News from the Park

Consider, if you will, this scenario: BigBlue, a major automaker, is hit with a massive recall of thousands of recent model cars because the ratchet mechanism in the seatbelts is defective. Automobile safety authorities discover this because there have been so many people killed because they were ejected from the car in accidents. An investigation into the cause determines that the seatbelt mechanism was flawed because BigBlue design engineers forgot to include a tension spring.


What do you think would likely happen at the corporate head office level and to the head of the design engineering department? No doubt there would be an outpouring of public sympathy for the families who lost someone. Hopefully also a genuine expression of sorrow and regret by the CEO of BigBlue. And without question the director of design engineering would be removed from their position at the very least if not outright fired. As well, the manufacturer would almost certainly be subject to litigation in the courts.


Now consider a real life parallel scenario playing out right here in Ontario. As a result of the first wave of COVID-19, Ontario realized a terrible death toll in comparison to the rest of Canada. Since the spring, nearly 2,000 people in long-term care homes died from COVID-19. Astonishingly this accounts for 75 per cent of all coronavirus deaths in the province. As well, over half of all care homes experienced an outbreak.


With so many resident deaths in Ontario long-term-care facilities during the pandemic, there was an outcry for a full public enquiry which would carry many investigative and regulatory powers. However, Doug Ford outright refused to heed such advice choosing instead to only authorize a commission investigation which has significantly reduced abilities and powers.


Thankfully, at least, Judge Frank Marrocco, the commission chair, stated he would not wait for the pandemic to end before releasing the long-term care commission’s findings. The commission’s interim report recently revealed the sickening fact that the Ford government completely ignored the vulnerability of people in long-term care as the COVID-19 virus swept in.


Upon learning this, Andrea Horwath stated that, for some reason, the revelation that a wave of deadly infections hitting long-term care homes was not enough to spark action from the Ford government. This fact is an incredibly disturbing indictment of the Ford government.


Sadly and sickeningly, so much of what the commission has discovered so far is not new but instead was previously known. The commission found chronic understaffing leading to resident neglect has been hurting people for years — and has only gotten worse as for-profit corporations cut more corners to pocket bigger profits over the last two decades. Residents, their families, frontline workers and experts joined with the NDP to sound the alarm about these concerns. But instead of listening, the Liberals and Conservatives just kept on cutting and squeezing long-term care, eliminating mandatory inspections, and sweeping problems under the rug. And this continued even as Ontarians and the Ford Government watched the deadly pandemic sweep towards Ontario. But Mr. Ford didn’t want to spend any money to protect seniors in long-term care.


Looking back at the BigBlue automaker scenario, it would seem entirely appropriate that the director of engineering design should be held accountable for making such a grave error. Using the same line of thought, Andrea Horwath called in the Legislature for the removal of Minister of Long-Term Care, Merrilee Fullerton. The cause for the removal is her repeated failure in performing her primary duty — keeping seniors safe.


By way of evidence, Andrea informed the Legislature that the commission report stated, “That long-term care (LTC) homes were forgotten in the initial provincial plans to control the spread of COVID-19 until residents started dying....” Yes, you read that right. They were forgotten. The interim report went on to urge the provincial government to implement the long-term care staffing study that Minister Fullerton has been sitting on since July.

Once again, people in long-term care are losing their lives amid the second wave of COVID-19. There’s just too much at stake for Doug Ford to keep giving the minister chances. She keeps leaving seniors unprotected. We now know that the government ignored long-term care in its pandemic planning and response to the first wave.


Now as we are in the second wave, knowing this, Ontarians are deeply concerned that Mr. Ford and his LTC minister are doing the same thing all over again. Even now at this point in time, we have learned that there are fewer staff members in LTC homes than there were in the first wave. But Mr. Ford and his LTC minister have been pinching pennies to save a buck. The LTC system has been getting worse and worse for years. Now that broken system isn’t getting the urgent help and support it needs to stop tragedy after tragedy.


As bad as this is – it gets worse. Consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments helped their CEO and lobbyist friends cash in on long-term care at the expense of seniors, and Ford is now helping get those greedy corporations off the hook. Now Ford is preparing legislation that would strip families of their right to sue the Ford government or for-profit long-term care homes. The legislation would not permit families to hold homes responsible for deaths that they could have prevented. It would prohibit legal action to be taken against LTC homes that were grossly negligent as well as the Government of Ontario. No one could be held accountable.


This just isn’t right!


It’s up to all of us to stand up and say 'no more' when we see injustices like private companies cutting corners on care and staffing at the expense of seniors. That’s why the NDP supports replacing for-profit long-term care with a fully public and not-for-profit system. Seniors and their loved ones are counting on us to do better and do everything in our power to protect long-term care residents during the second wave.


The NDP Aging Ontario Seniors Deserve the Best plan would see the hiring thousands of personal support workers, putting infection control specialists in every home, implementing every recommendation from the LTC Commission to date and ensuring there is accountability and transparency. And we wouldn’t allow anyone who doesn’t protect seniors to be the long-term care minister.


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 mmantha-co@ndp.on.ca or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.


Michael Mantha MPP/député

Algoma-Manitoulin