period poverty in Ontario?


Hon. Jane McKenna: Thank you to the member from Etobicoke–Lakeshore for the question. As the Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, I am always trying to ensure that women and girls have the support they need to succeed and reach their full potential.

I was surprised to learn, according to a survey by Plan International Canada, that 63% of women and girls have regularly or occasionally missed an activity because of their period and concerns of not having access to menstrual hygiene products, and one in seven young people aged 13 to 21 struggled to afford period products.

Mr. Speaker, because of our government’s continued efforts to end period poverty, we have partnered with Shoppers Drug Mart to provide these essential menstrual products for free to students across Ontario. Our government is committed to ending period poverty, and this partnership is the first step towards progress.

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The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question?

Ms. Christine Hogarth: I want to thank the minister for that answer. Once again, this is something we don’t normally talk about, but I’m really glad to see that our government is working with the private sector, hand in hand, to provide these free products to our schools.

Mr. Speaker, I know that 12 months ago, Minister Lecce embarked on the negotiations to help end period poverty. And it is clear now more than ever that young women and girls need access to these products. I think it’s critical that we come together, women and men, to support all students, especially those who are facing hardship, poverty or mental health struggles.

Can the Minister of Education tell this House why this negotiation was important to him and to our government, and most importantly, how it will improve the lives of young girls, women and other students across Ontario?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Minister of Education.

Hon. Stephen Lecce: I want to thank the member from Etobicoke–Lakeshore for her leadership, standing up for young students and women and girls in our province.

We agreed that in 2021, in this country, it is unacceptable that so many young students are unable to attend school due to a lack of access to menstrual products. We’ve been guided and informed and inspired by the voices of students who called on the government to take action to help end period poverty, and that is why we worked in partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart, under the leadership of the Premier, to help ensure, from an equity perspective, from a health perspective and from an academic perspective, that every child could be in school every day.

That is why we’re proud to have announced a commitment over three years for 18 million menstrual products and for 1,200 dispensers, supporting schools in this province so that we can improve the mental health of students, and more importantly, we can ensure that all kids have access to the menstrual products that they deserve.

SMALL BUSINESS


Mr. Ian Arthur: Yesterday, I was part of a devastating meeting. It was a meeting that the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries should have had with the restaurant industry. The industry represents 450,000 workers. It generators billions of dollars in tax revenue. And it operates on a knife’s edge of profitability.

A healthy restaurant operates with 3% to 5% profit. But during the pandemic, eight out of 10 restaurants operated at a loss or barely scraped by. Some of the sales have come back, but not enough. Sales are down 30%, and seating capacity is still capped. Winters are hard in the best of years for restaurants, and this is the worst of years. The situation is untenable.

Restaurants have several asks, and I would respectfully, through you, Speaker, request that the Premier address each one: Will the Premier lobby the federal government to continue the wage subsidies throughout the winter? Will the government stop insurance companies from imposing 30% to 200% increases on premiums? Will they commit to no penalties on unpaid deferred payments?

This industry is about family and community. I know; I worked in it for years, Speaker. Will this Premier support the restaurant industry and get them through the coming winter?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): To reply, the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries.

Hon. Lisa MacLeod: I appreciate the member opposite’s question. Of course, I know he has worked in the restaurant sector and hospitality sector himself, and we wish him great success.

That said, I want to be perfectly clear: The Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, including myself as the minister, have met on multiple occasions with our restaurant working group, which we established in our own way. We have met with them similarly—myself—over four times. My colleague the Attorney General, my colleague the Treasury Board president, my colleague the Minister of Labour all sat down in order to support the restaurant industry, and we look forward to their actual recommendations.

I will say that our government has invested over $600 million to 18,000 restaurants to allow them to survive during this period of time, and we’ve been working. If the member opposite wants to talk about meetings, the restaurant working group did have representatives that were allowed to be part of a meeting that I had on Monday morning—to which Restaurants Canada did not show up, although the Culinary Tourism Alliance did, in addition to, of course, ORHMA. They also were well aware that I was meeting at the Ottawa Hospital to look at a new civic campus.

