LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Tuesday 30 March 2021 Mardi 30 mars 2021
Report continued from volume A.
Private Members’ Public Business
Support Workers Pay Act, 2021 / Loi de 2021 sur la rémunération des préposés aux services de soutien
Mr. West moved second reading of the following bill:
Bill 266, An Act respecting minimum pay for support workers / Projet de loi 266, Loi concernant la rémunération minimale des préposés aux services de soutien.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Pursuant to standing order 101, the member has 12 minutes for his presentation. We turn to the member for Sudbury.
Mr. Jamie West: Speaker, in 2018, a Sudburian said something to me that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “We have to fix long-term care. Those workers are family when my family is not there.” It was three years ago and it still stays in my head: “Those workers are family when my family is not there.”
During COVID-19, the shortcomings of long-term care have been magnified, and there is a lot for us to fix. We can start with personal support workers. We can start by voting for my bill.
Bill 266, the Support Workers Pay Act, is an opportunity to permanently raise the wage floor for all personal support workers, regardless of their sector, and to ensure they aren’t paying out of their pockets to travel from client to client. Those two actions alone will help to attract and retain workers to this field.
About a month ago, I spoke with Darla Fiset. She is a home care PSW. Darla told me that some PSWs make as little as $15 an hour. Darla cares for 10 to 12 clients a day. She used to take the bus between those clients, but because of COVID-19, the bus schedule is different and it’s not as safe, so she walks.
I also spoke with Tracy Rudiger. She’s a long-term-care PSW. Tracy worked in home care before. She loved it there but had to leave because of the costs. Brakes every three months, monthly oil changes, higher insurance, other yearly maintenance fees: Add up all those fees and think of a PSW who is making 15 bucks an hour—$15 an hour.
People often talk about a shortage of PSWs, Speaker, but in reality, there’s not a shortage of people who want to be PSWs; there’s not a shortage of people who are qualified to be PSWs. There’s a shortage of good-paying jobs for PSWs. PSWs are leaving the field, frankly, because they can’t make ends meet. We can address this right now with this bill.
By voting in favour of this bill, we’ll address this, because the Support Workers Pay Act is an opportunity for the Conservative government to permanently resolve the poor working conditions and the inequalities that many PSWs face on the job. Instead of temporary PSW pandemic pay raises, raises that only apply to some PSWs and eventually will expire—Speaker, three of those have expired already; the fourth one is set to expire in June. My bill would permanently raise the wage floor for all PSWs, regardless of the sector. As well, my bill would require that these workers are paid per kilometre while travelling between work sites.
The bill also calls 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 who provide care. Also, this bill requires the ministry to 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.
Finally, Bill 266 would establish the support worker wage review commission. That’s a mouthful, but it’s important, because this would ensure that personal support worker wages would never slip backwards, because PSW wages and PSW travel expenses would be reviewed and evaluated regularly.
I’m not sure that everyone knows what a PSW does, especially those watching. So I asked a PSW, who I’m going to call anonymous Gail, to describe a typical day. Gail said:
“I arrive at 7 a.m. I gather all my linen and head down the hall to awake the residents. Me and my co-worker work together to get our residents dressed, washed, changed. When my co-worker leaves to shower a resident, I am alone. I’m responsible for 28 residents.
“As I’m bringing a resident to the washroom, a call bell goes off. Mr. Jones wants to get up. I tell him I can help him in about 10 minutes.
“On my way back to help the resident that is still in the washroom, I see Mrs. Henry on the floor.” Mrs. Henry “has fallen and hit her head. She is bleeding. I run to get a nurse. She stops the bleeding. We use a mechanical lift to place the resident back to bed so the nurse can continue to take vitals.
“I return to my resident, who is still in the washroom.
“My co-worker returns and we continue to get residents up for breakfast. Mr. Jones is upset and yelling. He’s been waiting 15 minutes to get out of bed. We apologize and continue to help Mr. Jones.
“The rest of the morning goes well.
“We empty our dirty linen carts, we sanitize shower chairs, we wash up and get ready to serve breakfast. We apply new PPE for each resident. We make beds. We clean closets. We put clean clothes away. We gather meals and head down the hallway.
“We distribute breakfast, fluids, cutlery and clothing protectors. We help residents who can’t eat on their own.
“While we are doing this, a call bell goes off. A resident has to use the washroom and cannot be left unattended while in there. We assist, then go back to cleaning up the dirty dishes and any spills that may have happened.
“After breakfast is finished, we assist more residents to the washroom, assist residents back to bed, get some residents ready for appointments.
“Now, it’s” morning “break. Now, I’m one PSW for 28 residents.”
Speaker, it’s clear that PSWs work hard, but it also needs to be said that they work short-handed. Earlier, I mentioned Darla Fiset. Darla is a PSW from Timmins. She said, “I have to be available from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.” and also “work 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the evenings. I walk in all kinds of weather. As you can imagine, it’s sometimes very tough. I sometimes walk up to 14 kilometres a day.
“We are very short workers. We only have 13 workers to cover the whole area. That’s Timmins, South Porcupine, Porcupine, Matheson, Cochrane, Iroquois Falls and Gogama”—for 13 workers—“and scheduling is forever asking us to take more.”
