So when I would tell my grandmother that I was done my homework and I wasn’t, not a good call. When I would tell my grandmother that I’d cut the lawn and I hadn’t, not a good call. So when this government in this speech tells the people of Ontario that they have pursued—and I’m going to quote from the speech verbatim—“the most cautious reopening in Canada,” this does not meet the Galatians sniff test for me, because what I have seen and what the people of Ottawa Centre have seen is a government lurching from chaos moment to chaos moment during this pandemic.
There was a moment, and I remember it well because my phone blew up at the time, when unbeknownst to our city, checkpoints were set up at our bridges that connect us to our neighbours from Quebec. No one told the mayor of Ottawa. No one told the Ottawa police. No one told anybody in a planning capacity for emergency services in our city that this was going to happen, but it just happened. We were told summarily that playgrounds were going to be closed. And then we learned later through an investigative story from the Toronto Star that there was somehow a nine- to 10-hour cabinet meeting where folks were trying to persuade the Premier to open up too quickly. And what happened? What happened is that we had a massive spike.
So with all due respect to the Lieutenant Governor of this province, I have not seen the most cautious reopening in Canada here in Ontario. I think we’ve done better than other places, but I have seen something quite different.
I have seen it particularly for persons with disabilities, people who have had to live in grinding and humiliating poverty in this pandemic, because long before we’ve had this recent debate about inflation, the cost of living for persons with disabilities—who, more than others, have had to shelter at home and be careful—has massively gone up. But this government decided to claw back benefits, if they happened to qualify from the federal government. This government decided to only have a temporary bump-up for a few months for folks on the Ontario Disability Support Program, and then took it away. The pandemic didn’t end. People’s poverty didn’t end, that we legislate here, but we took it away. I don’t call that cautious. I would say, failing the Galatians test, this is a lack of ambition for what we did for the most vulnerable in this crisis.
My colleague from Thunder Bay–Atikokan a moment ago was talking about the opioid crisis and what it has done in this pandemic, the continued ravaging of people and families as we have watched people continue to suffer with a poisoned illicit drug supply in our city. Talk to any first responder anywhere in this province and they will tell you there are people unravelling before their eyes. We stand by and we watch and we debate whether or not we should have a safe supply in our cities. We debate whether or not we can work as hard for our neighbours who use drugs as we do for the nine million Canadians we gave the Canada emergency recovery benefit.
All of a sudden, we had an epiphany as a country. People had an intractable problem: They couldn’t work. We had a global pandemic, so we mobilized good will. I know my federal colleagues up in Ottawa pushed the Trudeau government really hard—really hard—and we got a $2,000-a-month living income. We got a basic income pilot, Speaker. We got a basic income pilot because the people of Canada demanded it.
We have not had that for persons with disabilities. We’ve capped them out; we still cap them out. We haven’t had that for our neighbours suffering with addictions and a mental health crisis. So I don’t see a cautious reopening. What I see is the continuation of a very difficult and chaotic situation.
Speaker, this throne speech also referenced an incredible person—I hope I pronounce her surname right—Anita Quidangen, the first person vaccinated in Ontario, who is a personal support worker. It talked about the sacrifices and the hard work that Anita and her colleagues have done on the front line, and that’s great. PSWs want to hear that.
But do you know what PSWs also want, Speaker? Full-time hours. Full-time hours, decent wages, travel compensated, benefits and sick pay: That’s what PSWs and DSWs, developmental service workers, want, both of them. What have we seen in this government? This cautious reopening plan, where we have relied on PSWs who, as study after study, particularly, the armed forces report told us, saw some of the most heinous things we would not want anyone to see in a workplace. They saw it every day in the worst moments of this pandemic. What have we been doing to help PSWs improve their work?
Unfortunately—and I’m going to only assume that it’s because it’s the easy thing to do; it’s the path of least resistance—we have worked with the infrastructure we have in this province, which is dominated, as we have said many times in this Legislature, by for-profit companies who have issued dividends to shareholders, who have issued great cheques to management executives, who employ, as I understand it, many previous top staffers in this government. They’ve gone straight from government into being lobbyists for the private, for-profit home care and long-term-care industries. As I described it when I was here last time for a full week, we keep pouring water into this leaky bucket that is the long-term-care and home care system where, depending on whose numbers you believe, we lose between 25% to 40% of public investment in unnecessary costs accrued by private, for-profit operators.
The people of Ontario are not allowed to see the truth. They’re not allowed to see the disclosures that home care operators give to the Ministry of Health. We have asked for it time and time again. We don’t get to know how much Bayshore creams off the top, or ParaMed or CarePartners. We aren’t allowed to know. It’s an absolutely absurdity.
I was on the doors this weekend and had occasion to talk to an older woman who has been in Canada many generations but whose home country is Denmark. She was talking to me about what home care work looks like in Denmark—how people are not only paid decent wages and how it’s a very prestigious profession, but how their travel is compensated. They have to go into rural parts of Denmark—a much smaller country than Canada; a smaller place than Ontario, even—and not only is their travel compensated, there are electric or hybrid vehicles available for those workers. Can you imagine, Speaker? Why not? I said to her that I once told the mayor of Ottawa—because the mayor often has these grand openings and events in our city, and you have the great spectacle of the colour guard for the first responder units, pipe bands and whatnot. I joked with the mayor, “Wouldn’t it be great one day”—it wasn’t a joke, really; it was a sincere statement—“if we had as part of the colour parade personal support workers and developmental service workers, so we celebrated that profession as much as we celebrate these other care workers and first responders?”
