It is common and the norm for politicians to receive large quantities of phone calls, letters, and emails about particular issues in the headlines. Those who read this column last week will understand why I think this is a good thing. Readers will recall that my staff and I see this as a means of keeping our fingers on the pulse of the riding. It tells me what the problems are and enables my team and I to be effective in Queen’s Park to bring about change. It also helps us to reach out to help constituents when we become aware of a program or avenue that might bring relief to some individuals.
As of late, it seems that my team has noticed some interesting trends in the calls and correspondence we have been receiving. It is not the usual deluge of ‘form’ emails and letters we are receiving. Instead, we have noticed a substantial increase in the number of senior constituents who are reaching out to ask for any sort of relief or assistance for a wide variety of issues. The very fact that these appeals for assistance are NOT coming in waves of letters and emails but instead are individuals experiencing a wide variety of issues. The fact that they are calling or writing to share their personal circumstances is quite telling. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in sociology to determine that Ontario Seniors are struggling in general. And I’d even go out on a limb and say that Northern seniors, in particular, are suffering because of geographic and economic realities.
It is important to note that, without exception, these contacts are in no way reflecting the tone of that of the news anchor Howard Beale in the movie Network. They are not screaming the iconic line, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” The people who are calling take pride in their independence and are not in the habit of looking for an easy ride. They are proud to call themselves Northerners, and they love their communities and this land where they’ve raised their families. I don’t allow myself to forget that these are the folks who struggled to make this land what it is today, so I have no qualms saying they now deserve something in return.
The other day a senior called who was so very frustrated because he is having trouble seeing. He said everything is all out of focus, so he is not enjoying his regular reading or watching TV. Going for walks is not so great because he can’t see all the beauty around him. And he is nervous to even drive to the grocery store. He has been told he is not permitted to schedule an eye test at the optometrist because, as a senior, his eye tests are covered by OHIP. So he can’t even pay out of pocket to have the test. He said he’d love to have Doug Ford walk a mile in his shoes. He is beyond frustrated and depressed. He feels that seniors are just forgotten in this mess. People with diabetes are calling to express their fear that they are going to lose their sight entirely.
It began way back with the Liberals when they underfunded vision care, and they delisted it. Even now, years later, and despite months of advance notice of job action by the optometrists association, the Ford government refuses to work out a deal with optometrists. Children and seniors have been left in a lurch for three months now. Still, Doug Ford refuses to negotiate a fair deal with optometrists. Ford does not seem to understand that eye care IS health care.
Look at what happened to vulnerable seniors under the watch of the Ford Conservatives during the pandemic. More than 3800 died in Ontario’s long-term care homes (Toronto Star, Nov. 9, 2021). Their negligent decision to end regular surprise inspections of long-term care centres paved the way for some seniors to lay alone, scared, suffering the indignity of laying for days in their own feces and urine in their final days. Seniors are calling my office to share this fear for their friends, loved ones, and themselves.
The Conservatives said they got the message loud and clear and promised to make things right in their Fixing Long-Term Care Act, which passed in October. However, the Toronto Star published an opinion column, written by Birgit Umaigba, Dr. Amit Arya, Dr. Gaibrie Stephen and Dr. Naheed Dosani in the November 9th edition. The column stated that with the bill, Ontario got nothing more than a promise to step up already failing enforcement by unqualified inspectors who really have no teeth to order changes when they do find infractions.
The column went on to point out several significant failings of the new act, including the lack of a plan to address the mass exodus of nurses and PSWs from the job market, no plans to hire more staff and end temporary work and increase fill time jobs with reasonable rates of pay among other things.
It is also of significance that the article’s writers touted the same argument as the NDP. The writers pointed out a fatal flaw with the concept of for-profit long-term care companies compared to not-for-profit care centres. The column stated that for-profit LTC centres’ primary objective is to generate profits for the company shareholders. In contrast, not-for-profit policies ensure that every dollar invested in long-term care goes towards actual care. It puts the entire system in public and not-profit hands. That’s precisely what an NDP government will do.
As I said above, the seniors I am talking to on the street and calling and writing my office are proud of their independence and communities. They want to live in their own home for as long as they can. And if the day comes when they just can’t live as independently as they once did, they don’t want to be forced to leave their family, friends and community miles away. They want to stay close by where they feel happy, safe and they feel like they belong.
While visiting the Thunder Bay region, Andrea Horwath recently shared part of the NDP’s plan to make life better for Ontario seniors. Andrea said, “The healthiest, happiest place for many seniors is at home. Older adults in Northern Ontario deserve so much better than being sent to the nearest big city when their needs increase. And it doesn’t have to be this way — we can make sure people have a place to live and receive the care and support they need to stay. Seniors should be able to age in place — in their own neighbourhood, living on their own terms.”
I share the vision of building small senior homes that actually feel like a home and phase out older long-term care beds as we go. We need to develop new provincial standards to ensure that all new long-term care homes are based on home-like settings. We must base our system on the best practices from around the world. For example, we can have smaller living spaces shared by groups of six to 10 people, with shared facilities including kitchen, dining, and living rooms. These homes tend to be embedded in our communities so that residents can continue to socialize with family and friends from their own neighbourhood. In our own small Northern towns, they could look like a typical family home. In bigger cities, it could look more like a neighbourhood of villas.
We must show our seniors the love and respect they deserve and have earned with their hard work. Whether or not the Ford Conservatives see or acknowledge them or not, they matter. No one should have to face hardship, financial stress and fear in retirement. We need leadership with a positive outlook, a willingness to bring about change and a commitment to making life better for all Ontarians – of all ages.
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 [email protected] or phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.