PSWs work hard, they work short-handed and they work for very little pay. Think of the $15 an hour. That’s why they’re quitting. That’s why we can’t attract them. That’s why we can’t retain them.
Christyna Cox said, “We’ve had many new employees who are hired, complete orientation, report for two of their shifts, and we never see them again, because ... the workload is intense and extremely exhausting.” As I mentioned earlier, some PSWs make as little as $15 an hour.
I asked Sarah about the government’s tuition-free courses to attract PSWs. Sarah said that’s an excellent idea, but it won’t be enough: “New employees work one day alone. They see the craziness and they run out the door.”
More directly, Tara Fennell, a PSW, said, “Who goes to school to live in poverty?”
PSWs work hard. They work short-handed. They work for very little pay. Anonymous Gail said, “Some PSWs go into other departments in the home.” They work in laundry or housekeeping. They become janitors: “It’s a” lot “less of a workload” and they make “30 cents less than ... I” do.
How do we attract and retain PSWs? We have to pay them fairly. Take it from Merissa. She told me, “Our wage stays the same while our job gets more intense”; or Shawn Mathe, who said, “Staff shortages, unrealistic workloads and low-paying jobs make for a high turnover rate. Most PSWs can’t call their job a career,” but “it would be amazing for PSWs to make a liveable wage.”
Speaker, you might think that pandemic pay would be a solution, but pandemic pay will end, and pandemic pay only applies to some PSWs. I think anonymous Tanya said it best: “We are underpaid for what we do. There’s a high turnover because of the wage. If the wage was higher, people would come. People would stay.”
Speaker, I’ve shared several PSW stories. You may have noticed that some workers asked me not to use their names. Some said I could only use their first names, PSWs like Sarah and Heather, and others I had to give completely anonymous names to. It sounds bizarre to say anonymous Gail or anonymous Imani, but these workers are afraid. This is because PSWs work precarious jobs for very little pay, and they’re very worried they will lose these jobs.
What surprised me when I spoke with these workers: They’re not worried about themselves or their families; they’re worried about how it’s going to affect their co-workers, who will have to work short-handed, and they’re worried about the people they take care of, because they deeply care for the people they care for. We need to care for these PSWs the way they care for us.
Speaker, I want to tell you how much our PSWs care for our loved ones so we can understand how we need to care for them the way they care for us. Christyna Cox said, “Sometimes people ask me why I decide to stick it out and work in long-term care (especially at a time of crisis like this).” Christyna said she always asks them, “How would you feel if your grandmother didn’t have anyone to help her when she really needed it; if she needed help just to stand up, when she was tired and feeling sore; or when she needed help with her shoes, or her sweater, because it just isn’t a good day and she needs an extra hand?”
Sarah said, “We break ourselves to get” it done. “It’s all so important!”—the “five or 10 minutes to tidy bedside tables ... five minutes to talk to a resident who is missing their family” ... five minutes to hold their hand.
Heather said, “I go in to work every single day because I love my residents. PSWs are basically their families now.
“We are everything to those people. We are trying to be their support, their motivation to stay alive, so that they can see their family the next time they can come in.
“And if their family’s not there, we let them know that they’re not alone.
“[We] sit by them, read them stories, pray with them, and talk to them while they go through the dying process.”
And one final word from Merissa—it’s short, it’s sweet and to the point, Speaker: “I go above and beyond for my residents. They’re my family when I walk through the door.”
Shawn Mathe knows that this didn’t just happen; it didn’t just arrive. He said, “The problem of long-term care is not just an issue that is facing the current government, but one that has been facing governments of the past.
“It’s not the current government’s fault that our wages are so low, or that we are constantly working short and that the residents might not be receiving the quality of life they so deserve.
“However, it will be the current government’s fault if they turn a blind eye and don’t act.”
Speaker, I started this by saying, “Those workers are family when my family is not there,” and I’ll end it by saying we need to care for them like they care for us. Workers like Tracy Rudiger, Christyna Cox, Shawn Mathe, Tara Fennell, Darla Fiset, Merissa, Gloria, Sarah, Heather, Marlene, anonymous Tanya, anonymous Gail and anonymous Imani and all of Ontario’s PSWs: They’re our family when our family is not there, and we need to care for PSWs like they care for our families.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mrs. Robin Martin: I want to begin by thanking the member for Sudbury for bringing forward this bill today and for prompting this important discussion—and for the stories you shared about some PSWs.
It’s always great to have the opportunity to speak in this House about the work that we are doing as a government to support our personal support workers, who are providing care for our most vulnerable patients all across the province of Ontario. Without them, it would simply not be possible to provide the care people expect from our publicly funded home and community care, long-term care, public hospitals and social services sectors—because PSWs, of course, work in many different environments and many different sectors. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly highlighted the importance of the roles that PSWs take on each day on the front lines of our health care system.
Our government values personal support workers and direct support workers for the critical role that they play in providing care for our most vulnerable patients and the sacrifices that they are making during the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to say to them: Thank you. I thank all of you for all that you are doing and all that you have done. You are truly making a difference in the life of many Ontarians, and we all thank you.
