News from the Park – October 31

I well recall waking up on the morning, or more honestly, the afternoon of June 3rd, the day following the provincial election and thinking that my fellow MPPs and I have the next four years to try to make life better for all Ontarians. We have such an opportunity and the time to get things done. On that new day, it seemed time was on our side. However, on the morning that the Legislature resumed sitting for our fall session, it hit me — 5 months have flown by like the wind already since that day in June.

Alice Walker, author of the story/movie “The Colour Purple,” wrote, “Time moves slowly, but passes quickly.” That quote sums up nicely where my head is these days.

My experience as an MPP for over ten years has been that the calls, letters and appeals for assistance filtering through my office tend to ebb in the summer months as people take advantage to get out and about, enjoying a bounty of opportunities. They make the most of their opportunities to have “fun in the sun” and store priceless memories with friends and family. However, this summer, my team and I truly hit the ground running last June with unseasonably high volumes of issues and casework.

I can tell you one thing; you don’t have to have a degree in sociology, psychology, political science or even finance to know the reason for the constant flow of calls and correspondence. Life is getting tougher and tougher week to week for Ontario families of every socioeconomic description. But, without any doubt, the main problems revolve around inflation and wage issues.

Last spring, the Ford government lobbed an uninspired budget just before taking Ontarians to the polls. Then the Premier surprised many Ontarians when he recalled the Legislature in August to pass a new budget which all assumed was the ‘real one’ the Conservatives had been holding back on until they were re-elected.

Much to the chagrin of most Ontarians, the Ford government simply re-tabled the same uninspired budget without any updates or improvements.

Statistics Canada released new inflation numbers. Overall inflation growth was a whopping 7.6% in July, while food prices soared 9.9%, a half point higher than in June, and natural gas prices soared 45.3% in Ontario thanks to an Ontario Energy Board rate hike.

It also became evident that some large corporations, housing developers and big box stores are using inflation as an excuse to gouge consumers — to reap immense fortunes off middle-class people. Grocery and pharmacy giant Loblaws reported its first-quarter profit jumped nearly 40%. Developers are coming back on home buyers to demand more money.

The Ford government remains oblivious to the hardship Ontario families are experiencing. In September, Statistics Canada released a new Consumer Price Index (CPI) showing a 10-per cent rise in food prices. Food prices have reached a historic high, and people are being crushed. Ontarians can only watch as food prices grow faster than the national average. As you shop for groceries, you can see with your own eyes that families are being forced to cut back on what goes into their grocery carts. Families are making hard choices about what they can afford to put on their tables.

And to top all of this off, the Ford government has hiked natural gas rates to make matters even worse for families. This means that people’s utility bills are now climbing again.

My office, as well as those of my NDP colleagues, are swamped with cries for relief. Recipients of ODSP and OW made it abundantly clear that the support rates are far too low even to survive. They are facing an affordability crisis. Food banks are experiencing record usage, and housing costs were up 7.4 percent. Yet, the government only came up with a five-percent increase to ODSP, which amounts to a paltry $58 more per month per recipient at most, which is an insulting drop in the bucket. And Ontario Works recipients have had their rates frozen at $733 per month.

Unless someone experiences such circumstances themselves, they just can’t fully relate. The only way to understand is to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. That is why some of my NDP colleagues accepted the challenge of trying to make ends meet with the same amount of money that families on ODSP and OW for two weeks. They limited their funds to what they could buy with just $95.21 for two weeks which averages out to $47.60 per week.

Needless to say, it was not an easy or pleasant experience, but it was effective.

Lise Vaugeois, the NDP critic for Persons with Disabilities and Accessibility, said, “What we do know is the government is pocketing that extra money while ODSP recipients are quite literally going hungry and unable to afford a safe place to live. This is a slap in the face to people on social assistance.”

We also know that many recipients have less than $95.21 for two weeks’ worth of food, and they’re forced to choose between basics like food, diapers, or a winter coat.

Doug Ford hasn’t done a single thing to address consumer gouging and greed. Despite any mournful face that he may show in public, Ford is smiling on the inside as his wealthy friends with grocery chains slap him on the back as they rake in record profits, using inflation as an excuse.

New Democrats know that people are paying too high a price for Conservative choices — in more ways than one. This summer’s budget was an opportunity to offer people meaningful relief and hope. But instead, Ontarians are seeing brooding clouds of despair with more cuts and pain because of unaffordability for families.

Ontarians deserve a government that takes on consumer gouging head-on. We need effective, compassionate leadership to stand up to the companies that utilize inflation as an excuse to hike up their bottom lines. New Democrats are committed to holding Doug Ford and his government accountable until they finally undertake genuine and effective measures to address consumer gouging and make life affordable for everyone.

Given the above, the quote, “Time moves slowly, but passes quickly,” has an even deeper meaning for me now.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha