The news of the newest round of lockdowns has exasperated us all. Despite Premier Doug Ford’s misplaced hopes that the vaccination process would outpace rising infections, we have returned to an untenable cycle of infection and lockdown. On April 1, we had more residents of Ontario in hospitals on ventilators than at any time before in this pandemic – the vaccine rollout has not arrived quickly enough, and there’s immediate steps we must take today to stop the health and economic damage of this third wave.
Last week many of you saw the comments I raised with the Premier regarding my concern for the vaccine rollout in Niagara. Any time my office is told of an issue – and there are many – I must remember that this a large, unprecedented logistical challenge. We have no choice but to accept that a program this large will have bumps in the road that are not the fault of anyone in the government or the bureaucracy. The issues I raised last week were unforced errors that should’ve been addressed.
The largest issue was the dozens of residents who received calls from the Ministry of Health mere hours before their appointments, and were told those appointments were cancelled, sometimes rescheduled in a different city. According to the Ford government, this occurred because of a glitch in the system. Normally, this may be understandable, except for the fact that this glitch had been raised with the government 11 days before the system went live. Especially with the 75-plus age group, many of these seniors lacked access to transportation beyond the appointments in their communities. My office began to receive calls from panicked seniors who were going as far as to try to flag rides with strangers to the new assigned vaccination centres across the region.
While some issues with the system are to be expected, issues flagged a full 11 days in advance cannot go unaddressed. Every senior who struggles with the system to get an appointment, or who is rescheduled or cancelled, is a senior who continues to go without these life-saving vaccines. In some cases these seniors are so frustrated they don’t book another appointment. Defeating this virus means breaking lines of transmission, and that means vaccinations. Unforced errors like this cannot be allowed.
Another policy that sits before the legislature that must be immediately voted on is Bill 239, which will provide paid sick days for Ontario workers. The evidence could not be clearer, the shutdown will not work if those most likely to contract COVID-19 are still working. In our province, a huge portion of community transmission are workers in warehouse and manufacturing settings. In the second wave, some 65 per cent of Toronto’s workers were deemed essential, over 80 per cent in these settings that were ground zero for community spread. The problem we have is that we cannot expect workers to choose between feeding their families or going to work with symptoms, and they shouldn’t have to. Workers must be able to stay home and stay away from others if they are sick. The list of leaders and experts supporting these necessary measures is long, but includes Ontario Medical Association, Alliance for Healthier Communities, Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, Association of Family Health Teams of Ontario, Ontario College of Family Physicians, Nurse Practitioners’ Association of Ontario, Nurse Practitioner Led Clinics Association, and the Ontario Community Support Association, among dozens of city mayors and councils. Supports can and must be extended to businesses to offset any concern about costing of the programs. Simply put, Ford cannot say we’re listening to doctors and then ignore one of their loudest comments – paid sick days will help stop this virus in its tracks.
The other policy that concerns me greatly is the continued resistance to funding lower class sizes. Just looking at the daily numbers in our province, it is clear that school outbreaks are spreading out of control. Students get sick and then go home and get their parents and grandparents sick. Some of those sick will end up in the hospital, and some in the ICUs. We can stop this form of transmission. If we ensure our essential workers, teachers included, are vaccinated, and our classrooms are manageable in size, we can get through the next two or three months, which will be critical until our vaccination process catches up.
I also have two bills before the legislature that are critical to ensure our community can rebuild once we beat this virus. The first is a travel tax credit for families, a credit that will give residents up to $1000 of their travel expenses back if they travel in our province.
Forty thousand of our neighbours in Niagara are out of work because of the downturn in tourism, and we cannot ignore their reality and the financial hardship they have gone through. Once it is safe to travel – and only when it is safe – we must supercharge our tourism industry, and get those families back to work. My bill provides residents of this province with a generous tax credit to travel and explore our great province.
The second bill is a much-needed tax change for our local Niagara wineries. Providing as many jobs in the town as they do, they cannot be held back by taxes that do not apply to international wines. Again, they have taken a massive hit from this pandemic, and a simple tax code fix can help them.
No one should be travelling to our region until this crisis is over, but these bills can be passed to put the frameworks in place to support these industries as soon as our vaccination program successfully puts an end to COVID as we see it today.
These are all policies before the legislature today. Premier Ford could call a vote and fix all of these issues in an afternoon. As we go into yet another lockdown, I am hoping he will see these are not lofty ideas, but well thought-out policies with community support. Policies which are desperately needed today.