That said, I did have the opportunity yesterday to meet with Ottawa Public Health—


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.

The supplementary.


Mr. Ian Arthur: For the record, restaurants in Toronto faced the longest lockdowns and the lowest amount of support across all of Canada.

People ask me if I miss the kitchen and cooking, and what I tell them is that I miss the people I worked with. They were my chosen family, and they were incredible. That’s how it is in restaurants. The Premier likes to speak of his family, about all the people who show up at Ford Fest. These are those people, Premier. I don’t think they’re going to show up anymore.

One owner told us of crushing debt he had taken on during the pandemic. He told us that he is once again forced to lay off employees because patios are closing and capacity is still limited. He talked about how, throughout the pandemic, he has been covering the cost of rent for employees who were losing their homes, covering their medical bills and their child care costs, buying groceries for his employees.

Through you, Speaker, to the Premier—

Interjections.


Mr. Ian Arthur: —and I hope that the minister from North Bay and the minister from Nepean are listening closely—

Interjection.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member will take his seat.

The member for Essex is warned.

I apologize to the member for Kingston and the Islands. Please conclude.


Mr. Ian Arthur: Thank you, Speaker. I was looking down; I didn’t see you rise there. I apologize.

Again, through you to the Premier—and I do hope that the ministers from North Bay and Nepean are listening very closely. Your ridings are filled with independent, family-owned restaurants. Please find it in yourselves—have the economic wherewithal, have the compassion, whatever it takes to get there—to bring back a third round of small business funding and help these restaurants get through the winter.


Hon. Lisa MacLeod: As I did mention, over $600 million was invested directly to 18,000 restaurants throughout the pandemic. We also provided a great deal of support through rent relief, energy relief. In addition, my ministry has just announced another $100-million fund for tourism and economic development recovery.

We continue to work with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade as well as Treasury Board and finance in order to support our sectors.

I will say this: In order for us to get back to full capacity, in order for us to continue to get back to normal, we need to download that QR code. I’m pleased to say that over 800,000 have been verified in the last couple of weeks. But I did receive troubling information yesterday from Ottawa Public Health—as the member opposite knows, I’m a proud member from the city of Ottawa—who indicated to me that right now 30% of our restaurants are failing to comply with the ability to verify the vaccination certification.

I will continue to work with the sector, not only to provide them with funding in order for them to stabilize, but also in order for them to adhere to public health protocols, because that is the key for us to get back to economic and social recovery and success.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Before I recognize the member for Ottawa South, I will apologize to him for mistakenly calling him to order earlier this morning.

Mr. John Fraser: I probably deserved it for past indiscretions.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): We move on. Don’t worry.

The member for Ottawa South.

COVID-19 IMMUNIZATION


Mr. John Fraser: My question is for the Premier, and I hope that he is listening very closely. Ontario families have been through so much in the last 19 months: lost income, lost time at school, lost time with loved ones, and so many other things.

Vaccines have arrived, and they’ve brought hope. So it’s perfectly reasonable for families to expect that the person caring for a loved one in hospital or in their own home or at school or in a child care centre has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

We know that vaccines reduce transmission, disease, hospitalization and death. We know that seniors, those who are immunocompromised and children under 12, who can’t be vaccinated, are very vulnerable to the Delta variant.

So, Speaker, through you: Why is the Premier refusing to make vaccinations mandatory for front-line health care and education workers?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: Thank you to the member opposite for the question. This is a very important issue, and it’s one that we’re analyzing on a daily basis within the hospital sector.

As you know, we have one of the most successful vaccination rates in the world, with over 87% of Ontarians aged 12 and older having received their first dose and over 84% being fully vaccinated.

Since we announced our last mile strategy, we’ve had a big increase in vaccination rates. That largely will include health care workers. We’ve had approximately 365,700 first doses and approximately 525,900 second doses. We do recommend that every Ontarian be vaccinated. We do recommend that particularly health care workers be vaccinated, because they are dealing with the public and dealing with their ill patients, and the vast majority of people already have in front-line health care situations.

We are reviewing this on a daily basis, and I’ll have more to say on this in my supplementary.

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The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. John Fraser: Very clearly, the Minister of Long-Term Care understands breakthrough infections and infections in the unvaccinated, because he made vaccines mandatory in long-term care. When he said that, he said that although staffing might be impacted by this policy, “The priority has to be protecting the safety of residents and the safety of other staff.” The minister said that while they might lose some staff who are unwilling to get vaccinated, home operators are much more concerned about the implications of an outbreak and what that would mean to staffing.

The same principle applies in hospitals, in schools, in child care centres, in home care, in all other settings where that kind of care is delivered. It’s really hard to understand why you’re incrementally parsing this all out. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not logical.

Speaker, through you: Will the government be supporting Bill 12 this afternoon and make vaccinations mandatory for front-line health care and education workers, and protect the most vulnerable among us?


Hon. Christine Elliott: First, the situation with long-term-care homes and the staff in those homes is different than in other locations, because long-term-care homes have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. However, that said, the Premier has sent a letter to hospitals in Ontario and other front-line health care providers to understand what the impact would be for a mandatory vaccine requirement, because it’s not a simple stand-alone issue.

We understand that there will be some people who will not be vaccinated, and we already have health human resources concerns. We want to make sure that our hospitals can continue to provide excellent, quality care, so we have to weigh the benefits of mandatory vaccination versus the job losses that might happen for people who chose not to be vaccinated.

We have received those responses, pursuant to the letter that the Premier sent out. We are reviewing those answers now and will make a determination very shortly with respect to this issue of mandatory vaccination.

SENIORS AND ACCESSIBILITY


Mr. Mike Harris: My question is to the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. Over the summer, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many businesses in my community of Kitchener–Conestoga to see first-hand what they are doing to create a more accessible Ontario. Last month, I had the honour to show the minister around the beautiful town of Elmira to see what they’re doing to keep their downtown core accessible, and I also had an opportunity to tour Onward Manufacturing with him in Kitchener, where they’ve rolled out some fantastic programs to help people with disabilities.

Can the minister please share with the House what the government is doing to ensure that all of Ontario is accessible, so that every Ontarian can live the Ontario dream?


Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho: I thank the member for Kitchener–Conestoga for raising this important question. I’d like to answer that question by sharing a real example. The town of Elmira is showing leadership on what small businesses in that town are doing to make their community more accessible to everyone. These small businesses are echoing the Ontario spirit that is being shown across the province during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

I saw this first-hand at the Onward Manufacturing facility when I toured this small business with my good friend the member for Kitchener–Conestoga. They showed us first-hand the value of employing people with disabilities and how they make their workplace accessible for everyone. Onward Manufacturing is a real example of how small business—


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.

The supplementary question.


Mr. Mike Harris: It’s encouraging to see the work that the ministry is doing. We got to see it first-hand while we were out touring around some of these local small businesses.

In addition to the investments in accessibility, the seniors community knows this government has invested billions of dollars to protect them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we continue to combat the fourth wave, seniors need to know that their government is there for them. Could the minister tell us a little bit more about the work that his ministry is doing to protect seniors as the fight against COVID-19 continues?


Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho: Thank you to the member for Kitchener–Conestoga. Thank you for your continued support and excellent work for Ontarians in your riding.

Our government is protecting seniors in the riding of Kitchener–Conestoga and the rest of Ontario by investing in infection prevention and control measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in retirement homes.

Mr. Speaker, it’s my honour to share with the House that the riding of Kitchener–Conestoga received over $215,000 in IPAC funding. That’s over $215,000 more to spend on staff, PPE, training, and other measures to stop the spread of the virus.

HEALTH CARE


Mr. Wayne Gates: My question is to the Premier, and I hope he’ll answer it for the people of Niagara. Today in Niagara, only 6% of residents have received their MRI within the provincial benchmark of 28 days, compared to 46% of other Ontario residents who have their scan in that time.

The current wait time for an MRI in Niagara—listen to this—is 255 days, well above the provincial average of 141.

