When I decided to be a candidate to become the MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin back in 2011, I did so knowing well that the job would entail a lot of travel. Admittedly my estimation wasn’t even close, but don’t think for a moment that this is a complaint. Whenever I start having thoughts like this, within minutes I look around at the beauty all around me and negative feelings melt away. All I have to do is think of the thousands of people who never in their lifetime will get to see the vistas that I see on a regular basis. Thousands will never get to look out over the Cup and Saucer trail, see the early spring ice break-up on the shores of Lake Superior or the shimmering ripples on the water at camp during sunset. No trunks full of money can buy the kind of wealth that all of us Northerners enjoy. And what great pride we feel when we get to share this wealth with family, friends and visitors coming from far and wide. I can’t speak for everyone, but I was raised to appreciate the value of sharing our own wealth and good fortune.
Now that you understand where I’m coming from, perhaps it will help to explain why I am so disturbed by the news I read in the papers about hoarding, greed and power. All of us are aware that, through no fault of their own, so many Ontarians are undergoing hardship and stress the likes of which they have never known before. This pandemic has seen people losing their jobs or their business and the stability of their family. We see people anguish over friends, family and loved ones who are stricken by the virus – some even experiencing grief due to death of loved ones. What makes it worse, however is knowing that the Ford government actually has the capacity to ease this pain, prevent evictions, reduce stress on parents who can’t afford to take a sick day to care for their children and the ability to even prevent unnecessary deaths.
But the most infuriating part of this is knowing that the Ford government is just sitting on trunk loads of money that has already been earmarked to help alleviate or even eliminate much of this pain.
Months ago Doug Ford was all smiles and chuckles when the Canadian Government handed over billions of dollars to Ontario to use to help people make it through this pandemic. But from the tight grasp Ford has on this money, you’d think it was some sort personal inheritance.
There are countless opportunities for the government to have a genuine impact on peoples’ health and well-being by spending contingency funds that we already have strategically. How many times have multiple experts – including many from the business sector -- explained to Ford that providing Ontario workers with sick days would make such a huge difference in helping our economy to recover? We already know there is enough money available to give Ontarians such a benefit. Paid sick days would help to prevent outbreaks and save lives. Funding could also be used to ramp up contact tracing, testing, and the vaccine rollout.
Recent reports have shown that Ford has been saving mega bucks that has already been allocated for spending on providing social services. The reports released show that Ford is sitting on $427 million in social services coffers. In the February 10th 2021 issue of the Toronto Star, reporter Brendan Kennedy wrote, “Ontario appears to be spending less on social assistance than it did before the coronavirus struck the province. That’s thanks to savings from a reduced social assistance caseload, money clawed back from welfare and ODSP recipients who also received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and increased federal cash transfers.”
If this were any other sort of economic downturn such as one of several world wide Great Depressions, one would expect a major increase in case loads. In truth, however, the number of people receiving social assistance – which includes both Ontario Works and ODSP – has significantly declined since the onset of the pandemic. This is due to the fact that the Federal government has stepped up to the plate with the CERB and similar relief programs. According to Kennedy, the reduced number of caseloads has resulted in saving Ontario’s social programs over $533 million.
Sean Meagher, who is a project coordinator associated with the Ontario For All coalition summed it up nicely saying, “In this kind of crisis you make investments, you don’t hold back.” Instead, Ford thinks it is a better idea to cut and scrimp on social services funding. When your roof is caving in, do you make cuts to your home repairs budget?
NDP finance Critic Katherine Fife said, “People need a social safety net now more than ever before. Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy refused to describe the impact of this underspending today — and that’s got people seriously worried. It could mean more devastation for people and families already having a hard time during the pandemic.”
Doug Ford needs to be much more transparent and forthcoming about the government’s budget and spending. A car manufacturer or home builder is proud to showcase their work and craftsmanship. If the Conservative government is so confident that what they are doing is right, why are they trying to keep everything under wraps? The money came from and belongs to the People of Ontario, so they should be the ones who benefit from it when they need it.
The NDP has laid out a number of productive proposals that could help people get through the pandemic. Our plans include providing paid sick days; in-classroom and in-workplace virus testing; a Save Main Street plan to provide help to small businesses for things like rent, remote work costs, and safer re-opening costs; and support for a travel ban between hot-zones and low-transmission regions
Over the past year, Ontarians have consistently proven their desire to reach out and care for one another. Ontarians believe in sharing the wealth and security they enjoy with their family, friends and neighbours. It’s time to open the books, open our doors, open our hearts and reach out our hands to show the strength and support Ontarians have to offer one another.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député