LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Tuesday 20 October 2020 Mardi 20 octobre 2020
Report continued from volume A.
Private Members’ Public Business
Food Literacy for Students Act, 2020 / Loi de 2020 sur la littératie alimentaire des élèves
Mr. Kramp moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 216, An Act to amend the Education Act in respect of food literacy / Projet de loi 216, Loi modifiant la Loi sur l’éducation en ce qui concerne la littératie alimentaire.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Pursuant to standing order 101, the member has 12 minutes for his presentation.
Mr. Daryl Kramp: It’s really a pleasure to be here today to speak with passion and conviction about something that’s very, very dear to my heart and too often my stomach: food. I love food. Who doesn’t? I love growing food. I love cooking food. Indeed, my family and I were in the food service and hospitality business for basically over 30 years, serving a big swath of eastern Ontario. In addition, I also, of course, taught in the field at the secondary and the college levels.
This bill involves an education issue that our party has proudly put on the record in previous sessions of this Legislature. As we know, food does grow on trees. It grows in the water, in the ground, on bushes and on vines, and yet only in some regions and only in some countries. We’re blessed. Some foods, of course, are better for you than others. Some foods help prevent diseases and lead to healthy lives. These are all known things that everybody here knows, but unfortunately, they haven’t been systematically taught in our schools in every grade. So there is much food-related information that most students, even graduates and the population at large, just don’t know. These gaps cover from how to grow and what to grow to how to choose, how to prepare, and what and how to eat.
As I said a moment ago, our party has long sought to have food literacy taught in schools. I know the current consumer and commercial relations minister spoke at length about food literacy here in the chamber back in 2013. She called for its teaching then. When she was the education minister, she gave two thumbs-up on my proposed private member’s bill to teach food literacy. Unfortunately, it was derailed by a procedural blip in the schedule just a little over two years ago when the Legislature was called back a week early. This Food Literacy for Students Act has now been drafted and approved, but it was not fully ready for introduction, so at that time, it went into hibernation.
Now, others who spoke in favour of this idea in years past in this chamber include the current parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the current Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Now this is an idea whose time has finally come.
So I’m proud to be here today to advise these members who were so supportive in the past and the rest of the members in the chamber here today that my bill is now out of hibernation and is here for second reading today, the Food Literacy for Students Act, 2020.
I’ve long believed that food literacy should be taught to our children in school. I was happy to speak with the Food Policy Council for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington about food literacy back in the summer of 2018, at one of their meetings. It’s a group that was founded in 2013. They had previously researched and worked on a preliminary food literacy bill and proposed to me that I potentially consider its merits. Given my background and their groundwork, I committed to advancing their cause. So I thank them and acknowledge their in-depth examination of the existing inadequacy of food literacy.
At this time, I would like to name the members of this group who contributed to Bill 216: Dianne Dowling, John Singlett, Denis Doyle, Dr. Rupa Patel, Dr. Neil Hobbs, Sarah Keyes and Mara Shaw. They all put their thoughts and their wisdom into the first draft of the bill, and the bill we see here today reflects much of that work.
Of course, I would certainly like to thank the very busy Minister of Education and his office and, of course, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Education and his staff for their attention and diligence and detail in support of this private member’s bill—tremendous. Thank you very, very kindly, colleagues.
I would like to thank all of my colleagues, my fellow caucus members who have reviewed this bill and given it their support. As a matter of fact, I would be very surprised if we did not receive the support of every member of this chamber when the final votes are counted. That’s how popular and necessary this bill is.
Some of us may recall, back in our school days, when we were growing a bean plant in the classroom in the early primary grades. In secondary school, others may have studied home economics or taken environmental science classes where food preparation and crop husbandry were taught. In science class, of course, at that time, we were all taught about photosynthesis and plant respiration. Some of us might even remember some of it. I recall a little bit. It’s getting a little foggy now, though. Others in this chamber, of course, are doctors and scientists and have studied organic chemistry in detail. But none of us, regardless, have had a 12-year education in food literacy, and that’s what this bill provides for.
Let me be very, very clear, Mr. Speaker: The premise of this bill, the fundamental goal of this legislation is lifelong health, much as the addition to the curriculum of financial literacy was about enabling financial health throughout our lives.
Admittedly, curriculum development will take some time and not be as easy as just passing this bill, but the end result will be Ontario students province-wide who graduate with knowledge about food that will serve them well for their entire lives. They will learn one of life’s greatest lessons, and that is, health is wealth.
In 2013, the current consumer and commercial relations minister referred in this chamber to the work of the organization then called Ontario Agri-Food Education. It’s now called AgScape. This non-profit’s role has long been in the development of curriculum that interested teachers could use to teach about food and agriculture from primary through to the senior high school years. The fruits of their efforts were dependent upon individual motivated teachers, and there were a number of them, and we thank them for their interest.
We know that food literacy is about so much more than knowing when to plant, when to chop, when to dice or when to fry. It’s about educating the educators, as well, and ensuring that the education is continuous, lifelong learning. It’s also about jobs in the agri-businesses that we so depend on and whose efforts have been really appreciated during this pandemic year. It’s about the careers, as well, that they provide and how food is planted, nurtured and harvested on a scale that keeps us all fed. It’s about how we can supplement store-bought food or replace it with food grown on our balconies, on our windowsills, in our backyards and home gardens, whether they be big or small. It’s about chickens and keeping the foxes away. It’s about why a donkey is a Holstein’s or sheep’s best friend. It’s about weather—we always want to talk about weather and how critical it is for agriculture and what we eat—whether flour is just flour no matter its origin, whether it’s wheat, soybeans, oats, whatever, for example.