In Niagara, thanks to the help of Mr. Tom Rankin, we have fundraised enough money to install an MRI unit. We have requested from this government $1.52 million to run the new MRI machine seven days a week to clear up the backlog.

Will you provide the funding in that request and ensure the residents of Niagara Falls have fair access to MRI scans? Yes or no?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: Certainly, our goal is to make sure that everyone in Ontario, including in Niagara region, can have fair access, timely access to both surgeries and diagnostic procedures that have been delayed as a result of COVID-19. That’s why, as part of our $1.8-billion investment into the hospital sector, we’re also dedicating $300 million to reduce surgical backlogs and to increase diagnostic procedures from delayed or cancelled surgeries and procedures because of the pandemic. This is in addition to the $200 million that we introduced last fall. We know that people have been waiting long periods of time. We want to make sure that we can get caught up, which we are doing very quickly, on both surgeries and diagnostic procedures. That applies to everyone across the entire province. We are mindful of that, and we are working very hard to make sure that we can limit the times that people have to wait to receive these procedures and surgeries.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Wayne Gates: Minister, you’re aware of the request from Niagara Health. You’re also aware of the fact that we need operating funds in Niagara.

There are 5,000 residents today waiting for an MRI—5,000. These scans could be the difference between life or death, and people are sitting at home, stressed out, waiting 255 days for the scan they need. It’s disgraceful in this province.

We did our part. We fundraised enough money to buy the machine. That’s our obligation. Now the Premier has to do his part and provide the funding to clear the backlog and get these people the access to medical services they need.

In 2017, the Conservatives supported my motion to end these backlogs by funding MRI scans in Niagara. The people of Niagara now need them to live up to that commitment.

Will the Premier say today to the residents of Niagara that he will be delivering the money needed to clear the backlog and ensure that no resident in Niagara has to wait 255 days for a scan that they medically need?


Hon. Christine Elliott: While I can’t speak specifically to the issue that the member is mentioning, I can indicate that we are working very hard to catch up on the surgeries and diagnostic procedures that had to be cancelled or delayed because of COVID-19.

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But I’m also pleased to say that in 2020-21, the average Ontario hospital completed 88% of their targeted surgical and diagnostic allocation. This is something we are working very hard on. We’ve invested over $500 million in order to be able to do that. We know that people have been waiting a long time. We are grateful for the fundraising efforts that have already happened, but we are doing our part to catch up and to make sure that people do not have to wait undue periods of time to have these procedures done or surgeries done. That applies across the province, including in Niagara.

COVID-19 IMMUNIZATION


Mr. Rick Nicholls: My question is to the Minister of Long-Term Care. Sunnycrest Nursing Home, located in Whitby, recently had four deaths and seven hospitalizations within the first week since the COVID boosters were administered. Sadly, these deaths were covered up and not reported to the mainstream media for reasons that are suspect.

An inquest was not called. Autopsies seeking the cause of death were not performed. Coroner findings were not released. If I were a family member, I would demand answers and I wouldn’t accept, “Well, they died from other comorbidities.”

Minister, to you: What is the government doing to protect our elderly from dying when the purpose of the boosters is supposed to save lives?


Hon. Rod Phillips: I do thank the member for the question. Mr. Speaker, our focus has been on protecting the residents of our seniors homes. Of course, every death is a tragedy and we mourn them with the family.

But, Mr. Speaker, that is why the province of Ontario, with the support of the chief medical officer, moved, as the first jurisdiction in North America, to have third doses. I am pleased to report to the Legislature today that 88% of eligible residents have those boosters.

Now, Mr. Speaker, and to the member, as we know, there is no perfect protection against this disease. That is why we continue to make sure that other protections are in place, including now requiring randomized testing of both immunized and non-immunized staff. We want to take every step we can to make sure that we’re protecting people in our long-term-care homes.

Mr. Speaker, as you know, on October 1, I indicated that a vaccine mandate would be in place so that by November 15 all staff will need to be vaccinated. We’ll take the steps we need to take to protect our elders.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary question?