In October 2020, as members are aware, a temporary wage enhancement was announced as part of the province’s COVID-19 fall preparedness plan, which included an investment of $26.3 million to support personal support workers and supportive care workers. This temporary wage increase has been provided to over 158,000 workers who deliver publicly funded personal support services, including $3 per hour extra for approximately 38,000 eligible workers in home and community care; $3 per hour for approximately 50,000 eligible workers in long-term care; $2 per hour for approximately 10,000 eligible workers in public hospitals; and $3 per hour for approximately 60,000 eligible workers in children, community and social services providing personal direct services for the activities of daily living and supporting their clients in those activities.
In mid-March, the Ontario government announced an additional investment of $239 million to extend temporary wage enhancements for personal support workers and direct support workers in publicly funded home and community care, long-term care, public hospitals and social services sectors until June 30, 2021. This funding was to help stabilize, attract and retain the workforce needed to provide a high level of care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But our government recognizes that the challenges faced by many sectors in the recruitment and retention of personal support workers predate COVID-19 and the pandemic. That is why we have been actively working on long-term solutions to these challenges. Our government is working on several other measures to improve recruitment, retention and training of personal support workers. These measures are important to not only meet the current demand for personal support workers, but also the anticipated future demand as Ontario becomes one of the first provinces—or I think it actually is the first province in Canada, I should say—to formally adopt an average of four hours of daily direct care per resident in our province’s long-term-care homes. I know my friend from Oakville North–Burlington, the parliamentary assistant to our Minister of Long-Term Care, will add a lot on that point in a few minutes, but I just couldn’t help mentioning it because it’s very exciting news for the residents of long-term-care homes in our province, and it’s certainly a long-overdue change after 15 years, frankly, of the long-term-care sector being neglected by the previous Liberal government, and unfortunately supported in that neglect by the NDP, who kept the Liberal minority government in office despite that neglect.
As part of this massive change that we’re bringing about, Ontario is investing over $121 million to support the accelerated training of almost 9,000 personal support workers, which is the largest recruitment of personal support workers in Ontario’s history. This includes $115 million to train up to 8,200 new personal support workers through publicly funded colleges, and our government will continue working on many other measures to improve recruitment, retention and training, and ensure that we have an adequate supply of personal support workers province-wide.
Speaker, that brings me back to the bill that we’re discussing today. As I’ve noted, there are a wide range of measures currently being implemented in the province to support a strong PSW workforce, and in our view, it’s too soon to determine which of these measures are the most effective in achieving that goal. Our commitment is that we will continue to closely monitor the temporary wage enhancements currently being offered, and assess the impact of the wage increases going forward on service levels, including recruitment, retention and overall supply. Ultimately, we will take the path forward that leads to the best outcomes for the people of Ontario.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mr. Tom Rakocevic: Thank you to my friend and colleague the member for Sudbury for introducing this important bill to respect and ensure fair compensation for personal support workers. Support workers: We trust them to take care of our loved ones. The work that personal support workers do each and every day brings dignity to our loved ones and improves the quality of their lives. They feed our loved ones when they are no longer able to do it on their own. They are the ones who give them baths and help to transfer them out of bed and ensure they live in comfort. They are the ones who help to keep our loved ones company when they are lonely.
Personal support workers dedicate their whole lives to taking care of others. They do this while often earning wages that aren’t even enough to take care of their own families. Personal support workers do so much for our loved ones, but when it comes to their compensation, are they really being treated with respect? They often have to work long hours in multiple jobs to make ends meet. As such, many PSWs have had to leave the field entirely and seek other employment, even though they never wanted to leave.
During the pandemic, we have heard many reports of the critically low levels of PSW staff at private long-term-care homes because the corporations who own those facilities put profits over the lives of our loved ones and the staff who take care of them. We must take profits out of long-term care.
Susan Conliffe, a dedicated and hard-working PSW who lives in my community, told me last spring that the private long-term-care home where she works only had one nurse and two PSWs for 30 residents, many with complex medical conditions requiring constant care. Right now, there are PSWs in Ontario who care for our loved ones every day, often under trying circumstances, for little more than minimum wage. We must do better.
I am supporting this legislation because we must take action to give personal support workers and their families the same dignity that they give to our loved ones every day. Once again, I want to thank the member from Sudbury for introducing this important legislation. I hope the government does the right thing and passes this unanimously.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Ms. Effie J. Triantafilopoulos: Thank you to the member for Sudbury for introducing this bill. There’s no doubt that personal support workers are the backbone of the long-term-care sector. Every day, in every part of the province, PSWs do challenging work and provide quality and compassionate care for residents in long-term care and in other settings.
Since 2018, I’ve served as parliamentary assistant to the Minister for Long-Term Care, and I’ve seen first-hand the work that our PSWs do. Before COVID, I had the chance to tour the province, meeting PSWs in long-term-care homes, hearing their concerns and hearing their suggestions, learning about what they do and how things could be done better. I met families who told me how much they admired and relied on the care and compassion of the PSWs taking care of their loved ones. They knew that they were being kept safe and healthy.
Our priority must always be to support PSWs, because we could not provide long-term care without them. Our government’s record is comprehensive in our commitment to personal support workers in our province. We announced the pandemic pay increase of $4 per hour and a $250 monthly top-up for PSWs in the spring of 2020 and rolled it out successfully. That measure alone drew more than 8,600 workers into the sector.
After the wrap-up of that program in the fall, we announced the temporary wage enhancement, which provided a $3 increase an hour for 50,000 PSWs in long-term care, effective October 1, 2020. That wage enhancement was backed up by an investment of $461 million.