The reality is, we are alive and we thrive because of food, but the wrong choices can lead to pain-filled and shortened lives. That’s why doctors, dentists and nurses are strong, strong proponents of food literacy: They know only too well about diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dental disease, osteoporosis and obesity, and the lives affected. Indeed, studies have shown that a full third of cancer-related deaths—a full third—can be linked to diet.
Food literacy is not just a small-time or a small-town subject, Mr. Speaker. The need for food literacy has driven the years-long actions of food and agricultural experts to collaborate, to consult broadly and develop what they published in 2017 as the Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy. There were 26 key organizations that took part in this effort, reputable organizations representing a very broad base of agriculture, food, health, education and Indigenous interests. They range from Cancer Care Ontario, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Dietitians of Canada, and Health Canada, to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Ontario Home Economics Association, the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, Public Health Ontario and six Ontario universities. And the list goes on, Mr. Speaker—a broad section of humanity and what we are as Ontarians.
Let me quote from them: “The Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy is an expert and evidence-informed plan for healthy food and food systems in Ontario. Central ... are its goals, which include promoting the wholistic health and well-being of all Ontarians, reducing the burden of obesity and chronic disease among Ontarians and the Ontario healthcare system, strengthening the Ontario economy and promoting resiliency of Ontario’s food systems.”
Then they go on further to say, “Ontario’s food system is also aiming to grow and improve to better preserve, use and protect land, forests and waterways; more effectively produce food and handle waste; support training and skills throughout the agri-food sector, and ensure food systems workers have viable livelihoods.” They note that their strategy used a “whole-system perspective” to address the “complex and interconnected relationships between the food systems and health and well-being.”
It’s not a simple fact, Mr. Speaker; it’s a highly complex and engaged topic. Clearly, food is far from simple, but it affects all of us daily. We see this bill as a very strong first step in making it an integral, important part of the Ontario education curriculum.
The impact of food reaches way beyond the dinner table. Diet-related concerns cost the health care system tens of billions of dollars each year. Think of that: health care costs of tens of billions each year, simply due to improper eating, and it’s estimated that they will account for over 70% of Ontario’s health care operating budget by 2022. We all know that, provincially and federally, the largest portion of the entire budget for government is health care, and eating can play a role in reducing the cost of that budget dramatically.
This bill is disgustingly important, colleagues, and it should not be taken lightly, because this dramatically affects the budgets of every province and every nation around the world, let alone something we can control ourselves in Canada here. Is it an exaggeration? No. A 2008 peer-reviewed study in the Pharmaceutical Research journal noted this: “Studies with identical twins have suggested genes are not the source of most chronic illnesses. For instance, the concordance between identical twins for breast cancer was found to be only 20%. Instead of our genes, our lifestyle and our environment account for 90%-95% of our most chronic illnesses.”
So, colleagues, if there’s nothing else you remember out of this, remember this: Good health is more than common sense; it’s also dollars and cents, and it’s central to humanity itself. I only wish that I had been taught food literacy all the way through school. I look forward to the time when my grandchildren and the grandchildren of the members of this Legislature and across this province can tell me what they have learned about food and its production, and how they see it changing their lives.
I urge everybody here today that this is not a partisan issue; this is a humanity issue. I urge us all here today and all members to vote for this bill. I know there’s strong support; I talked to the member for the Green Party, who can’t be here. He was talking today and he said, “Daryl, I know I wholeheartedly support that.” I know that feeling, and I’m getting it from all over. So let’s get the ball rolling by getting this bill rolling.
I look forward to the comments from all the people in this House and the insights to be offered today by all of the other members.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): I did not want to interrupt the member, but there are 15 members in the House now holding private conversations, which is making it hard for the Speaker to hear, and most of the people speaking are actually on the government side of House, while their own member was making his case on a private member’s bill. So I would please ask all members—
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): —who aren’t listening as I’m speaking now, to come to order and listen to the debate that’s going on. Your own member was trying to be heard, and it was very difficult with all the private conversations going on, on both sides of the House, but mainly on the government side. So please, for the rest of this debate, if you have a private conversation, take it outside.
Ms. Marit Stiles: It’s a great pleasure to rise and speak to the Food Literacy for Students Act. I want to thank the member from Hastings–Lennox and Addington for introducing this legislation and for his comments, which I was listening intently to. I appreciated them.
I think it’s fair to say we will be supporting this legislation. We all in this House would love, I think, in this House to give kids a strong understanding of the relationship between food and our health and our environment and the social determinants of health. To do that, we are willing to pass the legislation, but we also need the government, the government members, to stop cutting in education and to start investing in it.
There is no question: Learning about healthy eating is important. Learning about where food comes from and how to prepare it is an essential part of a well-rounded education for all our children. Ontarians are proud of our agriculture heritage, and more than ever we’re thinking about where the food on our plate comes from.
I want to mention also in particular right now the contribution of Ontario’s farmers. From the moment that that food is planted, and then reaped, that harvest, and then it makes its way through the supply chain to the Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers’ Market in my riding—all of those pieces that have to come together to get that food from here to there are so critical and important to all of us. We really do value and recognize the billions that are contributed by agri-businesses to Ontario’s economy and the many jobs that are created. And there is no question: Our curriculum should reflect those values and give kids a strong understanding of the relationship between food, our health and our environment.
Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, the Ford government’s record when it comes to education, as I’ve mentioned many times in the Legislature, is not one of growing; it is one of cutting. I want to speak just for a moment about that, because I think this is really important. If we’re going to put forward legislation—as the member opposite said, this is a big deal. Once we make a change to the curriculum, this is just a piece of paper, unless we put the resources in place to support the curriculum being developed and, further to that, to ensure the professional development of the educators who are going to be teaching it and to make sure they have the resources they need to integrate it into their curriculum. We need to invest in our schools to ensure that our children get the education they deserve.
I think it’s important to note that in the past few years, when it came to things like curriculum change, we weren’t seeing investment. In fact, we were seeing things like the cancellation of the Indigenous curriculum writing sessions, in an attempt to save money. In August 2018, we saw the repeal of the health and physical education curriculum to appease social conservative groups that I think today are getting certain rewards. Somebody we heard a lot about today, Mr. McVety, is getting a bit of a reward today. These are the same folks that pushed that curriculum out of the way. To the government’s credit, they were able eventually to bring it back. Thanks to those many, many students who spoke up about the cancellation of the health and physical education curriculum and the Indigenous curriculum writing sessions, we were able to get most of that back into the curriculum. I’m glad that that happened.
But we have seen again, in 2019, the government’s move to increase class sizes and make online classes mandatory, leading to the cancellation of hundreds of classes and—I just have to point out—courses like healthy living and food and nutrition. Food and nutrition courses were cut because of this government’s changes. While this bill seeks to enshrine experiential learning, which I think is extremely important in our curriculum, Conservative cuts to education have directly led to the cancellation of experiential learning in this province, including the closure of Ontario’s outdoor education centres in 2019.
So, Mr. Speaker, if we’re going to make important changes like this, what we really need is for the government to get other things right too. We need to be, right now, in this moment, preparing temporary classroom spaces, like libraries, previously locked classrooms—opening them up—community centres. We need to be hiring thousands more teachers and education workers, including custodians and bus drivers, because this pandemic ain’t ending any time soon, I’m sorry to say. We need those investments. We need those smaller class sizes. We need to make sure that our schools are safer, with touchless faucets and good ventilation/HVAC. We need to make sure that every school has the funding and the help they need to ensure that all students can practise physical distancing from the moment they get on the bus until they’re home safely.
Curriculum can and should change to reflect the needs of our province, but it needs to be done in collaboration with parents and experts; it needs to be done in collaboration with those front-line educators who support our children every day. It cannot be a piecemeal approach. I know the member opposite doesn’t want that, and I really urge the government to provide the support that this will require.
I want to wrap up by just mentioning a few things that are missing here. I know my colleagues are also going to speak to this. We are missing the opportunity to ensure that any new curriculum changes respecting food literacy include an understanding of culturally diverse foods. We’re missing here food security and the economic factors that contribute to food scarcity, which are not mentioned in this bill.
Black Ontarians in this province have been demanding urgent action from the government to update the curriculum to include mandatory education in Black history and culture throughout a student’s career; that should be reflected here. And this bill does not mention anywhere Indigenous agriculture or food traditions.
Mr. Speaker, again, we will be supporting this legislation. But unless the government puts serious support and consideration to some of the issues we’ve raised here, I do fear that it will end up being just a piece of paper—nice words but not action.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mr. John Fraser: It’s a pleasure to speak to this bill. I want to thank the member from Hastings–Lennox and Addington for bringing it forward.
I think it’s an important bill, and although I do agree with some things that the member from Davenport said, in this place we can’t let perfection be the enemy of the possible. The basic principle in this bill is making sure that we have food literacy, that growing up, people understand important things like nutrition; where food comes from; what are healthy choices; how you balance a budget in terms of buying food.
I spent 22 years working in the grocery business, so I spent a lot of time around food. Food literacy wasn’t a problem for me because when I was 15, I was packing bags at Loblaws. A lot of my life has been around food, so I have seen the level of food literacy and how, over a period of time, we went from very simple staples in the 1970s to more prepared foods. And then there came a revolution where we decided to become interested in nutrition. So companies like Loblaws and Sobeys and Metro—I’m going to miss one or two there, but I’m not being paid for an endorsement, so that’s okay—are very interested in making sure that people know what healthy choices are, because that’s what people are looking for.
So I think what the member has proposed is a good thing. I do agree that there are things like food security that we have to talk about, and that I think it would be important to educate young people on, simply because that’s going to be an issue going forward, just like the security of water is going to be an issue going forward.
I want to thank the member for bringing it forward. As with any private member’s bill, we’re here to debate it and talk about the things that could be in it. If we get past this reading, then maybe it will go to committee and maybe the government will have an opportunity to take a look at it. They should take heed of the things that have been said in this debate that I think will add value to the principle that the member has brought forward, which I think is really critically important, so that as young people mature, they can lead healthy lives, which, in fact, at the end of the day, will be better for us all around—fewer health care costs.
Again, thank you very much to the member for bringing this forward. I’ll be supporting it.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mr. Dave Smith: I’m very proud to stand and speak in favour of this.
I grew up in Prince Edward county—Wellington, actually—and I had the great pleasure of having farms all around me. My first jobs were working on farms. I worked on the Bonnie Brae farm cash crop—I picked tomatoes. I worked on the Lewis dairy farm, milking cows, I worked on the McCaul chicken farm and I worked on the Wellington mushroom farm. Now, mushrooms really aren’t an awfully nutrient-rich thing to eat, but my goodness, do I ever love them when they’re cooked in butter and you put them on top of that steak. It’s a wonderful thing.
