Writing a year in review column this year is impossible without returning to the very subject which has dominated so much of our lives over the past 10 months.
This has been a trying time for so many in our community, and the damage of this virus is unquantifiable. So many times over the last 10 months I have been heartbroken by the stories of suffering and loss this virus has caused, and yet so many times I have been lifted up by the care and compassion of this community.
Throughout it all, My team and I have done the best we can to be attentive and responsive. Where it has been needed, I have stood with Premier Doug Ford to offer a united fight against this invisible enemy. When necessary, I have raised my voice in opposition to some of his plans which I believed were lacking, misguided, or in some cases, unnecessarily cruel.
In the earliest parts of this pandemic, we focused on ensuring no person who lost income due to COVID would have to withstand hardship or debt to stay afloat. I introduced legislation aimed to ensure the WSIB stopped fighting employees about coverage when they contracted COVID in the workplace.
As the summer months came and it seemed in Niagara that we were on top of this virus, I returned to some of the immediate healthcare legislation we had been pushing for. This included funding to reduce MRI wait times, so residents no longer have to wait 12 months for a life saving MRI. It included universal coverage for PSA testing for prostate cancer, which we knew if caught early enough is nearly 100 per cent treatable, and yet takes thousands of our loved ones each year because they forgo the test based on the cost. These initiatives would have saved our healthcare system millions of dollars and kept people out of hospitals needing the most complex of care – space we desperately need now.
One of the places I clashed hardest with Ford was on his desire to tear up our Greenbelt for development. Three times he tried to pass regulations that would see our environmentally sensitive areas get sold to the highest bidder, and three times we pushed back and won. Unfortunately, in his latest attempt, he marshalled his PC caucus to ram through an amendment hidden in their pandemic budget bill that removes citizen appointees to the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, puts development on sensitive areas under the discretion of political appointees and severely endangers our environment. Despite his drive to see this legislation passed, I remain committed to fighting these attempts to hurt our environment and will continue to push for efforts to protect our natural heritage and give our kids and grandkids the same wonderful Niagara given to us.
We see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. A vaccine is on the horizon, and over the course of 2021, I will work every day to get it to you and your families as fast as humanly possible. But we all must pitch in together. Our Premier can no longer play favourites with big-box stores over small businesses, and he must immediately release the almost $12 billion he has in emergency COVID funding to help our small businesses, especially restaurants, bars and wineries. We have a role to play too – I am hoping you will also realize how particularly dangerous this period is and continue to distance, wash your hands and wear a mask.
It’s been a tough year, but as dark as it’s gone and as hard as these days have been, I have been lifted up every day by our community. By the residents who emphasize shopping local to support our neighbours. By the healthcare workers still working long and difficult hours to keep us safe. By our children who may be scared of this crisis but wear their masks and wash their hands to save their grandparents. We are facing tough times, but this holiday season it’s worth remembering that these times brought out the very best in our neighbours – a lesson in community I hope we never forget.
Have a safe holiday, and I’ll see you in 2021.