LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE DE L’ONTARIO
Tuesday 2 June 2020 Mardi 2 juin 2020
Report continued from volume A.
Extension of emergency declaration (continued)
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Mr. Sam Oosterhoff: It’s always privilege to be able to rise in this House and speak to the motion before the chamber this evening. I appreciate the contributions made by my colleagues from a variety of different parties this afternoon, as well as my colleagues here on this side of the chamber.
Of course, it’s always an important opportunity for us to be able to speak to the issues that arise before the chamber. Over the course of the last three and a half years, since the good people of Niagara West—originally, Niagara West–Glanbrook—saw fit to entrust me with the responsibility of carrying their concerns to this place, I’ve had that privilege. I’m very honoured and humbled by it, and committed by that to bring forward the best ideas that I hear in my constituency and speak to their best interests, and so I hope to be able to do so.
Also, over the course of my albeit not great deal of time in this chamber, I’ve had the opportunity to debate on a number of different issues—private member’s bills that I’ve brought forward on renewable energy, on palliative care. We’ve seen members from the opposite side bring forward various issues that are of a great deal of importance to them. Also, on the government benches, we’ve had, over the past almost two years exactly in just a few days, the opportunity to bring forward a great deal of legislation.
But in the beginning of this year, if we had been told that we were going to encounter the tsunami that COVID-19 has been, if we were going to be aware of what was coming, I think none of us could have truly wrapped our minds around the impact.
Earlier this afternoon, I had the privilege of also hearing the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries speak about the triple impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has had an enormous impact in a multitude of areas, but the three areas that she spoke about—and I thought it was very pertinent to the conversation, to frame the various ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the people of Ontario.
Our response to it is simultaneously the health impacts, of course, that are primary in this conversation. Our first priority is protecting the health and safety and well-being of all Ontarians.
Second to that, of course, and tied in to that security aspect, is the fiscal impact and the economic impact on households, on families, on individuals; those who are food-insecure and those who have challenges when it comes to participating in the workforce. Many working-class people have been impacted disproportionately by this particular pandemic, so we have a duty to ensure that we are supporting them and that we are bringing forward in this chamber motions and ideas that support them. I know that many colleagues from both sides of the aisle have been doing so, and I look forward to hearing more.
The third impact—and a corollary, perhaps, to those other impacts—is, of course, the societal impact. That is the one we’re seeing from people across this country and across our province speaking about: the impact that it’s having on their relationships, on their ability to communicate with one another in ways that they traditionally did in order for them to be part of communities in place. I think of the closure of places of worship, the closure of service clubs, the closure of sports teams, the closure of local Legions—the closure of the vast multitude of intermediary institutions that make up a healthy and vibrant society.
You know, Speaker—and we’ve talked about this—one of the reasons I believe as a Conservative that it’s so important that we recognize the proper role of the individual and the proper role of the state is because we recognize the need for healthy intermediary institutions, healthy institutions that support the flourishing of families, the flourishing of small communities—and recognize also, of course, that principle of subsidiarity, that we recognize the local communities as making decisions that are best for themselves in being able to realize the impacts of local decision-making.
Speaker, if you had told me at the beginning of this year that I was going to be part of a government that would come forward with health measures that would essentially shut down enormous portions of our province, it would have been difficult for me to wrap my head around. It would have been difficult for me to imagine a scenario where I could have imagined the justification for shutting down independent businesses, for shutting down so many free associations of worship, of assembly and of speech that we take for granted.
But this has happened, and for very good reason. It has not been done for frivolous reasons; it has not been done because of malicious intent; it has been done, rather, out of the greatest principle I believe in. As a Christian, I am called, I believe, to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and mind, and of course to love my neighbour as myself. I believe that the emergency orders that have been put in place by this government and governments across this country have been done from that place of seeking to love our neighbour as ourselves—seeking to love our neighbour by ensuring that we’re protecting the most vulnerable in our society and not endangering them when we go and speak with them or perhaps come too close. It comes from a love for the neighbour by ensuring that we are, indeed, respecting the dignity of life, and respect for life for people who are vulnerable, for those who might be healthy but might be carriers as well to their families. So I believe that the motion that we’re speaking to today is very pertinent to those reasons I believe are aligned with my philosophy both as a Conservative and as a Christian.
Today, we also speak in the context of great social unrest. We’ve seen the impact of racism south of the border, but also here in our own country, on so many lives, on so many people. We need to make sure that what we’re doing as individuals, as representatives, is speaking out for those who need to be supported, in particular the Black community, in particular persons of colour, but many other communities as well that have been treated terribly, that have not had their inherent dignity and respect recognized. We speak about the worth of the person. We speak about the value of human life. Again, as a Christian, I recognize that value as the imago dei, the inherent dignity of God that is placed on each and every single human being.