Food literacy is something, though, that all of us need to know about. I am 50. I am type 2 diabetic, and I’m type 2 diabetic because there is not a carb that I have met that I didn’t fall in love with. My idea of portion control is, when I go down to Costco and buy that five-pound bag of jujubes, when the bag is empty, my portion is done. These are things that kids today need to know about, because you can avoid some of the challenges you’re going to have in your life if you know about proper eating.
It’s been said many times—and I can’t tell you who said it first because so many people have said this one statement—that the body is made in the kitchen, not in the gym. It is so true. I’m going to give you a quote from a gentleman, Patrik Baboumian. He competes in the World’s Strongest Man competition. Right now, he is Germany’s strongest person, and he’s a vegetarian. People have said to him, “Why? You’re as big an ox.” His response is, “Have you ever looked at what an ox eats?” It’s about the food that you eat. If you want be an elite athlete, you have to be paying attention to what you’re putting into your body. Your body is your temple. That’s something that has been said multiple times as well.
If you don’t eat properly, then your body is not going to be doing the things that you want it to do; you’re not going to be able to do those things. We can supplement it with different drugs, different pharmaceuticals, to your heart’s content, but it does come down to those basic building blocks. If you know what to eat, if you know what’s good for you, you can make those choices and eat appropriately.
In the few seconds I have left before I pass it off to some of my colleagues, I would like to point out that I know it wasn’t intentional, but isn’t great that on national chefs’ day we are debating a bill about food?
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mme France Gélinas: I’m really pleased to see a member of the Conservatives bringing a bill forward that has to do with food literacy. He’s absolutely right: We are what we eat. Basically, healthy food helps us stay healthy and has a huge impact on our health care system. I support all of this.
I can’t help but think of, not that many years ago, when I was pushing the Healthy Decisions for Healthy Eating Act bill, where we wanted Ontario to put in menu labelling. Now, when you go into McDonald’s or Mr. Sub or whatever, you see a sub, you see how many calories and you see the price. Many members of the Conservative Party voted and spoke against it: “Oh, the restaurants will go bankrupt. We can’t do this. We can’t put such red tape on our business owners.”
But what did it really do, Speaker? It made it that, rather than having one in a thousand persons who looks at the calorie before they order, one in two Ontarians look at those calories before they make a purchase. When it is for their children, it is almost 100% of Ontarians that look at the number of calories before they make a purchase for their children. What did it do? It helped people make healthy decisions.
What it did on the restaurant side is that a lot of them—Mr. Sub had this tuna sandwich that I really liked, and when I saw that it was 1,600 calories, I never ordered it again. In came calorie labelling and they had to put that on their menu. What did they do? They changed the preparation, and it’s now at 400 calories. That’s because we forced them to put calories on the menu, and once it was and people could see this, they never bought it again. It helped bring in healthier choices.
So thank you for bringing this bill forward. We will support it. We are what we eat. When we have a role at legislators to help people make healthy choices, we should take those opportunities.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Ms. Goldie Ghamari: I wanted to thank the member from Hastings–Lennox and Addington for bringing forward this important PMB. In my riding of Carleton, there is a very strong agricultural and rural component. We have a lot of farms, obviously, but we also have a lot of smaller sort of hobby farms as well, and we have a very strong local farmers’ market.
I think ultimately this bill is going to go a long way to educating students on where their food comes from, because I find that, too often, people will go into a grocery store and just grab some packaged meat or some produce and not really know where it comes from or how it was produced or the steps that are taken to make sure that we have food in our grocery stores. Ultimately, Mr. Speaker, farms feed families, and I think educating yourself on where the food comes from is not only going to go a long way to helping students appreciate the food they are eating but also appreciate farmers and put that into a different perspective.
I think a lot of people don’t realize the level of sophistication that goes into farming these days, especially in Ontario. Educating yourselves and educating everyone on where food comes from, and not just where it comes from, but the impact that it has on our planet—you know, a lot of people will go to a grocery store and maybe purchase tomatoes that were imported from another country because they might be cheaper instead of the Ontario tomatoes, but what they don’t realize is that, yes, those tomatoes might be cheaper, but what was the carbon footprint of those tomatoes, to transport them into the country, versus the carbon food print of, for example, SunTech Greenhouses, which is a greenhouse in my riding, in Manotick, that has literally zero carbon emission because it is a greenhouse? It reuses the carbon to keep the plants growing.
The implications of food literacy can go a very long way to educating people. I think, ultimately, as well, it would sort of break that barrier or divide between urban and rural. I know I don’t have too much left but I do want to mention there’s a farm in my riding, in Stittsville, that’s run by Tom and Marlene Black. They’ve actually donated a plot of their farm to the Ottawa Food Bank, and the Ottawa Food Bank uses that plot of land to grow vegetables and fruits and various crops. All the produce goes to the Ottawa Food Bank to help with feeding people. What the Ottawa Food Bank does is they bring in volunteers from the city to spend a day on the farm, farming.
That’s just one of the initiatives that’s going on. I’m so proud to speak to this bill. I’m happy to support it, and I want to thank the member for introducing this PMB. Thank you.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mr. John Vanthof: It’s always an honour to be able to rise in the House, today to speak on food literacy for students, brought forward by the member from Hastings–Lennox and Addington.
I fully support this bill, coming from a farm. Farmers have been frustrated for a long time that people don’t seem to understand where their food comes from. That comes naturally because years ago, almost everyone was either a farmer, worked on a farm or was related to a farmer. Now that has changed considerably.
