I do want to say a big thank you to the Legislative Assembly staff who have come to work today to enable us to participate in the democratic process. And of course, I want to say thank you to all my colleagues across all sides for your participation in question period today and in the debate that we are having.
Speaker, we are in a state of emergency in Ontario. It’s interesting that just as we arrived to the chamber this afternoon, the Ontario Health Coalition released its latest report on COVID-19 tracking. The title of the news release on the report says, “Staff and Patients Infected by COVID-19 Outbreaks in Health Care Settings Almost Doubled, Death Toll Increased by 333.7% in Two Weeks: Outbreaks Are Not Under Control.”
So we have a lot of work to do to deal with the COVID-19 crisis in our province. I want to take the few minutes that I’m going to use to highlight some of the issues that we expect and that the people of Ontario expect to see addressed during the extended declaration of emergency.
Also, before I do that, I want to say it’s very important, as often as possible, to say thank you to the health care heroes who have been putting themselves at risk throughout this crisis. They have been making enormous personal sacrifices to go to work every day. Some of them are living away from home for weeks because they don’t want to put their family members at risk. They come home; their face is bruised from wearing masks and eye coverings. They’re making advance care directives, in case they get sick and are placed on a ventilator, so that they can make arrangements for their families.
These are powerful, heart-wrenching stories that I’m sure we have all been watching. No words, of course, can express our immense gratitude for the work that these heroes have done throughout this emergency and the work they will continue to do long after the emergency ends. I’ve heard from them how much they appreciate the pots that are banging every night at 7:30—I was here last night in Toronto and heard that from the balconies around me—and the supportive signs they see on people’s lawns. These are important to health care workers, but more than that, Speaker—it’s not just our thanks that they deserve; they deserve action. They deserve to have their contributions to keeping us safe recognized through compensation that doesn’t single out some health care workers as deserving of pandemic pay and says other health care workers are less deserving when they are all taking the same kinds of risks.
They deserve access to the PPE that will protect them, that in their professional judgment they know that they need. I’m sure I’m not the only MPP who, throughout these last eight weeks, has sat on the phone line in tears, talking to a health care worker as they tell you about the reality in the hospital that they’re working at.
I had a nurse in London Health Sciences Centre who told me about the shortage of N95 masks at the hospital. She described how it felt to be handed a ration of two masks, plus a Tupperware container so that she could put the masks in during her breaks and then reuse them for her entire shift. Speaker, if we truly value our health care heroes, we have to do everything possible to protect them, and that means ensuring that they have immediate access to the PPE they need.
We also have to protect all of our essential and front-line staff. Today we learned that the government is now encouraging staff in residential facilities like care homes for people with disabilities to downgrade to non-medical cloth masks even when there is an active COVID-19 outbreak.
Other workers: We know nurses have had to go to court to obtain access to the PPE they need. This is absolutely unacceptable, and this is an issue that we will be dealing with throughout the next 21 days of the state of emergency and throughout the six days that this Legislature is going to be meeting.
This morning, we all joined together in a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives to COVID-19: the long-term-care residents, other Ontarians and the 14 workers who have died. Many of these were essential workers who didn’t have a choice whether or not they could go to work. They couldn’t afford to take the unpaid infectious disease emergency leave. They had to go to their jobs. And these are the workers who have kept us all going. These are the grocery store clerks, the delivery drivers, the cleaners, the others who have made it possible for us to work at home to help flatten the curve.
Every health care worker, every shelter worker, every group home worker, every essential and front-line worker deserves to be protected at work, and they deserve a wage enhancement that shows them that their efforts are appreciated.
Throughout this period, we also have to take the strongest measures possible to address the crisis in long-term care. I quoted the shocking, shameful statistics from the Ontario Health Coalition. But these are not just statistics, Speaker; these are our family members. We have talked to people who have lost a loved one in a seniors’ residence, a long-term-care facility, who are grieving. They deserve answers as to how this was allowed to happen in the province of Ontario, how more than 1,200 residents of long-term-care facilities have been left to die during this pandemic. Why was the active screening not done? Why are there still PSWs working at multiple facilities? Why are there so many facilities still in outbreak? Why do people have to go to court to file documents to make the government aware of the problems that were occurring, that continue to occur, with seniors sharing rooms with other infected patients, and no screening protocols in place?
We will also be focusing on the need for testing. Certainly, as the economy begins to reopen, testing will be even more critical to ensure that we are not experiencing a resurgence of the spread. The testing numbers in Ontario remain far, far below what we need to see in order to safely reopen the economy and ensure that all of our citizens remain safe from this virus.
Finally, Speaker, we need to use the opportunity over the next 21 days to support our small business community. This morning we heard the Minister of Finance say, “Don’t rush to judgment on whether the commercial rent subsidy program is working.” We’re not rushing to judgment. We’re listening. We’re listening to the small- and-medium-sized businesses who are coming to our offices and telling us that the landlord that they have a commercial lease agreement with is not participating in this program, has no intention of participating in this program.
The small businesses in this province are calling for real mortgage relief measures to be put in place. They are calling for a ban on evictions for commercial tenants. This is not just a business here or there. This is coming from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. In my community, the London Small Business Centre; the London Economic Development Corporation; TechAlliance; the five business improvement associations, Hyde Park, downtown London, Old East Village, Argyle and Hamilton Road, all co-signed a letter that was endorsed by the mayor of London, Ed Holder, and sent to the Premier, urging the Premier to act now, to act immediately, because these businesses are going to fold if we don’t take decisive action now.
These are the kinds of issues that we have an opportunity to address over the next 21 days, and as we assemble here together, these are the issues that we are going to be bringing forward. We need legislation that will deal with the actual big problems that people are facing as a result of COVID-19, and we need to see bills come forward that have a lot more substance, quite frankly, than the pieces of legislation we have passed since this emergency was first declared.