That’s why the motion that I’m speaking to today, the extension of the emergency order, doesn’t come simply as a technocratic decision. It’s not being made because we think that we, as the government, really know best about people’s lives, know best about how they should be allowed to speak and know best about who they should be allowed to meet with. It comes from a desire to ensure the health and safety of those in our great province and to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are not being endangered but rather are being protected.
But there are also misunderstandings, and so before I get into some of the substantive conversation about what this, I believe, speaks to and some of the actions that our government has taken, I do want to clear up one particular misunderstanding that I’m hearing from my constituents. I have a great deal of constituents, as I’m sure all of us do, who are very supportive of measures to keep the province under a relatively shut-down stage, but I also have many constituents reaching out who want to see it open faster. I empathize. Speaker, again, going back to, if you had told me that I would be speaking to a motion to keep many businesses shut down and to keep gatherings to five, I wouldn’t have believed you. We are indeed in extraordinary times. We are living in a pandemic, I say, that doesn’t come with a playbook. We all wish it did, but it doesn’t.
When I speak to those individuals and they hear that we’re extending the state of emergency for another month, that can seem like a very long time. And so, for those individuals who are listening, I want to assure them that this does not mean that there is not going to be progress made over the course of the next month. We’re at the beginning of June. A month ago, at the beginning of May, we were in a very different situation than we are today. Our testing capacity was not where it is. We regularly saw 6%, 7% of people in our daily testing counts testing positive. We’re now down to the 1%, 1.5%, 2%.
That is progress, and as a result of the progress that 14.5 million people have made in sacrificing so, so much—and I can’t stress that enough, Speaker. You’ve seen it in your riding—I know all of us have—those who have shut down their businesses, people who spent 40 years building businesses with employees and family that they’ve employed, and having to shut that down and see the debt begin to increase as no customers walk through that front door. That’s not done lightly, but so many of the people that I’ve spoken to are doing that also out of love for their neighbour. They’re doing it out of a desire to help those in their community and to ensure that they’re protecting the most vulnerable.
But they want to know that their government has their back, and so I’m proud to say that we do. When we look back at what a month has led to, changes—again, not because of what we’ve done. I don’t want to take the credit for the PC government of Ontario or the government of Ontario. It’s 14.5 million people, as Premier Ford mentions time and time again, and as our cabinet and our caucus keep talking about. This has been a communal effort. But since that time we’ve seen many businesses open.
I’m sure the agriculture critic in the opposition will know, as many of us may have heard, for example, we had huge—I have a great deal of greenhouses in my riding. Mother’s Day was coming up. They missed Easter sales, hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of product, thousands of jobs locally, and of course, the ability to provide a great deal of mental health relief and also to provide joy in so many people’s lives with those flowers. We were able, a month ago, right before Mother’s Day, to see that restriction lifted. We’ve seen garden centres open up. We’ve seen landscapers open up. And then subsequent to that, Speaker, we’ve seen now everything from retail shops that have an entrance onto the street to regulated health professions beginning to open up.
The reason I say this is because, again, even though our first and foremost priority is the health and safety of Ontarians, I want to assure my constituents and those watching that this doesn’t mean we’re not going to be able to safely open more things up over the course of this month. Rather, this provides us with the legal tools in order to ensure that we are able to hold those emergency orders and change them as necessary. In Ontario, you can only declare, I believe, a state of emergency for two weeks, and then you have to have an act of the Legislature. And so I want to encourage my constituents watching that this is being passed by all parties in the Legislature, and it does not mean that for the entire month of June we’re not going to see any changes. We will see more opening up as we see the numbers continue to decline—and let’s hope that they do. I pray that they do.
But as we do that, we need to ensure that we have the tools to still keep people safe. So we might see—and I hope we do; I hope we see social gatherings increase, whether that’s 10, 15, 20, 25. I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I know those are conversations that the Chief Medical Officer of Health and his team, as well as our cabinet, the Ministry of Health and so many others, are having about what that looks like. But I do want to assure people that this does not mean that as a government or as a Legislature—because again, we’re all the ones who are passing this legislation—we’re sitting there going, “Do you know what we should do? We should force everybody to keep their doors shut for another month, because wouldn’t that be so much fun?”
And that’s one of the pieces that I’ve had so many amazing business owners in my community and so many service organizations who have done fantastic work from the goodness of their hearts wanting to reach out and help the most vulnerable: filling up food banks with non-perishable food items; the agricultural community donating extra chickens and donating extra meat. We’ve seen so many people step up, from providing care by looking after the elderly in their midst to simply just staying away from those who are elderly and may have immuno-compromised systems. I have seen so many people step up, and I spoke about that this morning in more detail—some of the names there. I want to acknowledge that.