I think that’s what we have to start thinking about. We would never say to a police officer or a firefighter or a paramedic, “We’re going to let Bayshore pay you your salary and you’re going to be paid 60%. You’re not going to have full-time hours; you’re going to have to string together your job between a few different workplaces. You’re not going to be paid for travel, and you’re not going to have sick days.” We would never say that to those prestigious first responder professions, but we say it all the time to personal support workers and developmental service workers.
Why I’m talking about personal support workers—and I hope members of the government will listen to this, because this is something newsworthy our office is working on this week that we would like a resolve on this week. I was contacted last week by students at Willis College. This is the private career college the government has partnered with to expedite them through a five-week course to train them to be PSWs. The hook to get into the profession—because we urgently need people in this profession. I’ve talked about the working conditions that we need improved, but let’s just go to our point of agreement: We need people to get into this profession. We need renewal in this profession. So the students were promised, through Willis College, free tuition, free books and paid placements, and that their work placements would happen during their school hours: 9 to 4 or 9 to 5. A lot of people leapt at that. They thought, “Fantastic.” There were sign-ups for that.
But unlike across the Ottawa River, where I live, in Ottawa Centre—where the province of Quebec guaranteed every single person going through that program a wage of $50,000 a year and regular hours and access to benefits and all those good things, what we did is, we worked through Willis College. Do you know what I’m starting to hear, Speaker, from a class of 26 students who contacted us last week? Their placements aren’t paid. Willis College is asking them to go in in two shifts: either 7 to 3 or 3 to 11. A lot of this group of 26 are single moms, and they’re saying to me, “Joel, where am I supposed to put my kid between 3 and 11? And I was counting on that to be paid.”
Making matters worse, this private career college working with the government to expedite people into training for this profession—they don’t qualify for student assistance. They don’t qualify for the Ontario Student Assistance Program. Do you know what the head of student assistance told this group of students who were complaining about the lack of paid placements and what they were supposed to do for family and school life? They said, “Apply for Ontario Works”—social assistance. How is that offering respect? Social assistance, Ontario Works, is supposed to be there in cases of emergency—personal emergency, family emergency. It is not supposed to be the backstop for funding the next generation of care workers. What in heaven’s name is going on here?
I’m going to take a stab at it, and I hope the government can clear this up for me this week. I’m going to guess that they saw what was happening in Quebec, they saw what was happening in other countries, they wanted to jump on this train of training up people super fast, and they found a private career college partner. But clearly, what was being sold to those students has not been delivered, and somebody in the public service, at a high level in this government, has got some explaining to do.
It’s not fair or honest or decent to ask someone who is—it’s a calling to be a DSW or a PSW; you want to serve. To have them say, “I’m going to book off five weeks of my life,” and then put them into a position where you don’t deliver those paid placements, where you’re asking people to work hours when it’s hard to look after the kids—I talked to someone today from one of the synagogues back home. The synagogue is very active in helping sponsor many people who are newcomers to our country. One newcomer has two children and just found out that she’s booked for 3 to 11 p.m. next week. Making matters worse, she took one of her final exams and because of a language barrier that could have been accommodated—that is accommodated, I can tell you, in public post-secondary institutions—failed the test. But if she could articulate her views on medication or proper supports or identifying conditions of dementia or all these really, really important skills that PSWs and DSWs have, she would have passed with flying colours. So not only has this woman been put through hell for three weeks taking this exam, but now there’s a potential thought that she may not graduate after all the sacrifices.
In my speech about the speech from the throne—I’m telling you, you guys have got to get on top of this for Willis College in Ottawa. This is a gong show. This is a mess that would never be allowed to happen in public post-secondary institutions. Algonquin College, La Cité college in Ottawa run fantastic training programs for PSWs, top-rate. So why are we watching this private career college promise students one thing and deliver something else?
Speaker, in the last six minutes I have I want to move off the concerning and the negative, because I want to promote something that’s positive that I didn’t see in the throne speech.
I want to believe that in the last five and a half months we have in this Parliament, everybody in this place should be talking to people in Ontario about how they can make a better life for themselves and their families.
I am absolutely convinced, with decades of experience, that the best ticket to a good life is a union card. Helping working people form unions should be a priority to this government. But what I didn’t see in their Bill 27 that we were debating earlier, Speaker—their newfound love from unions—are any measures that will make it easier for working people to join unions, because it is really hard.
I have been a union organizer. I have volunteered and worked hard as a member in my local union. It is not easy to form a union in the province of Ontario, particularly in the gig economy and precarious workplaces.
This government could, right now, allow for card-check certification that gives workers that private opportunity to express their confidence in a unionization drive without being terrorized by an employer. And if an employer refuses to grant a first contract to a newly organized union, they could make sure they had first-contract arbitration; they could do it today, and I haven’t seen it in their Working for Workers bill. But on a good note, Speaker, that is one of the first things an NDP government will do. We will make sure people can join unions. I’d like to think this is something that a socialist like myself and Conservatives over here can agree on. People should have the freedom and the choice; they should have the ability, without fear, to join and form unions. So much of what we have in this country has been given to us from grandmothers and grandfathers who took enormous risks—honestly, Speaker, it sounds like hyperbole but it isn’t—blood, sweat, and tears, to form unions in major cities in this country, in this province. We’ve lost it, particularly in the private sector, where it is so hard to form unions.
I want to take a minute to tip my hat to SEIU Local 2 back home, which organizes cleaners in the city of Ottawa and around this country. What they have done, by signing up thousands of front-line heroes—we don’t often talk about cleaners and heroes, but who is keeping our workplaces sanitary and safe? Who is keeping the airports sanitary and safe? Who is keeping the transit stations sanitary and safe? Cleaners are, Speaker.