I’d like to give a shout-out to one of our farm organizations—actually, almost all or maybe all the commodity organizations, but the general farm organization, OFA, has got a program called Six by Sixteen where everyone, by the time they are 16, should be able to cook six meals and know where they come from. So we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. That’s a really good program. It should have been around when I was 16.
But if we’re going to talk about food literacy—and I fully support the bill—we have to talk more about just farmers, and we have to talk about the system, and we have to talk about migrant workers, because young people are going to ask about migrant workers. And when we’re talking about how your body is the temple and what you put in your body is how healthy you’re going to be, we’re going to have to deal with, “What about the kids whose families can’t afford to feed the temple the way it’s supposed to be fed?”
It’s one thing to give them the information, but we also have to give them the power to actually do something with that information. In all our offices, we deal with people who, quite frankly, can’t afford to buy healthy food. Something else we’re going to have to talk about when we’re talking to about food literacy: In the northern First Nations, it’s cheaper to live on pop and chips, because regular food, healthy food, is too expensive for a regular person who has a regular job—or anything in northern Ontario to actually buy.
So do we have to teach kids about food literacy? Absolutely. Do we have to make sure that everyone knows what farmers do and what the agricultural sector does for our economy? Absolutely. In the words of a past president of the OFA, it’s industry number one in Ontario, and the thing that makes it number one is you can’t eat cars. But we really have to be cognizant of the other issues around food in this province, that there are people who can’t afford buy it. That is huge issue. We are an agricultural engine and very proud of it, but I’m ashamed that not all Ontarians can afford to buy it. Not only do they not know what’s healthy, but a lot of them can’t afford to buy what’s healthy.
So is this bill a good step? It is, but we’ve got a lot more steps to take to make sure that everyone benefits from the agricultural sector in the province.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mr. David Piccini: It’s a pleasure to rise today to speak in support of my colleague’s private member’s bill on food literacy. Mr. Speaker, it’s not a coincidence that the members you see rising on our side of the House here have one thing in common: Many of us are from the same region of the province of Ontario that boasts a remarkable agricultural community. I’m proud to be from Northumberland–Peterborough South. The number one economic sector in our riding is agriculture.
Mr. Speaker, before I get to my riding and the importance of this for my riding, I’d just like to talk a bit about healthy eating. With a last name ending in a vowel, it’s no surprise that I, too, like food, and I attribute that to my family, who have really instilled a sense of importance of healthy eating but also a love of food and cooking. I’m the chef in the family. I love to cook. I think, honestly, if I wasn’t here, I might be opening a Piccini’s Paninis somewhere. But I do love to eat, and I must say, Mr. Speaker, it’s important where our food comes from.
As the member opposite said, this issue encompasses so many facets: where our food comes from, the importance of having the means to buy healthy food, the importance of ensuring equity for that ability to eat healthily across the province. So I think this is an important first step that our member is doing. Boasting, from an agricultural community—it’s important that we talk about this. It’s important that we have an understanding of where our food comes from.
I think the other day of someone who said—I forget what they’d said, but it was something along the lines of, they don’t meat, but then it was with respect to where their food came from. They didn’t understand that in order to have the meat that you ate, it had to come from the butcher, so they ate meat but only from the grocery store. So I think it’s important to understand the ecosystem where that food comes from.
As I said, I’m from an agricultural community, the rolling hills of Northumberland–Peterborough South. We have the Northumberland Federation of Agriculture, Peterborough federation of agriculture and Clarington ag society, all of whom I’ve met. I think back to a conversation I had with Doug Gray just this week. Doug spoke to me about the importance of understanding where the food is coming from, and a feeling among so many farmers now that they have to adopt almost an advocacy/marketing approach, when they’re so busy from dusk till dawn, working hard to ensure we have high-quality food, to ensure the high standards that we boast here in Canada and especially here in Ontario. They just want to do their job, and I think it’s important to them that we have private members’ bills like this to highlight the remarkable work that they do every day in supporting our communities. I’m proud, as I said, to be from an agricultural community, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the farmers in my community.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mrs. Robin Martin: As the most urban Conservative elected in Ontario and perhaps the country, the only one that has part of the old city of Toronto in my riding, I too really appreciate farmers, I have to say.
It’s partly because I’m from a farming background. I grew up on farms and spent most of my summers on farms trying do all kinds of things, including brand cattle, which I shouldn’t have been involved in when I was a child, but anyway, there I was. So I’ve had some experience, and I certainly do have an appreciation about what it takes to grow food. I watched my uncle watching how much water he was getting and checking the rainfall every few hours, trying to make sure he could get his crop in. I know the kind of stress and tension that that brings to farmers.
I want to tell the farmers of Ontario, I really appreciate you, and so do a lot of people in the city of Toronto. We all rely on you to grow great food, and we appreciate it. I’m certainly all over the supermarket looking for Ontario products, because they taste better, let’s face it.
What I really like about the bill brought forward by my friend the member from Hastings–Lennox and Addington, the Food Literacy for Students Act, is that it talks about growing food, which we have just talked about, and how important that is. But it also mentions, and I don’t think anyone has commented on this, preparing food. Maybe the member himself did—somebody did. But I think preparing food is also very important.
Many of you know that I have a child who is on the autism spectrum. It’s a bit of a struggle sometimes to teach those kinds of basic life skills to some kids—probably all kids, and it’s a matter of degree to a certain extent. But I do know, having raised two children who are now in their twenties, that good habits are really important. If they have good habits when they are young, those things are not things you have to exercise willpower about. You have good habits and you eat properly and you will grow up properly. That’s some wisdom that I learned through a little trial and error, I think, as a mother.