But I’ve had some who, frankly, have been very, very pushy. Again, I understand that. I’m not a small business owner but I have family members who are, I have friends who are, and I have many, many constituents who are that I’ve spoken with. I can’t begin to have gone through the stress of seeing payroll come in without having the ability to pay that payroll where there are no sales comings in. But at the same time, some people that I’ve had the opportunity to speak with seem to think that we like doing this, and there’s nothing further from the truth.
I know that every single member in this House does not enjoy passing legislation that forbids someone who’s getting married from having four people at their wedding. Including, I believe, the member from Willowdale and the member from Barrie–Innisfil, I’ve had five friends who have had to cancel weddings this spring. That’s a little example.
Let’s take a less joyful example: a funeral. Do they think that we honestly want to pass legislation that forbids—I have seven siblings. If one of my parents passed away, it would be extremely difficult trying to decide who gets to go that funeral. I’ve had situations like that in my riding. People contact us.
The reason I say that is not to accuse those people because I understand their frustration. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. I don’t say this in a hectoring way; I don’t say this in a way that’s not understanding; and I want to be empathetic to that, but I also need to tell them that we are not doing this out of any desire to forbid people from being able to gather for that purpose. We’re not forbidding people to worship because we think it’s terrible that they go and worship. We’re not forbidding businesses from opening because we don’t want businesses to be productive and create jobs and be able to spur our economy on. No, the reason these measures are in place is to save lives. The reason the measures that have been taken to this point have been put in place is to save lives. Speaker, we’ve seen those measures work.
I had someone call me the other day, and it was a bit of an interesting conversation. Someone was vehemently speaking to me, I should say, about the fact that we don’t have hospitals that are overflowing: “You said that if we didn’t take action, hospitals were going to be overflowing and it was going to look like Italy and it was going to look like New York. Well, you’re wrong.” I’m grateful I was wrong. But that’s because of the actions that have been taken by so many people. If we had all gone on like everything was hunky-dory and we were all just going to go hang out and have barbeques all the time and kiss 92-year-old grandma and maybe sneeze on her on the way out, that wouldn’t have been the situation.
I don’t say this because I think we have all the answers. I think history is going to be the judge of everything that has gone on. We will look back and say, “Here are some very good things that came out of this. Here are some terrible decisions that were made by governments of all stripes, by governments of all levels.” I say that because I think it’s important to look back at where we were to understand why we are where we are.
We, again, came into this pandemic without a playbook. We’ve had to make changes and adjust, I think in good ways. I think we’ve seen ministries step forward. We’ve seen individuals step forward to make sure that they’re able to be leading those virtual round tables, whether that’s by Zoom or in other ways, and they’ve exemplified the best of leadership in their community. I believe there have been cabinet ministers who have exemplified that. There have been opposition members who have exemplified that. But the reason that this piece of legislation is important is because we can’t do it all again.
What we’ve gone through—and I don’t want to over-exaggerate it because we’ve seen terrible things go on in the past, just reading through the history books, but it has been one of the hardest things I believe that my generation has seen and many generations will have seen. The reality is that the impact of this—we can’t go back and do it again. We can’t shut everything down again. If we opened too quickly, if we saw everything lifting and started having a surge again, it would be the last place any of us would want to be.
Because, like I said earlier, if you told me at the beginning of 2020 that we would be having this conversation and that I’d be speaking in favour of shutting down my neighbour’s businesses—and that’s all you had told me—or keeping them shut down, and you would be telling me I’m speaking in favour of having my place of worship and many others shut down and the schools and our province staying shut down, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I don’t want to be back here in three months or four months or five months, speaking to another motion like this because we lifted everything too quickly and we see the numbers skyrocket. And that’s why we’re being cautious. That’s why we’re taking the steps that are necessary to protect the citizens of this province.
But in that conversation comes a key piece of personal responsibility, because the reality is, although these measures are in place, you and I both know that not everyone is listening. Many people have done things the same way. They haven’t tried to make changes. So I encourage people to take that personal responsibility on themselves and to realize that actions have consequences. Words have consequences. Ideas have consequences. But in this situation, going to that party, having those friends over—they can have consequences. Those consequences can be tragic. I know none of us want to see that. That’s what we’re working to avoid. But again, Speaker, I believe the instructional value of the law also needs to have buy-in from the general population.
So I get that people are impatient. I get that people want to go out. They want to reopen. They want to be able to gather. We plead with them, for the love of their neighbour, for the consideration of the good of the people of Ontario: Please, be patient.
This does not mean that you won’t see emergency orders rise over the course of the next month. In fact, I’m confident we will see them rise. I’m confident we will see more businesses open, we will see more gatherings allowed. We’re not going to see 20,000 people gathered in a big concert or a setting like that, but we will be seeing gatherings again. We will be seeing more businesses open. There will be consequences that we’re going to have to deal with, from the social and fiscal impacts, but I’m confident we’ll be able to work through those things as they come up.