Mr. Rick Nicholls: Thank you for that response, Minister. Initially, these experimental drugs, aka vaccines, were coined as the “saving grace” to eliminate COVID. Now people must get up to six booster shots. Is that because the experimental drugs aren’t as great as expected?

Where’s the clinical data and the research proving boosters are safe and effective? I’d like to suggest that our seniors are not human guinea pigs, yet surprisingly there has been no animal testing on these drugs. It appears that corners have been cut in order to rush to get the vaccines and boosters out.

Just to be clear, Minister, I’m not pointing fingers at you regarding the determination of the safety or the efficacy. But now it has been reported that a lawyer at Sunnycrest has threatened staff with dismissals and lawsuits should they talk to anyone about the deaths following the administering of the first round of boosters. That sounds like a cover-up.

So, Minister, will you commit to investigating these allegations of threats and the hiding of any wrongdoings at Sunnycrest and to seek justice for the families affected?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I need to caution the member on his language.

The Minister of Long-Term Care to reply.


Hon. Rod Phillips: Again, each and every death inside or outside our long-term-care homes is a tragedy, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the member not pointing to me as a medical expert, nor would he. But from my perspective, the perspective of our government, the perspective of the science table and the perspective of our medical professionals, the potential for serious illness and disease is reduced by 11 times for those taking the vaccine. We encourage and continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

We will, under the leadership of the Minister of Health, continue to look at the science with regard to further booster shots and where those are necessary. Mr. Speaker, I think the vast majority in this Legislature and the vast majority in our province understand that vaccines are an important part of the solution to ending COVID-19’s challenges on our economy and our health, and we’ll continue to follow the science.

ECONOMIC REOPENING AND RECOVERY


Mr. Toby Barrett: To the Minister of Finance: I’ve met with many constituents in my riding and I’ve heard over and over again how critical the measures we took to protect people’s health and the economy were in their communities.

As the rollout of our last mile vaccine plan continues, and there is light at the end of the tunnel, the people of Ontario want to ensure that we do not lose any of the hard-fought gains we’ve made against this pandemic. But they’re also looking to tomorrow. They would like to know how this government plans to deliver prosperity to Ontario workers, their families and for the future.

Speaker, would the Minister of Finance please share how he’s planning to ensure we remain steadfast in our resolve against the pandemic while creating the right conditions for future economic growth?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance, the member for Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill.

Mr. Michael Parsa: I want to thank the great member for Haldimand–Norfolk, not just for the great leadership he provides here in the Legislature, but certainly for what he does for his constituents every single day.

Speaker, just like my colleague said, I’ve seen how important these supports have been to many, many Ontarians. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our government has been steadfast in our commitment to make every necessary resource available to protect the people and to protect jobs. We’ve invested $19.1 billion alone in response to COVID-19.

And while we’ve made important progress, our job is not done. We cannot let our guard down against COVID-19, and our government will continue to make sure that we are there for our front-line heroes, Mr. Speaker.

But as we all know, we inherited a province from the previous government where real investment in infrastructure never materialized while Liberal insiders all got rich. The previous government said no. We’re going to say yes: yes to investing in our health care capacity and $703 million—


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Thank you very much.

The supplementary question?


Mr. Toby Barrett: Thank you to the parliamentary assistant for that response. It’s really great to hear that our government is laying the foundations not only for Ontario’s recovery but also for long-term prosperity, as the parliamentary assistant made mention, after so many years of neglect by the previous Liberal government.

Now as we all know, it’s the workers on the ground. They’re the front line in this fight against COVID-19 and with respect to our economic recovery. Speaker, my question: Will the parliamentary assistant provide a bit more detail on how our government’s plan will support Ontario workers?


Mr. Michael Parsa: Thanks again for the great question. Speaker, my colleague couldn’t be more right. That’s why our government is going to fight for all workers and their families in our 2020-21 economic outlook and fiscal review. Our focus is both on essential workers who worked tirelessly on the front lines of this pandemic and our hard-working Ontarians who have been set back in their new work and careers by COVID-19. We’ll fight for those looking for new opportunities for themselves and their families here in Ontario, the economic engine of Canada. Our government will build on the range of training and employment supports we have already put in place to give workers the skills they need to fill our labour shortage and support our economic recovery.