The Premier has been crystal clear on his support for PSWs on many occasions, saying in the spring, “We’re going to make sure they’re paid fairly. We’re going to make sure we’re ramping up the staffing and we’re going to make sure they’re treated with the utmost respect.” That’s pretty straightforward, and I agree with the Premier’s words.
We value the work that PSWs do every day in long-term-care homes across our province, and we will continue to support them. Just two weeks ago, we extended the wage enhancement of $3 an hour to June 30 of this year. That enhancement will be reviewed on a regular basis. That extension comes with an investment of $239 million, and in addition to the 50,000 PSWs in long-term care, it benefits 158,000 workers in home and community care; public hospitals; and children, community and social services. The wage enhancement is a recognition of the critical role PSWs have in providing care for our most vulnerable citizens and the sacrifices they are making during the pandemic.
Knowing the challenges that have faced our long-term-care sector for decades, our government set about addressing staffing after years of neglect. We initiated a staffing study, and I was pleased to work closely with the advisory panel. One of the key presenters to the panel was Miranda Ferrier, CEO of the Ontario PSW Association. She gave expert advice from the experiences of her members and from her own front-line experience. The work of the group of experts formed our staffing study released last summer, which in turn informed the staffing plan we announced in December. We’re making progress on that plan through investments in training, which will train over 9,000 PSWs, and $4.9 billion in investments to reach the standard of an average of four hours of care per resident per day in four years—the only province in Canada to do so. We will continue to work day in, day out to deliver on that plan.
The plan is multi-faceted and draws attention to the need to improve the staffing situation through other means too. For example, we know that we need to support ongoing staff development to keep workers’ skills current and to support career growth and satisfaction. Similarly, career laddering and on-the-job training will support PSW retention.
Our government also knows we have to improve working conditions for long-term-care staff, which is why we will partner with sector leaders to drive improvements to working conditions, including increasing full-time employment. Promoting innovative approaches to work and technology also moves us towards that goal. Providing more effective and accountable leadership in homes will also drive improved conditions for staff and residents, and we will have a clear pathway to that.
The Premier has said it before, and I’ll repeat it: Our government stands firmly beside our personal support workers. They give their all every day in caring for our loved ones, and we will continue to support them.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Ms. Judith Monteith-Farrell: I’m happy to be standing and supporting Bill 266, presented by my colleague from Sudbury. This is a great opportunity for all of us in this House to put real, concrete action into solving the crisis of long-term care and home care. Make no mistake, the crisis existed for years, and all the media and all the meetings and all the reports and all the rallies that happened over years saw no progress. It did not end the suffering.
Then, it was with horror that all of us who have been working on this for so many years saw the carnage and suffering that was inflicted on our most vulnerable citizens. In my many meetings with families, no one ever blamed the workers. Families all recognized that PSWs were doing their best. Families agreed that the conditions those workers face need to change.
People work for wages. They work so they can support their families and themselves. When making a decision about entering a career, it’s not just about, “Can I do that work or am I suited to that work?” People ask: “Are there jobs available?” Well, we know there are. “Are they full-time jobs? Are there benefits? What is the pay? Is it enough?” It is obvious that, for years, the answer to the last two questions is: No, it wasn’t enough.
Over the years, people did try to solve the problems. And—one thing—employers and governments offered training, and that did not work. The reason it didn’t work is because the answer to those questions about pay and benefits and job security and a job that you could count on was no. These jobs did not fill the bill. The pay was simply not enough, there was little or no security or respect, and there were no standards.
The horrible for-profit model, where shareholders come before people, is not working. Home care is a mess in my community and in communities across the province. The same problems exist of poor wages and horrible working conditions. What adds insult to injury is the lack of pay and compensation for travel. People quit the work because they can’t afford to do the job—not that they don’t like the job; they can’t afford to do it.
I urge everyone to support this bill and finally address some of the pieces that would help us address the shortage of home care and PSWs in all circumstances. We should give them the dignity and respect they deserve.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Ms. Bhutila Karpoche: On behalf of the constituents of Parkdale–High Park, I would like to thank my colleague the member from Sudbury for bringing this important bill forward. If passed, the Support Workers Pay Act would establish a wage floor so that no support worker in Ontario would be paid less than $20 per hour. This wage floor would be reviewed and increased every two years. This bill also requires the development of programs to provide training and education for all support workers and long-term-care staff, with a focus on job retention and creating full-time jobs. All of these proposals are sorely needed.
Whether they are a developmental service worker helping a disabled person or a personal support worker providing care to a senior, support workers perform one of the hardest and the most important jobs in our province, but they have been overlooked and underpaid for far too long. I think of PSWs and DSWs in my riding who have bravely showed up to work throughout the pandemic, despite the risks. They tell me how they are burned-out from working at the front lines for the last year; that the chronic staffing crisis has meant they have to do more with less help. They tell me they are working so much that they often don’t get to take their lunch break.
Speaker, we call them heroes. Support workers were heroes before the pandemic, and they will continue to be heroes after it. But we don’t treat them like heroes. Support workers take care of our loved ones, but they aren’t paid enough to take care of their loved ones. It’s time for support workers to have the wages, working conditions, job security and the respect that they deserve. This bill takes an important step toward that. I am proud to support it and I call on all members of this House to do the same. Thank you.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mr. John Fraser: I welcome the opportunity to rise to speak to this bill. I want to congratulate the member from Sudbury for bringing it forward. It’s in keeping with who he is as a member. And what it really talks about is valuing the people who care for the people we care for most.