I think it’s so important for kids to learn about what food is healthy for them. As my friend mentioned, 90% to 95% of chronic diseases are about lifestyle, and food is the number one issue. We all need to learn to eat better. I think this is a wonderful private member’s bill, and I commend my colleague for bringing it forward.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): We turn back to the member from Hastings–Lennox and Addington for a two-minute response to everything that he’s heard. It’s all made us hungry this afternoon.
Mr. Daryl Kramp: Well, thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t thank everybody enough for the kind words today and certainly the broad support as echoed by all the members in the House, despite a few political overtones on it. But certainly let me just thank all the members who spoke: the members for Davenport, Ottawa South, Nickel Belt, Peterborough, Carleton, Timiskaming–Cochrane and Eglinton–Lawrence. Thank you all for taking your time to be here today.
Honestly, I’ve been around the political scene for quite a while between municipally, federally, provincially, for going on 20 years now. I can say, not because this happens to be the private member’s bill I’m bringing forward, that I consider this probably one of the most important bills from a point of impact on Canadian society and Ontario society, should we do the job right.
Granted, there are some serious challenges ahead. It’s so simple just to say, but to do is a whole different story. The development of curriculum alone, okay, is extremely challenging, given the broad diversity of everything involved and the number of years engaged. But there has been a plethora of professional people who are so entrenched with their knowledge and their capacity and generous in their ability to be able to say, “We can do this, because it really does matter.”
Colleagues, I will just say that I really believe that whatever we do have to spend on this—the dollars and cents always come through in budgeting times—that there will be a return many, many times over. It’s a broad spectrum from the agriculture to commercial to the business to the health industry to the finance to the Treasury Board. This bill covers the full range. I do believe that it is critically important, and I thank each and every person here. I look forward to not only moving this forward through this Legislature, but hopefully working together to take all of your advice and counsel in implementing this into society. Thank you.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The time provided for private members’ public business has expired.
Mr. Kramp has moved second reading of Bill 216, An Act to amend the Education Act in respect of food literacy. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Second reading agreed to.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Pursuant to standing order 101(i), the bill is referred to the standing committee of the whole House, unless the member has another option he would like to state.
Mr. Daryl Kramp: I would like to this bill sent to the committee of the Legislative Assembly.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Is the majority of the House in favour of this bill being referred to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly? Agreed. Then the bill is referred to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly.
Pursuant to standing order 36, the question that this House do now adjourn is deemed to have been made.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The member for Ottawa South has given notice of dissatisfaction with the answer to a question given by the Minister of Long-Term Care. The member will have up to five minutes to debate the matter, and a minister or parliamentary assistant may reply for up to five minutes. This is the first of two late shows this afternoon.
I turn now to the member from Ottawa South.
Mr. John Fraser: Thank you very much, Speaker. I very much appreciate you being here, and the table as well too. I know we are a bit later on late shows right now, so maybe we call them the “late” late shows.
I simply want to say I didn’t get an answer to my question, but more concerning today, and I think I mentioned this in the debate, is we had a debate here about long-term care that didn’t focus on what the most important things are right now, which really, essentially, are proper staffing levels, infection control and testing.
Before I get to that, I think one of the most important things to say after this afternoon’s debate, which I think I said earlier and I’ll say it a bit more calmly right now, is there is too much finger-pointing and chest-thumping. We need to work together, because families are worried and concerned, residents are worried and concerned, staff are worried and concerned. There’s enough blame to go around that we should just focus right now on what’s most important to those people.
I do want to say something: We’ve had this debate about long-term care, and I just want to say there are thousands and thousands of people working in long-term care right now who are delivering excellent care. They’re not getting all the support that they need, but they’re delivering excellent care. They’re doing their absolute best. We have to make sure that we don’t get lost in debate where we forget that there are people out there and that we value their work and that they’ve done a tremendous job in preventing the spread of COVID-19, sometimes in very difficult circumstances, and provided love and support to those who they care for because essential caregivers couldn’t get in or family couldn’t get in.
We know that testing is a problem for two reasons. Number one is, it’s not coming back fast enough so that long-term-care homes know which staff member has it—does or doesn’t have it—or which resident does or doesn’t have it, which creates a challenge for managing the spread of the disease inside the home. That problem needs to be solved, otherwise we’re going to get what we see already happening in long-term-care homes right now. It’s not as many homes, but there are a bunch of homes with double-digit infections in residents, and when you see 20 or 30 infections, we all know what happened last time around. So you need to fix that.
We’re short at least 6,000 PSWs. I don’t understand why the government did not do what BC and Quebec did, which was aggressively hire PSWs and pay to train them. We know we need them.
Then we came out with an essential caregiver policy, but we didn’t think about what we would do when we actually got to the second wave, because we needed those people to care for their loved ones because we still didn’t have enough PSWs. That needs to be fixed.
Proper infection control: You can see it in those homes where you’ve got double-digit infections. That needs to be fixed.
I just want to finish by saying I hope the tone of the debate changed after I left today, because it really did make me upset and angry at the time. There were members who—I singled them out; I’m not going to do that right now. But right now, people are just sick to death with worry, so we just need to fix those things that they’re worried about. There will be enough time when it’s back to business as usual where we can do what we do in here, which is say, “You’ve got it wrong.”
I’ll repeat something I said in debate and I’ve said a number of times in this House: I don’t think anybody in here wants long-term care not to be good—not to be good for our seniors, not to be good for their parents or their grandparents or their friends. That’s where we have to start.