Speaker, our priority since the beginning of the pandemic has been protecting the people and protecting the jobs, and we’re going to continue to do just that. A lack of resources will never stand in our way. We will continue fighting for the people of Ontario and the jobs every single day.

ACCESS TO MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS


Mr. Sol Mamakwa: Good morning, Mr. Speaker.

Remarks in Oji-Cree.

My question is to the Minister of Education. For those of us that live in the north, we often pay double for the same products found down here. This gap is even wider when you go into fly-in First Nations. Get this, Mr. Speaker: A regular box of tampons can range from $16 to $45, leaving people to choose between menstrual products or food security.

Norma Kejick of Northern Nishnawbe Education Council—they run three high schools—was disappointed to see jurisdictional issues once again creating division between the provincial and First Nations schools and students. These products being offered for free to all school boards in Ontario are not available to First Nations school boards. Why is this government discriminating against First Nations schools?

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Hon. Stephen Lecce: We’re proud to have unveiled a plan to help end period poverty in this province for all publicly funded schools in the province of Ontario. This is a very positive step forward that should be celebrated as we end a challenge that has kept many young students from going to school every day. This government was resolved to fix it, whereas the former government and the New Democrats did nothing for 15 years. We took action. That just is the case. Nothing was done, and many students were staying home as a consequence. We’ve negotiated an agreement with Shoppers Drug Mart to set aside 18 million pads for students over the next three years. This is a positive step forward.

When it comes it Indigenous education, I’m proud to confirm that funding for Indigenous education within our provincial schools is up to the highest levels ever recorded in Ontario history. We have strengthened the curriculum, particularly from grades 1 to 3 in the social studies curriculum, to enhance Indigenous education. We’ll continue to be there to support First Nation, Inuit and Métis students in this province.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Sol Mamakwa: Young people attending First Nations schools have high needs for these products, but they are being excluded. The press release announcing this program says, “This supply of free menstrual products will be provided to all school boards,” but that’s not the case. It is unfortunate that the public-private sector agreement did not see the need to address the issue for all students in Ontario, but only for those who attend provincial schools.

I am asking, Speaker, for clarification, as First Nations schools in the riding have reached out and asked if they can participate. Is the minister telling me the program is not for First Nations schools?


Hon. Stephen Lecce: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. I believe that for many years in this province, many young students were staying home as a consequence of not having equitable access to menstrual products. There was inaction by governments to date, and it was our government who made a decision to help end period poverty in this province, on the advice of many student leaders, including the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association, who counseled us to find a fix to this problem.

Over the last year, we negotiated with Shoppers Drug Mart to deliver 18 million pads over three years from 1,200 dispensaries to publicly funded schools in the province of Ontario, to support all students, including Indigenous students within those schools and other young children in the province of Ontario. We want all kids to succeed. We want them to go to school each and every day. This investment, partnering with the private sector, will help support better-quality and equitable education for Ontario’s students.

COVID-19 RESPONSE


Mr. Stephen Blais: About a year ago, the government issued a news release heralding the use of rapid COVID-19 tests. In this news release, the Premier said, “These new rapid tests are game-changers in the fight against COVID-19”—game-changers, Mr. Speaker. Despite being a game-changer, the Premier ignored all the public health warnings and sent our children back to school, without making investments to keep them safe and without there being a rapid testing program put in place. In fact, at the end of September, the Premier said no to rapid testing and ordered that agencies stop supplying rapid tests to parents, so we had parents seeing the Premier sitting on the sidelines and, in an effort to keep themselves safe, stepping up to do the work that the Premier had said no to.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier has said that rapid tests are a game-changer. When is he going to get into the game?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Education.

Hon. Stephen Lecce: We are proud in this province to have one of the highest vaccine rates for young people in Canada, as well as one of the lowest case rates for young people in the country. That’s because we followed the best advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and consulted with CHEO in the member’s region of Ottawa and SickKids in Toronto. The guiding light of that advice has been to bring forth a layered approach to our schools’ safety.