There are a lot of things in this bill; the most important thing is making PSW wage increases permanent, and that’s a really good thing. I was proud to be part of a government that had raised PSW wages $4 an hour. But as the member from Thunder Bay–Atikokan said, was it enough? No. So we have to do something about that and we have to send that message to people, not just because it’s the absolutely right thing to do, but it’s the only way we’re going to have the kind of care we need for seniors in long-term care and home care.
The member from Thunder Bay–Atikokan talked about home care. It’s apparently missing in this budget. That’s amazing; that’s incredible. Someone said it’s a Liberal budget. I said, “No it’s not. Where’s home care?”
Let’s look at what’s gone on with PSW wages in this pandemic. At the beginning of this pandemic it took you, the government, a month longer than BC and Quebec to raise the wages of personal support workers, because you were waiting for the federal government to give you money, and it destabilized the workforce. So pandemic pay came; that was a good thing. It lasted until about the middle of August.
In the middle of August, it ended for six weeks—still in the pandemic, but it ended for six weeks. I don’t know if you couldn’t make up your mind or if you were hedging your bets. Well, maybe what it ended up being was it wasn’t going to be $4 an hour anymore, it was going to be $3 an hour, because that’s just what it was worth. It wasn’t worth $4. That would have been maybe better, if it was permanent, but no, it wasn’t permanent. It went to the end of the fiscal year, as if to say, “We’ll evaluate whether that’s got value at the end of the fiscal year.” And then the Premier says, “We’re going until June.” Wow, that’s absolutely incredible. That’s called hedging your bets.
One last thing I would like to say about investing in PSWs: The government says, “We did all of these things.” Quebec went out and they went to hire 10,000. They only got 7,000. Ontario came up with a plan in September that was $14 million to recruit and retain, and $42 million for security guards; $14 million to recruit and retain PSWs, $42 million for security guards.
I think we can do way better than that for PSWs. I urge you to support this bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mr. Mike Schreiner: It’s an honour to rise today to speak in support of the member from Sudbury’s private member’s bill to make pay increases for support workers permanent, among other measures. Speaker, PSWs play a vital role in keeping Ontarians safe and caring for our loved ones. If we’re going to call support workers heroes, we need to treat them like heroes.
We don’t treat a hero with studies that have shown that a PSW needs to work 50 hours a week just to afford the cost of living in Toronto, or that PSWs in northern Ontario make even less money, when you factor in travel time. This is wrong. PSWs are skilled workers who care for our loved ones, and they deserve the respect that heroes deserve. They urgently need permanent wage increases, better working conditions and full-time benefits. We need the government to hire more PSWs for long-term care now, not four years from now, so they’re not run off their feet caring for our loved ones. PSWs should not be making poverty wages during the pandemic, and they sure as heck shouldn’t be making poverty wages after the pandemic.
I’m calling on this government to support this private member’s bill, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the decent thing to do. It’s the respectful thing to do. If we’re going to call PSWs heroes, we need to treat them like heroes. We need to treat them with respect, because they are the ones who care for our loved ones. I urge you to vote in favour of this bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: It’s always an honour to be able to rise in the House and speak on the bill that my colleague has brought forward this afternoon. The bill urgently and permanently adds the temporary pandemic pay to the minimum pay of support workers, who have gone that extra mile for Ontario during this pandemic—during a pandemic that no one has seen before.
But it is not simply about rewarding them for the work they’ve done in the past year; it is an acknowledgement of the fact that this year has exposed to all of us—we’ve seen lots of cracks in the system. We must learn from the voices of Ontario’s personal support workers, both past and present. They need incentives to stay in their roles. It’s easy to call someone a hero, but we must reward those heroes with actions, not just words.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Further debate?
Mme France Gélinas: It’s a real honour today to talk about the member from Sudbury’s private member’s bill, the Support Workers Pay Act. I would say most Ontarians realize how important personal support workers and support workers are. In long-term care, we call them “personal support workers.”
The NDP has been pushing for a long time—how do you ensure quality of care in our long-term-care homes? You make PSW jobs good jobs. What is a good job, Speaker? We all know what a good job is: A good job is full-time. A good job has decent pay. It has sick days. It has benefits. It has a pension plan. It has a workload that a human being can handle. None of this happens in long-term care right now, which is why they cannot recruit and retain a stable workforce. The bill from the member from Sudbury would change this.
The other area where we have a lot of personal support workers is in home and community care. Home and community care are the people who come and help our loved ones stay home. I see a lot of families. Usually when they come to see me, it’s because they are burned-out. They want to keep Grandma, they want to keep their husband, their wife, their son at home. But in order to do this, they need support. They need home care. They need home and community care. They need those PSWs to show up. The problem is always the same: The PSW did not show, and—fill in the blank—there was nobody there to help them go from their bed to their wheelchair, from their wheelchair to the tub, from the tub to be dressed, to be fed, to be clothed, to be cleaned, to be toileted; and then it falls on the backs of the family members.