I want to thank you very much for your time, Mr. Speaker, for being here this evening, and the table and whoever is responding to me on the other side.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Long-Term Care—
Mrs. Robin Martin: Health.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): I’m sorry, to the Minister of Health—my mistake after checking that—is Ms. Martin, the member for Eglinton–Lawrence, who will have up to five minutes to respond. Now, I turn to the member from Eglinton–Lawrence.
Mrs. Robin Martin: The member for Ottawa South asked a question two weeks ago—and he received an answer—regarding the status of COVID-19 cases in Ottawa’s long-term-care homes. He hasn’t really talked about that much today, even though that’s what I think the late show is supposed to be about, so let me just review that: There are 18 homes in outbreak, unfortunately, in Ottawa. Of those, 15 have no resident cases. The remaining three each have one. Thanks to the great work of Ottawa Public Health, Ontario Health and the local hospitals that have partnered with and supported the homes, we have seen more and more of these cases resolve, which is very good news. We all want that to happen.
We take the outbreak of COVID-19 in long-term-care homes very, very seriously. Throughout the pandemic, our government has worked hard to ensure that homes have the staff that they need, the PPE that they need and the support that they need, and we’re working on these things all the time. Honestly, nobody has a monopoly on caring about our seniors, about our elderly or about anything else. I can tell you, every member of our caucus, every member of this government, cares as well, very much. We all have parents, grandparents and loved ones, many of whom are in long-term-care homes, including the Premier’s own mother-in-law.
When necessary, we have also used the ability to put in local hospitals to work with long-term-care homes. We took action to fight COVID-19, but we have not waited for the end of the pandemic to plan out new long-term-care beds and homes. We’re taking bold action to build long-term-care homes ready for the challenges of the 21st century so that every Ontarian can know that they will be able to get the care they need, and it will be available when and where they need it. So we don’t only just care; we’re taking action.
There’s a clear contrast to be made here. The fact is the previous Liberal government—my friend, the member from Ottawa South, was the parliamentary assistant for the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. They built only 611 net new beds since 2011. In our short period of time in government, we have already announced partnerships to build 1,280 beds, which is already 2.5 times more than the Liberals did in their whole time, since 2011, in their whole government—the time that my friend was the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care.
The NDP also, in its platform, promised 15,000 new beds over five years. A few weeks ago, their leader said, “I think we need a plan,” but I would say we need more than a plan. We need a government that will execute a plan, and that’s what this government is doing.
Mrs. Robin Martin: Thank you.
I don’t know why the previous government failed to act and fix a lot of the problems that, unfortunately, our Minister of Long-Term Care inherited. We all know that there are a lot of problems in the system, and we are working very hard, including having a Ministry of Long-Term Care, to focus on those very important issues and to fix them.
It’s curious that the member for Ottawa South has brought us here and seems to have forgotten that he was the guy who was in the role that could have made change. He could have done something. My husband always says to me to imagine if I knew somebody who could do something about this problem. Well, the member from Ottawa South was one of those people that could do something about this problem.
But there is some neglect, an unconscionable neglect, so let me remind him just of a few things that he said: “This is something I’ve been following for about 12 years, trying to find a solution.” Well, we need solutions; you said. “We all know that we have to build more long-term-care spaces here in the province.” Yes, we all know that. You said that years ago. “You’ve got beds that were built in the 1970s—they’re called Bs and Cs—that need to be redeveloped so people are no longer in rooms where there are four people.” The member from Ottawa South said that.
There are a lot of issues here and it makes me wonder why his government said one thing and did another; why they talked about finding solutions and building more spaces and redeveloping beds, but did nothing. Well, we’re doing something. Our minister is working very hard even during a pandemic to solve these long-term issues.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The member for Ottawa Centre has given notice of dissatisfaction with an answer given by, also, the Minister of Long-Term Care. The member for Ottawa Centre will have up to five minutes to state his case and the parliamentary assistant will have up to five minutes to respond.
We turn now to the member from Ottawa Centre.
Mr. Joel Harden: Yesterday, I rose in this House to ask a question about whistle-blower protection for personal support workers in Ottawa. I asked the question because it was covered in our city’s biggest newspaper that personal support workers, fearing losing their jobs, talked anonymously to a reporter. Sadly, this is the trend. This keeps happening.
Since we started talking about it through our various MPP channels, personal support workers have been approaching me, they’ve been approaching us, saying, “Joel, I want to do what the Canadian Forces did and tell the truth and blow the whistle, but I fear I’ll be fired.”
When I asked the question, the minister responsible, who is my neighbour in Ottawa, got up and said, “Well, actually, we have protection for whistle-blowers under the appropriate act.”
Speaker, I’m used to, in this place, not getting my question answered, so in the time I have left, for the folks following this at home, I will say, for their benefit, that I’ve done a little research. I hope the parliamentary assistant will reflect on the research. It comes from two sources. The Patient Ombudsman, who recently published a report, the fourth demand of which was to implement whistle-blower protection for all front-line health care workers, including PSWs—why would the Patient Ombudsperson ask for it if it already exists? Do not insult the intelligence of somebody who is charged with the well-being and wherewithal of patients and front-line workers in this province. That was my first step.
The second thing is, to the parliamentary assistant, I’ll direct her attention to a recent edited collection published by scholars at the University of Ottawa. Pages 480 to 500 get into the fact that Ontario does not have bona fide whistle-blower protection for personal support workers. In there, the scholars reflect on the fact that the only jurisdiction in Canada right now that does have it is our friends in Manitoba, next door on the west side.