We’re proud that 99.9% of our schools are open and two million children are learning, supported by safe schools with significant improvements in ventilation in every single school. We have expanded testing options—the take-home PCR testing option for high school asymptomatic students—and yes, to the member’s question, we have added in an additional tool with the deployment of rapid antigen screening, which public health units in the province can deploy wherever they see fit, based on risk—not political decisions but that of the medical officers of health. We have trust in our medical leaders, we have confidence in the front-line staff in our schools, and we are grateful for their partnership in keeping schools safe in this province.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Stephen Blais: The supplemental is also for the Premier. Throughout the pandemic the government has taken a reactive approach. They are routinely a day late and a dollar short—or rather, often weeks late and billions of dollars short—in keeping Ontarians safe.

At the end of September, school-aged children accounted for the highest share of COVID-19 cases of any demographic in Toronto. The Premier has said no to reducing class sizes. The Premier has been said no to ensuring vaccinated educational staff. The Premier has said no to rapid testing surveillance.

There are serious questions as to whether the government is doing all it can to keep our classrooms and schools as safe as possible. In fact, this week the Premier said it wasn’t safe for him to take personalized executive tutoring in French one on one, but he is asking our kids to sit in packed classrooms without rapid testing surveillance and without knowing whether their teacher or the child beside them is vaccinated.

Does the Premier believe that the classroom environment he is asking teachers and students to endure is safe, when receiving one-on-one executive tutoring in a controlled environment is not?


Hon. Stephen Lecce: I think the fundamental question from the member opposite is, do we agree with the advice of the Children’s Health Coalition, who provided a public statement just days ago. They said, “Data from Public Health Ontario suggests that the overall efforts to limit virus transmission, such as masking, distancing and vaccinations, have been successful with less than 0.25% of Ontario’s two million student population testing positive....”

The coalition also noted that among the total number of cases in children and youth between September 19 and October 2, 79.5% were not linked to school outbreaks.

We have in this province one school closed, of nearly 5,000. We have two million children learning. We have an overwhelming consensus that the ventilation improvements, the masking indoors, the enhancement of testing and screening and better cleaning are making these places safe for kids and safe for staff.

But we take nothing for granted. Working with the Deputy Premier, we’ve added another layer by the deployment of the rapid antigen screening program, which was deployed at the school in Toronto that has now reopened following the deployment of PCR take-home tests as well. We’re doing everything we can, working with public health, to help keep schools safe.

DRIVER EXAMINATION CENTRES


Mr. Jamie West: The question is to the Premier. As of the end of July there was a backlog of more than 700,000 driving tests. Since August, the Minister of Transportation has announced additional temporary road test centres in nine locations. Those locations are Guelph, Oshawa, Burlington, Markham, East Gwillimbury, Mississauga, southwestern Ontario, the Niagara region and the Ottawa area.

You may have noticed that zero of those nine locations are located in northern Ontario. The backlog of driving tests is a huge issue in northern Ontario, Speaker. Leaving out northerners from taking their driving test means they can’t go to work. That means lost wages, lost appointments, lost opportunities.

The Premier needs to take action now to allow northerners to get on the road and get on with their lives. Will the Premier commit to opening additional temporary road test centres across northern Ontario, including one in my riding of Sudbury?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Associate Minister of Transportation.

Hon. Stan Cho: I appreciate the member asking that question because it’s important to address the backlog of drive tests. Obviously, this pandemic has affected everyone, and that includes those trying to get those drive tests done. That is why in June our ministry introduced a plan, a committed investment of more than $16 million to tackle that very backlog the member is referencing when it comes to in-vehicle passenger road tests. As part of this plan we are opening more temporary road test facilities, hiring an additional 251 examiners and offering road tests with extended hours on weekdays and holidays. In fact, just recently we opened three additional temporary road test—throughout the province.

I know there is more work to be done, but we’re going to clear that backlog and make sure that people are getting those drive tests in a timely manner.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mr. Jamie West: Back to the Premier: Let’s talk about Rick. Rick is a constituent of mine. His daughter has been driving for five years, and like many Sudburians she relies on driving to get to university and to get to work. However, Rick told me she can’t make an appointment for her G test—get this, Speaker—until December 31, 2022.

