I’m looking forward to the April constituency week. I think I’m ready for some time away from Queen’s Park and a break from that long road I travel both ways every weekend. I’ve always maintained that, far from being a monotonous waste of time each weekend, it actually provides me with a wonderful opportunity to really think things through uninterrupted. The other night, however, something happened that made me sit up and realize that between the goings-on in the Legislature and endless hours on the road, I got the message I need a break.
I’ve travelled this road so many times that I’m sure my car knows the way without even using Google Navigation. I got out of QP late and was heading on Hwy 400 North of Barrie when I came to the place where drivers heading to Hwy 11 stay on and 400 veer off right. I was thinking about how to move the broadband for Northerners issue forward when I swear I heard the voice of KITT from the old TV show Knight Rider say, “Hey Michael, don’t miss your turn here.” Of course, I showed my true Canadian colours and said, “Thanks KITT.” My response told me it’s time to spend time in the constituency office.
In a team meeting the next morning we were talking about how stressed and frustrated people are of late. It’s a totally different kind of stress than a year ago. Many people are really at their wits end trying to keep it all together for their family in terms of physical and mental health as well as financial security in the here and now, let alone tomorrow. Some are actually scared. My team spends so much time on the phone and responding to email, trying to help constituents any way we can. The overall message is that Northerners are feeling isolated and abandoned by the Doug Ford and his government. This is the same Doug Ford who professed to be “there for the little guy.” In fact the Province proclaimed that his government was, “Ontario’s first ever government for the people.”
People are desperate for money because so many jobs have disappeared – especially in the tourism, recreation and sport industries which normally bring in millions to Algoma-Manitoulin all year round. Then Ontarians learn that just six executives at Ontario Power Generation took home $5.5 million. There were huge raises at the very top, and now 17 people make more than $700,000. Meanwhile, Premier Ford is denying frontline health care heroes a much deserved and needed permanent raise, including Personal Support Workers (PSWs). In fact, this “defender” of the little guy has passed a likely-unconstitutional wage constraint law to hold back the wages of Ontario workers while allowing executive salaries to soar. Kind of hard for Ontarians to swallow, eh?
PSW’s truly just one of many occupations that the pandemic has raised awareness of an extensive list of essential workers. These workers who stand on the frontline performing their duties to keep people safe and keep our economy and supply lines moving put themselves at heightened risk day after day. They have worked long hours, often in the most difficult conditions without taking time off. Many have suffered from the mental and emotional toll this has had on them and their families. Workers have experienced stress and anxiety, and we are seeing more and more cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions being reported.
The NDP is introducing new legislation that would guarantee our essential workers have access to presumptive coverage for mental health benefits through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). NDP MPP Monique Taylor’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act (Access to Mental Health Support for Essential Workers), 2021, provides workers designated as essential, or who are working in a workplace designated as essential, with the presumption that any mental health-related injuries they suffer arose from their work during the pandemic. This would entitle these workers to access WSIB benefits for chronic or traumatic mental stress injuries.
A recent Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) survey found that just over 60 per cent of nurses working in long-term care homes with large outbreaks reported they were experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Taylor says that these days, many more Ontarians working in health care, retail, education and public health are facing mental health challenges due to their work during the pandemic.
There are health care workers who repeatedly watched people take their dying breath without any family there to comfort them. There are long-term care home staff who had to walk away from residents crying out in pain because another person’s need was greater. There are educators who worked while stiff with fear to support children who need one-on-one help, but can’t wear a mask. The mental health impact of this pandemic will continue to be felt in the months and years to come, and we have a duty to ensure our frontline heroes get all the support they need.
It’s time for the Ford government to take action by supporting this legislation without delay. Every essential worker not only deserves, but must have, presumptive WSIB coverage for mental health treatment and support — without the added stress of being forced to prove this was due to their experiences on the job.
I’ve had many constituents call my office to say that despite knowing they will qualify for a Northern Health Travel Grant, they can’t go because the lack the financial ability to put the money upfront for travel and accommodation so they can be reimbursed weeks down the road. New Democrats understand how people are struggling to afford to pay for necessary expenses, including costs associated with mandatory personal identification.
Northerners in more remote, rural or First Nations communities have to travel very long distances at great expense just to obtain this basic ID; new parents who need to pay for their children’s long-form birth certificate but have limited access to government services, folks who need to pay to update their name and gender on their identification, and people living in poverty and homelessness who can’t access the help they need without government ID.
With this in mind, NDP MPP Judith Monteith-Farrell from Thunder Bay-Attikokan introduced a bill called the Awenen Niin Act (Who Am I) Respecting Identity Documents which would have removed user fees for all services related to Ontario birth certificates and Ontario Photo Cards (purple ID cards). No one in Ontario should be denied public services because they don’t have the money to pay for their ID. But Doug Ford chose to ignore the pleas of people who are living paycheque-to-paycheque, coping with unemployment or living in poverty. By refusing to remove user fees from personal identification in Ontario he continues to ignore the needs of Ontario’s little guys who are truly hurting.
New Democrats have a better way to do things that not only respects the strengths of the people of Ontario but also recognizes that by helping them to meet their needs, everyone benefits. Good jobs, and financial security for working families is what will help people weather the COVID-19 storm, and it’s what will drive the recovery. Months ago we launched our Save Main Street plan. And that is just one part of the comprehensive second-wave plan Ontario desperately needs.
Along with my colleagues we will continue to honour our commitment to Ontarians to not just constructively oppose but propose new and innovative pathways to success for all.
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