Do you know what they also have in Manitoba? Public home care; no profits and no parasites sucking public money out of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars for their own private benefits and for their shareholders’ benefits. The people of Manitoba have built an example, Speaker. We should follow it, but we need to have all the information on our wherewithal to be able to know what’s going on on the ground, and 60% to 70% of long-term care and home care is done by personal support workers.
So I picked up the phone and I called my friend Lynn Steele, who’s the CEO of the Canadian PSW Network. I said to her, “Lynn, the minister told me today that there is enough protection, that everything’s good, that PSWs don’t need to worry. They should come forward, in fact.” Well, do you know what Lynn told me? She wrote the following:
“As a PSW myself in the home care sector and previously LTC, I can attest that there is definitely a fear of whistle-blower repercussions, ranging from management and administration to co-worker backlash, including increased micromanaging, biased performance reviews and even bullying tactics. I have been a victim of it myself.”
She sent out a survey; 100 PSWs participated in the survey. Guess what they said. When asked the question, “Do you feel that your job would be at risk if you were to report?” 66.7% said yes; 16.7% said maybe. When asked the question, “Do you feel you would be bullied or reprimanded for speaking up,” 76% said yes and 16% said maybe. That’s from the front line. That’s not from the fantasy world that I keep seeing invented by this government as they offer platitudes for how much they care, when they offer temporary pandemic pay increases that don’t show up for months, or when they offer pandemic pay increases to hire new PSWs, but they don’t do anything on an ongoing basis for the hard-working, particularly women, and men in this industry. They’re missing in sight, and the people of this province, particularly the PSWs in this province, deserve respect. You deserve to have your credentials recognized. You do some of the hardest work in the province.
Do you know what this government’s top staffers did back in March, Speaker? I spoke about it earlier today. Many of them—four of them who I have seen recently—went to go work for the big for-profit companies as lobbyists in the middle of March and April. When PSWs were busting their guts trying to keep people alive, top staffers in this government went to work for Extendicare and Revera and Chartwell. Shame on all of you for even daring to pretend that you support PSWs. You’re not fooling anybody here. Whatever rhetoric you spout back at us tonight, no one’s fooled.
The COVID honeymoon for the government is over. It’s why they’re getting more combative in this Legislature. It’s not going to stop me and it’s not going to stop us from holding them to account. That’s our job. Get used to it.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The parliamentary assistant will have up to five minutes to respond.
Mrs. Robin Martin: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to such an important subject. I just have to say that the member from Ottawa Centre often has a tone which is a little bit extreme, and I think we saw some of that now. I don’t want to go there, but I really dislike the fact that people suggest that I should be ashamed, because I disagree with them. I’m not ashamed of anything this government has done.
PSWs: That’s what we really should be talking about. PSWs, personal support workers, do difficult and important work every day in every corner of this province, and their work is appreciated and valued by all of us and everyone in this government. They can truly be called the backbone of our long-term-care homes, and through our staffing study and working with key stakeholders, we’ve listened to PSWs and will keep working with them to improve the quality of their work experiences, which I think is a very important initiative for PSWs, and the quality of life for our long-term-care residents.
Every long-term-care home has the duty under the Long-Term Care Homes Act to keep their residents safe. That is clear and unequivocal, and it’s non-negotiable. It is currently an offence under the Long-Term Care Homes Act to retaliate against someone for disclosing anything to a director or an inspector, or for providing evidence in a legal proceeding. I don’t know in your research if you looked at the Long-Term Care Homes Act, but it is there.
Mrs. Robin Martin: I know you did research, so I would hope that one place you would go would be the Long-Term Care Homes Act.
In fact, there’s an entire section in that act which covers whistle-blower protection, and our government is committed to ensuring that no one suffers reprisal for sharing important information on residents’ safety.
Yesterday, the member for Ottawa Centre in this House spoke directly to PSWs watching at home and told them this government will not guarantee whistle-blower protection. I’d like to correct that by taking a moment to speak to our staff at long-term-care homes, families in long-term care and to all Ontarians. If anyone has concerns about the safety of residents in long-term-care homes, including suspected abuse or neglect, please call the Long-Term Care ACTION Line at 1-866-434-0144. You can do this anonymously. Okay? I want to repeat that: You can call the Long-Term Care Action Line anonymously and report any suspected abuse or concern.
So I was disappointed when the member opposite called the government of Ontario’s whistle-blower protection phony protection, because the act has whistle-blower protection outlined in the legislation, and maybe we need to read it.
“26(1) No person shall retaliate against another person, whether by action or omission, or threaten to do so because ... anything has been disclosed to an inspector” or “anything has been disclosed to the director,” etc. Okay? I’m not going to read the whole thing, but you can find it. It’s under e-laws. There are several robust protections in place.
We remain committed to ensuring that no one in long-term care and no long-term-care workers suffer any reprisals for sharing important information about resident safety, which we clearly value as much as you do. We want to make sure that they know that, and that’s why I’m happy to provide the action line to people.
I want to assure PSWs that though they may be afraid—everyone who works in a job, any job, is sometimes afraid to speak up, but there are protections in place. It’s important that we let them know that and it’s important that they can use this line anonymously and have no fear. They should report anything that they’re concerned about with respect to resident safety. We want you to do that because we want all of our residents in long-term care to be safe.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): There being no further matter to debate, I deem the motion to adjourn to be carried. This House stands adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 1927.