Without question, these days of this world pandemic are undoubtedly among the most challenging that some of us have ever seen, or might ever experience in our lifetime. I cannot begin to list all of the stresses, challenges, and obstacles that the people of Ontario are having to face. Few would argue with the blanket statement that at the moment, life kind of sucks for us all, some more so than others.
I can honestly say that, in a very real way, I feel so very honoured to have the opportunity to bring the voices of Northern Ontarians to the Ontario Legislature. The team I have assembled in my constituency and Queen’s Park offices also wholeheartedly embrace this responsibility. We work hard as a team to effectively represent the people of Algoma-Manitoulin. American pro football star and coach, Lou Holtz sums it up nicely saying, “I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.”
And let there be no doubt, it is not hard to know what the right thing to do is. Sometimes the hardest part is actually following through to actually doing the right thing.
Like I said, right now, in general, life sucks. However, that is not to say that we are in any way defeated. In fact, as Canadians are known to do, we try to find some sort of silver lining. One such silver lining is that the overall effects of the pandemic on our society are helping to expose many matters that need attention, such as pandemic and emergency preparedness, the need for much-improved broadband infrastructure in Northern Ontario and the vulnerability of our senior population living in long-term care (LTC).
In the earliest of days during the pandemic here in Ontario, the vital role that Personal Service Workers (PSWs) play in caring for our vulnerable loved ones. When the infection rates in LTC facilities exploded, we expected them to continue performing their duties day after day, with the full knowledge they were exposing themselves and their families at home to the deadly virus. In the early days they didn’t even have access to necessary personal protective equipment.
For a few, the risk was too great and they felt they had no choice but to quit. It was then that Ontarians began to learn about the employment circumstances that some worked in. We heard of shortage of workers and mandatory overtime hours. Employers hired multiple part time workers and paid very low minimum wages to avoid having to pay benefits and hire wages.
Probably most egregiously we learned of huge staff-to-patient ratios that resulted in patients going day after day without having their basic needs met. Some were so bad that patients sat for literally hours begging for a drink of water, food or to go to the bathroom. Patients sat or laid in bed in their own feces and urine, sometimes for days, because the LTC management did not have enough floor staff to provide even the most basic care. Numerous patients suffered or died from dehydration or malnourishment.
Premier Ford quickly joined the chorus, praising the brave workers for their commitment. Knowing he needed to do something to keep PSWs on the job, he agreed to pay a temporary “pandemic premium” to PSWs and some other specified frontline workers. It was clearly the right thing to do, albeit in the short term.
New Democrats reasoned that, not only was raising the wages of PSWs the right thing to do in the short term, but it was the right thing to do on a permanent basis. That is why my NDP colleague, Sudbury MPP Jamie West, proposed the Support Workers Pay Act. This bill would have permanently raised the wage floor for all PSWs. This would allow these dedicated and trained workers, who are responsible for the care of our own precious loved ones, to be able to support their own families and not have to worry about putting food on the table. It made the job safer, more reliable and worthy of their dedication.
But West’s bill was so much more than just a pay raise. It helped to address the crux of several other issues that are directly related to improving care for our loved ones in LTC. The bill also called on the Minister of Long-Term Care to develop programs to provide training, education and professional development for all support workers and long-term care staff. It demanded that the ministry recruit and retain the number of support workers required to deliver adequate and appropriate care; and to ensure support workers are paid while learning on the job. The Act also established the Support Worker Wage Review Commission so that PSW wages are regularly reviewed and do not fall backwards in the future.
That bill provided the Conservative government with the opportunity to do the right thing. It was a real opportunity to show Ontario’s PSWs that we care about them as much as they care about our loved ones. Unfortunately, Premier Ford chose to follow a much different path, and his government voted the bill down.
It seems that, despite Doug Ford’s stated respect and praise of our frontline workers, – as genuine as it may have been – the attraction of the deep pockets of for profit senior care business owners who support Doug Ford was strong enough cause him to reject the path that would have been to the benefit of all.
World renowned psychologist Barry Schwartz says, “When you rely on incentives, you undermine virtues. Then when you discover that you actually need people who want to do the right thing, those people don’t exist because you’ve crushed anyone’s desire to do the right thing with all these incentives.” I submit here that Schwartz is spot on. Doug Ford’s allegiance to incentives offered by big business and wealthy supporters lead him to choose not to do the right thing. In the end, it is clear that the Ford Conservatives just – don’t – care.
The NDP says it doesn’t have to be this way. Our Aging Ontarians Deserve the Best released last fall lays out a new, public and non-profit home care and LTC system. It is a detailed plan that offers the home care and long-term care program that our parents and grandparents deserve as they age. It is a system that helps older adults stay in their own home longer with excellent home and community care to support them. And, when they’re ready, small nursing home communities that feel just like home.
We can ban greedy profit-driven corporations from the home care and long-term care sector, so every dollar goes into better care, and better living. We can make sure our parents get care that is responsive to their culture and language.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.