If you want to have quality of care in home care, you have to have continuity of care. How do you have continuity of care? You have continuity of caregivers. But how do you get there? You get there by passing the bill from the member from Sudbury, because you know what? Grandpa really wants to live at home and he really wants to be supported, but when there’s a different PSW who comes every week to give him his bath, after not too many weeks, Grandpa gets pretty tired of stripping naked in front of a different stranger to help him get a bath. And then he doesn’t want a bath anymore, and then he becomes aggressive, and then all sorts of problems start. None of this would be there if we passed the bill from the member from Sudbury and made sure that we treat our support workers with respect. It’s as simple as that.
We know what needs to be done. We are not talking a huge amount of money. We are talking a living wage.
How could it be that a personal support worker in Nickel Belt will come and show me that she has submitted 800 kilometres between her clients? In the middle of the winter, 800 kilometres over two weeks? That’s hours and hours of driving, but she doesn’t get paid for any of that time. The member from Sudbury would change this.
I hope we all do the right thing and support his bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): We turn back to the member from Sudbury. He has two minutes to respond.
Mr. Jamie West: I’ve always believed that my role as an MPP, all of our roles, is to amplify and echo the voices of the people that we represent. Anonymous Imani is one of the PSWs who asked to remain anonymous. She was worried that she might get in trouble for speaking out. Speaker, I think it’s wonderful how the softest voices are often the most powerful, because I think her voice might be the one that’s the most important that we’ll hear.
She said, “I came to Canada two years ago. Coming from an environment where my peace and life were at great risk.
“Coming to Canada was a great relief and haven for me and my family.
“Adjusting to my new environment was quite challenging for me, but made easy by the warm reception and the hospitality of Canadians.
“To support me and my family I quickly decided on a career change and trained as a PSW.
“Working as a PSW in one of the long-term-care homes in Sudbury gives me joy, because it gives me the privilege to serve humanity.
“It is like caring for my parents.
“Working on the front line, during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been so challenging and terrifying. Especially when I remember the possibility of contracting the disease and taking it to my family.
“But I take solace in the privilege of joining other Canadians on the front line to fight with this invisible threat to humanity.
“Just like every other profession, PSW workers have huge work challenges which included poor wages, lack of proper pension plans, heavy work schedules, racism and discrimination against Black PSW.
“There is also the problem of retention due to poor wages.
“In light of the above, strong government support, including wage increases, may help to improve the working conditions of PSWs.”
It’s from “Anonymous Imani” from Sudbury.
Speaker, workers like Imani from Sudbury are our family when our family is not there. We need to care for her like she cares for our family.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The time provided for private members’ public business has expired.
Mr. West has moved Bill 266, An Act respecting minimum pay for support workers. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry?
All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”
All those opposed will please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the nays have it.
A recorded division being required, the vote on private members’ public business will be deferred until the next proceeding of deferred votes.
Second reading vote deferred.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): Pursuant to standing order 36, a motion that this House do now adjourn is deemed to have been made.
Réponse à la COVID-19 / COVID-19 response
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): However, we have two members who have given notice of dissatisfaction with answers given to them during an earlier question period. The members will each have up to five minutes to state their case, and a government response will be made by a parliamentary assistant for up to five minutes—or the government House leader or the Premier or a cabinet minister. We leave it open.
The first member to express dissatisfaction is the member for Ottawa South, who has given notice of dissatisfaction to an answer to a question that was put to the Premier. So we turn to the member from Ottawa South, who has up to five minutes to state his case.
M. John Fraser: Les admissions aux soins intensifs de l’Ontario sont en hausse et les hôpitaux sur le point d’être débordés. Nous sommes sur le point d’adopter un protocole de triage, qui pour la plupart d’entre nous est une situation impensable.
La priorité du premier ministre est la campagne politique. Les questions et réponses politiques de vendredi passé, utilisant l’argent public, ne suffisaient pas—il doit toujours continuer. Pendant trop longtemps, le premier ministre s’est concentré sur trop d’autres choses que les plus importantes, comme le déploiement des vaccins.
Jusqu’à présent, nous n’avons pas été en mesure de faire passer le vaccin dans les bras des gens qui en ont besoin assez rapidement. Avec le nombre de cas et l’augmentation et la troisième vague prête à nous claquer, pourquoi le premier ministre continue-t-il de se concentrer sur la campagne et non sur ce qui est le plus important?
Les propres conseillers du premier ministre, la table consultative scientifique de l’Ontario, ont continuellement conseillé le premier ministre sur les risques de la troisième vague. Le premier ministre a ignoré une grande partie de ces conseils et continue plutôt de relâcher les mesures de santé publique. Et maintenant, nous nous retrouvons là où nous étions auparavant, sauf cette fois, pire.
Le Dr Peter Jüni, le directeur scientifique de la table, a déclaré : « En ce moment en Ontario, la pandémie est complètement hors de contrôle. » Le chef de l’Association des hôpitaux de l’Ontario a déclaré que l’Ontario était en voie de surpasser le sommet des admissions aux soins intensifs—420 patients en janvier—dans les prochains jours.
C’est comme nous n’avions rien appris de la première ou de la deuxième vague, et il n’y a toujours pas de sentiment d’urgence de la part de ce gouvernement. Le déploiement des vaccins et les mesures de santé publique requièrent la concentration et l’attention totale du premier ministre.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health, the member for Eglinton–Lawrence, to respond.
