News from the Park

Regular readers of this column know well how fortunate I feel to have the honour of representing the people of Algoma-Manitoulin since first elected in 2011. I can honestly say as time goes on I find the list of reasons for enjoying my job ever growing. Helping people is the best part of my job. And I can tell you that my entire team emphatically agree that a good day is when you know you go home knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life.


If you are a strict 9-5er, politics is not a good career to pursue. It is just the same as so many other fields such as medical, legal, education and emergency responders. Such professionals put in the hours as required without question. No firefighter, doctor or winter highway maintenance driver rolls their eyes when their plans are suddenly altered at the last moment. It’s part of the job.


As a politician I know that we can expect to have a late night sitting in Queen’s Park whenever the need arises – and it frequently does. We also know that when the province is experiencing crisis, we must expect to stay on the job for weeks at a time, sitting well into summer months or being called back early. Again; it’s just part of the job.


And this is why it troubles me that at a time when Ontario is deep in a pandemic crisis, which is clearly going from bad to worse, Doug Ford decides that the Legislature should rise EARLY for the Christmas Break. I mean, really Mr. Ford -- are you oblivious to the unbelievable health and financial situations that thousands of Ontario families and business owners are facing?


Doug Ford, who calls the shots for the Ontario Conservative Government, decided to call it quits at the height of the pandemic. Now is a time when MPPs should be staying at the legislature and working to effectively use the $12 billion in COVID-19 funding that Doug Ford has been withholding from the people of Ontario. It seems that every week new highs are hit for daily positive testing numbers and, even worse, deaths.


Entire schools and long-term care homes are being shut down. My colleague Monique Taylor who represents Hamilton Mountain, announced days ago that at the Grace Villa long-term care home in her riding, 20 lives have already been lost and that at least 177 residents and staff are infected by the virus. Monique went on further to say that just a week after she wrote to the Minister of Long-Term Care about this out of control situation, there were more than 50 additional resident and staff cases reported. It spread from being contained to just one floor to all floors of the home.


Why wasn’t Doug Ford doing his job to try to save these vulnerable people? We could have done something.

Yes, the virus would have, and will continue to, spread, but the something could have been done to avoid such a catastrophic level of spreading. Catastrophes at Grace Villa and other facilities could have been avoided. Issues with staffing, PPE and sanitation at some homes are nothing new. The problem is that the issues are the same ones that were exposed during the first wave of the pandemic. Instead of learning from the first wave, Ford is willfully choosing to sit on $12 billion in unspent COVID-19 funds that could be used to protect residents and staff now.


Ford doesn’t want to spend the money, so he’s waving a white flag in the fight against COVID. The Conservative plan is to simply wait for a vaccine to take effect. That is not a plan.


The NDP is by no means content to sit on our hands and simply observe and offer condolences. We have proposed to the Government a positive approach in the form of our Post-Holiday Strategy to control this virus in our communities to prevent more outbreaks in our long-term care homes and schools. But we must act now, before more families have to suffer the devastating loss of a loved one that could have been avoided.


The other day it was announced that over 7,000 students and staff have contracted COVID-19, including another 170 reported that very week. Just days ago, Education Minister Stephen Lecce was trying to downplay the risk to children by saying that 90-some per cent of students aren’t sick. Now the Government is saying they may just shut it all down.


Parents, kids and staff deserve a plan that’s a heck of a lot more sophisticated than simply being open-or-closed. There are months left to go in this pandemic. We need a strategy that is more than just observing and reactive. We need a plan in place right now, before school resumes after the Holiday that will protect kids until this pandemic nightmare is over.


For example, the NDP has been calling for a broad asymptomatic testing regime in schools, class sizes capped at 15, busses capped at 50 per cent capacity, and better ventilation in schools. Doug Ford’s plan to sit back and wait for a vaccine is a proving to be an out of control dumpster fire. And it’s a strategy that is costing our families dearly. The approach that the Ontario Government is taking has to change. We can and must be more proactive and innovative.


We already should have hired thousands of more staff and infection control experts for long-term care homes. We should have capped class sizes and we should doing widespread in-school testing. We also should have acted to ensure that all workers all have paid sick days in order to stop the spread of COVID in workplaces.

New Democrats have released our plan to move to a fully public long-term care system without for-profit corporations, which includes 50,000 more beds, thousands more staff, and smaller homes that feel more like family homes.


Those of you of a particular age will remember the TV western show Gunsmoke. Those viewers will attest that Marshal Matt Dillon didn’t handle problems by “getting out of Dodge.” He stuck around and handled the situation. Doug Ford would do well to take a lesson from Marshall Dillon and stay on the job to protect the people of Ontario.


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