The Conservative government brought in nine additional temporary road test centres, and all the ones he was talking about are in southern Ontario. This disregards the needs of people in northern Ontario who lack the robust public transportation systems of their southern neighbours. The north is where we use highways to get to work, not subways, so wait times for drive tests are especially devastating in northern Ontario. People in the north don’t have the choice of a train, subway or bus to take them to work.

When will the Premier open additional temporary road test centres in northern Ontario, including in my riding of Sudbury?


Hon. Stan Cho: The member highlights a very important point. He’s right: The north is very unique compared to the rest of Ontario. They have unique challenges, and we need to address those challenges. That’s why we have been making sure that we address unique situations like Rick’s, and help open year-round DriveTest centres in northern Ontario in Dryden, Espanola, Fort Frances, Huntsville, Kapuskasing, Kenora, Kirkland Lake, New Liskeard, North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Timmins and Sudbury. These DriveTest centres will operate year-round and, as I said, there have been additional resources allocated to make sure we address the backlog.

There are more testers, we’re going to get through that backlog and, when life returns to normal, we’re going to be on that road to prosperity here and in the north as well.

PREMIER’S COMMENTS


Mrs. Belinda C. Karahalios: My question is for the Premier. The other day, the Premier gave us his glib tough-guy act, saying that he only wanted new Canadians who were willing to work hard rather than sit around all day—a comical choice of words coming from a Premier whose political career wasn’t built on hard work but rather on the reputation of his father and his late brother. It’s even funnier considering that, since getting elected, the Premier often goes missing from the public eye for long stretches, as he did for the most of the summer. Perhaps the Premier was projecting and referring to his own lack of hard work when making these comments.

Will the Premier admit that his crude comments about working hard were simply a diversion to distract from the fact that his government’s policies have resulted in thousands of Ontarians losing their jobs over the last year and a half?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Mrs. Belinda C. Karahalios: Oh, supplemental?

The government defence of the Premier’s statements were equally comical. First, the Premier said he is pro-immigrant, as evidenced by the crowds of people that would attend Ford Fest and receive calls from the late mayor of Toronto. Well, I have news for you: People didn’t go to Ford Fest to see the Premier; they went to see his late brother, Rob. And the Premier isn’t the one who built the reputation on hard work and calling people back, that was also his late brother, Rob. Maybe the Premier hasn’t realized yet what my family and all of Ontario now know: He’s not Rob Ford.

Second, the Deputy Premier said the government is in favour of even more immigration, more than the 450,000 a year their friend Justin Trudeau has set, which is about double the number under the previous Harper government.

Can the Premier tell us how much higher he wants immigration to increase, considering that, at the same time he wants more immigrants, his government has been putting Ontarians out of work continuously, on a daily basis, for the last three years?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): To reply on behalf of the government, the government House leader.

Hon. Paul Calandra: I certainly won’t dignify the first part of that question with an answer in any way, shape or form. It’s certainly not why the people of the province of Ontario elected us here.

When it comes to immigration, I think this government has been very clear, and the Premier has been very clear, that we need more people to come to the province of Ontario. We have a significant amount of jobs that need to be filled so that we can continue economic growth and prosperity across the province of Ontario, and we can only do that if more people were to come to the province of Ontario, as they have for generations.

I am a minister in a government. My parents came in the late 1950s, 1960s. The Minister of Education is the same way. We have a parliamentary assistant who fled the Soviet Union. We have the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance, the digital government minister and the minister responsible for seniors. When you look at our side of the House, we are very diverse, and we’re very proud of that.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): That concludes our question period for this morning.

This House stands in recess until 3 p.m.

The House recessed from 1134 to 1500.

NOTICE OF DISSATISFACTION


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Pursuant to standing order 36(a), the member for Kiiwetinoong has given notice of his dissatisfaction with the answer to his question given by the Minister of Education concerning access to menstrual products at school. This matter will be debated today following private members’ public business.
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