Mrs. Robin Martin: Thank you to the member for the question.
Speaker, we all want as many people as possible to get their vaccines as quickly as possible, and we know many people in Ontario are very eager for their turn to come. The reality now is we simply do not have enough supply from the federal government to make that happen any faster than we are doing. We cannot administer vaccines that we do not have.
Every single vaccine that the province has received to date has been allocated to a local health unit, hospital clinic, pharmacy or primary care provider. In turn, those providers have all gone ahead and booked appointments based on those expected allocations. In a mere matter of days, vaccines are going from their initial delivery to Ontario to vaccine clinics and into people’s arms.
But as recently as this past week, the shipments we were told to expect by the federal government, shipments they insisted were on track and on schedule, have not arrived. For example, we were told that Canada would be receiving 850,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, and yet only about 250,000 doses arrived in the country. As a result, our public health units had been planning to expand their capacity based on those scheduled deliveries, like the drive-through vaccination clinic that was set up at Canada’s Wonderland in York region, but now, instead, they’re planning to mothball those clinics until the delayed shipments finally show up here in Ontario.
In the city of Ottawa, we saw all available vaccine appointments until April 7 fill up yesterday. Speaker, it’s very encouraging to see such strong demand for vaccination, and I’m sure the Ottawa Public Health unit and their health care partners would love nothing more than to book vaccine appointments for people, but without the vaccines they need, they can’t make more appointments. And without a steady, stable and predictable supply, they can’t book further ahead into the future.
So, Speaker, if the member from Ottawa South truly wants to be helpful, he should head down Bank Street to Parliament Hill and encourage his federal Liberal cousins to deliver on their commitment to supply the vaccines that Ontario and all of the other provinces need to get on with the job and get people vaccinated. Because we are ready to go. Ontario is ready for mass vaccinations. Our planned network of mass vaccination clinics will be able to administer 150,000 doses per day once a steady, stable and reliable supply of COVID-19 vaccines is available. Our hospital partners, pharmacies, pharmacists and primary care providers are willing to do their part as well, but they can’t administer a vaccine they do not have. That’s why, until those vaccine supplies arrive and until we can provide a vaccine to everyone in the province who wants one, we will continue to enhance the capacity of our health care system to handle whatever comes its way during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’re investing $1.8 billion more in the hospital sector in 2021-22, bringing the total additional investment in hospitals since the beginning of the pandemic to over $5.1 billion. That includes $760 million to support more than 3,100 hospital beds, to help the sector continue to provide care for COVID-19 patients as well as other patients; $300 million to reduce surgical backlogs from delayed or cancelled surgeries and procedures due to the pandemic; and $778 million to support hospitals to keep pace with patient needs and to increase access to high-quality care through an increase to base funding by more than 3%. Additionally, to ensure hospitals can continue to respond to the evolving COVID-19 situation, we’ve also provided them with $1.2 billion to help recover from financial pressures created and worsened by the pandemic.
Speaker, until our battle against COVID-19 is behind us, our government will stop at nothing to protect the health and safety of the people of Ontario. Together, we will get through this pandemic and emerge a stronger province than ever before.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The member for Guelph earlier gave notice of dissatisfaction to a question he put to the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. The member will have up to five minutes to state his case and the parliamentary assistant will have up to five minutes to respond.
We turn to the member from Guelph.
Mr. Mike Schreiner: Since the Supreme Court smacked down the Premier’s taxpayer-funded lawsuit to sabotage climate solutions, it’s been painful to watch the minister try to defend the indefensible in question period.
Since day one, this government has attacked climate solutions and environmental protections. They cancelled Ontario’s climate plan; cancelled conservation programs that were helping people and businesses save money by saving energy and reducing climate pollution; ripped EV charging stations literally out of the ground and ripped EV chargers out of the building code; wasted $231 million cancelling green energy projects, many of them owned by Indigenous communities; wasted more tax dollars on stickers and threatened businesses with fines, on gas stickers that didn’t even stick; issued MZOs to pave over wetlands; and attacked the ability of conservation authorities to clean our drinking water and protect us from flooding.
They’re fast-tracking the environmental assessment for a highway that will pave over 2,000 acres of farmland and 400 acres of the greenbelt. And just today in committee, Speaker, government members voted to give the minister unprecedented power to rip up Ontario’s planning laws and environmental protections—the very laws designed to protect people in communities, the farmland that grows our food and the wetlands that clean our drinking water and protect us from flooding. It’s not surprising, then, that in the first year of the Ford government’s mandate, it was the first time in over a decade that GHG emissions actually went up in Ontario. Ontario is headed in the wrong direction. Climate pollution is going up when we urgently and rapidly need climate pollution to go down.
Speaker, I want to quote from last week’s Supreme Court decision: “Climate change is an existential challenge.... It is a threat of the highest order to the country, and indeed the world.... The undisputed existence of a threat to the future of humanity cannot be ignored.” The effects of climate change “have been and will be particularly severe and devastating in Canada.” That quote is not from an environmental activist or a Green politician; it comes directly from the Supreme Court of Canada.
Here in Ontario, climate pollution is going up. The Auditor General says that the government’s made-to-fail climate plan will not meet Ontario’s weak GHG reduction targets. Last week’s budget contained no money to actually fund the central plank of the government’s so-called climate fund, their emissions reduction fund, and now, the government is planning to increase GHG emissions by 300% in the electricity sector by ramping up gas plants, reversing 40% of the GHG reductions from phasing out coal. The government continually cites Ontario’s coal phase-out, saying that we’ve done our part in Ontario. Meanwhile, their electricity plans will reverse 40% of that phase-out.
Speaker, the minister responds to my questions in question period saying the government will spend a few million dollars to restore wetlands. Well, I can tell you, the government’s going to have to spend a heck of a lot more money if they keep paving over wetlands, which provide flood protection to us free of charge.
The minister says we have to balance the economy and the environment. I agree. First, though, I want to say that the economic crisis we’re facing from the COVID pandemic will pale in comparison to the economic hit from runaway global heating.
I just want to tell you that economists and business leaders have put together an analysis saying that if we invest $5 billion in a green building program, it will leverage $80 billion in private sector capital, create over 800,000 jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14 megatonnes a year and save Ontarians $5 billion a year in energy costs. We have solutions—fiscally responsible solutions, economically responsible solutions. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to leave them a liveable planet. That’s why we need climate action.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): The minister’s parliamentary assistant, the member for Barrie–Innisfil, has up to five minutes to reply or respond, or however you want to do it.
Ms. Andrea Khanjin: The member from Guelph did mention global threats, and I just want to take the opportunity to—because I humbly serve the residents of Barrie–Innisfil in addition to being parliamentary assistant. When we talk about global threats, I think of this global pandemic we’re in. Obviously, my heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one during this pandemic, which is a significant global threat.
I understand the member’s passion for the environment. He just got elected in the Legislature. This is his first term, as it is mine. Just like the member, I am also frustrated by 15 years of inaction. We had a government here, propped up by the New Democratic Party, that unfortunately had a different approach. They preferred to carve into the greenbelt 17 times. I know that is obviously an issue that the member is very passionate about. That’s why we have, on this side of the House, not just the Minister of the Environment—the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing also cares about the environment. He has expanded the consultations on the greenbelt. He’s expanding the greenbelt itself. I know the member introduced a private member’s bill about the Galt moraine, and certainly that’s part of the greenbelt expansion, so I know he’s thrilled to see that. It shows you we can work together on many of these issues.
He brought up electric vehicles, and it’s a private members’ bill that, on this side of the House, we had multiple sponsors on, to allow to clear some red tape when people are blocking those EV charging stations. But it also comes down to the material that we use in these electric vehicles. We had the minister for northern development and Indigenous affairs—they’re also working on environmental initiatives like expanding clean mining opportunities, ethical mining opportunities, so we can actually bring that material we need for the electric batteries—we could create them in Ontario.
To the member’s point—they talk about this in the Green Party a lot—that will create jobs and it will help the environment, so certainly something that this government is acting upon, because no one did anything about actually seizing the green economy in Ontario, and, of course, utilizing the great natural resources we have in the right way, so that’s being done. We’re also adopting—when it comes to electric vehicles and whatnot, of course, getting the private sector involved is very important, but also spurring other groups that are interested in these types of things.
That’s just on that. I can go into—the member talked about gas plants, and, yes, it’s true that it was the Conservatives that did close the first coal plant. It wasn’t the Liberals, it wasn’t the NDP, it wasn’t the Green Party—that wasn’t around at the time—it was us, but it did make a significant difference, and I think we do need to acknowledge that. No one in this House said that that’s the be-all and end-all. Of course, we’re striving to do more, which is why we launched our first impact assessment through all of Ontario. It’s why we put together our first hydrogen strategy in all of Ontario. And it’s why we’re doing other initiatives, whether it’s creating a cleaner economy through a recycling system or through no more food waste in our landfills, which I know the member from Guelph would also appreciate. And other investments: We talked about our wetlands as well. I was able to announce about $75,000 in a Trillium grant in my local area for a grant to study wetlands.
I wish I had more than five minutes, because there’s certainly more to tackle. It does speak to the fact that the former government did have 15 years to tackle this issue, and when we were running for office as a government, we made a clear commitment to people that we were going to bring back respect to taxpayer dollars, but we know that balanced approach between the environment and the economy, which is why we rolled out an environment plan and we’re constantly consulting and adapting to it. Many of the members in this Legislature have contributed to our environment plan. Often, we talk about our MPP from the Muskoka area. He talked about the impact that chloride has on our water, so he introduced a private member’s bill which, indirectly, does have an impact on chloride levels.
When we care about our land, water and air—I spoke about air, I talked about some land stuff, but I haven’t talked about water as much. I just spoke about wetlands, but when we talk about our Great Lakes, obviously there are some investments being done there to help chloride levels, but we also have the guardians of the Great Lakes initiative that’s happening every year too. I look forward to meeting with those individuals again this year like I got to a few years ago with that particular Minister of the Environment. It’s a great way to come together to see how many different initiatives we are doing to clean up our Great Lakes and our waterways—which allows me to end my remarks about my local lake, Lake Simcoe, constantly striving to keep that clean and safe for future generations.
Thank you, Speaker—so much more to say.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Percy Hatfield): There being no further matters to debate, I rule that this House is now adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 1904.