I appreciate the indulgence of the House. Thank you for the time, Speaker.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Mr. Kevin Yarde: First of all, I’d like to say, I’m going to be splitting my time with my colleague from Spadina–Fort York.
Before I begin on this debate, I want to mention that, right now, I’m hurting. I’m in pain for what is going on south of the border. I’m thinking about my brothers and sisters there. We shouldn’t kid ourselves here in Canada. We think sometimes, “Oh, it’s only happening down there.” Systemic racism is also a huge issue here in Canada. We have to continue to fight—Black people, white people together—so that we can come to a resolution. We may not completely—I know we never will—eliminate racism, but at least we can get some tools in the box so that we make sure these things never happen again.
First of all, I want to say that I’m going to support the government’s extension of the emergency measures. Now, there’s been a lot of co-operation between the parties, and there have been some things that we agree on and some things we don’t agree on. We’ve never been in a position, for any of these measures that the government brought forward, for us to completely agree with. There are a lot of problems with these measures, and I’m going to talk about some of them this evening.
So I’ve come before the House to talk about these concerns that I have. Now, this government continues to just rubber-stamp its way through debate. A couple of things that the government wants to do: They want to have a session during the summer months. We don’t have a problem with that. June, July—it might even go into August. Who knows? We don’t really know. We’ll be here, as opposition members, and we’ll continue to fight to make sure that the residents and civilians of Ontario are safe and secure.
My concern also is that there will be no private members’ debate during the summer session. I was on the docket, Mr. Speaker, to introduce a bill, but now I’m not going to be able to, all because of what this motion does. I’ve had my constituents contacting me in my riding of Brampton North regarding their concerns. We need to talk about some of those concerns in the little amount of time that I have here.
First of all, I want to talk about corrections. Now, the Ontario Correctional Institute, in the beginning of May, sent its inmates to the Toronto detention centre. We have been sounding the alarm since January about the possibility of infections in prisons. What do we hear? Crickets. In February, we sounded the alarm. What did we hear? Crickets. In March, the same thing. The end of April, finally, after we saw 60 COVID-positive at the Brampton OCI and 20 probable, the government decided to act—finally. Was that what they were waiting for, after we told them that you needed to test everyone, inmates as well as corrections officers? But they didn’t want to do that. So here’s the situation we’re in now, where we had to send 83 inmates to Toronto South Detention Centre, and they are all positive. We advocated testing for everyone, but this government fought against it.
Now, the staff at the Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton are not eligible for the $4-an-hour pandemic pay while they’re at home and not working in an institution. Further to that, Mr. Speaker, all officers across the division will not be eligible if they are self-isolating as per public health. That doesn’t sound right, but that is exactly what is happening.
Also, canine handlers in corrections are only eligible for the $4 an hour or so if they conduct a search in the institution. And community, probation and parole all ineligible for the $4 pandemic pay. So all of these concerns I have—the ministry continues not to address these concerns. That’s just one issue and one concern that I have.
Another one I did speak to not too long ago was regarding security guards. The COVID pandemic has shown that our front-line workers continue to put their lives on the line so that we can stay at home and be safe. PSWs, firefighters, police and paramedics are all doing their best to ensure our safety. Some have even paid the ultimate price with their lives, Mr. Speaker. As such, the government has ensured that pandemic pay comes their way.
There is, however, one group of front-line workers who have been overlooked, and that is, as I mentioned, security guards. Demand for security guards has drastically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. These men and women have been asked to take on challenging roles on the front lines, ensuring that our grocery stores, our hospitals, government facilities and long-term care homes are safe. You’ve probably seen them all out there when you go to the grocery store or you go to the bank.
Ms. Jennifer K. French: And downtown businesses.
Mr. Kevin Yarde: And downtown businesses as well.
There’s currently an acute shortage, Mr. Speaker, of licensed guards in Ontario. Many guards are currently being asked to work double shifts and overtime, but demand persists. In a province posting historic job losses, there are as many as 5,000 positions that remain unfilled. This demand will only increase as the government moves slowly to ease its economic restrictions. The good news is that there are thousand of Ontarians ready and willing to take on these roles. They’re out there; they’re probably listening right now. Unfortunately, new licences and testing have been suspended, rendering it impossible to become qualified as a security guard in Ontario while testing and licensing facilities remain closed. This is wrong.
The province—and we’ve sent a letter to the Solicitor General—urgently needs a temporary move to online testing and certification for the duration of the pandemic. We have heard no response from the minister. We understand that a similar program has been undertaken in Quebec. Doing so will immediately open up employment opportunities for thousands of Ontarians and will ensure that existing security guards on the front lines are able to take the steps they need to keep themselves and their families safe. Security guards are vital front-line workers, not only during provincial emergencies but 365 days of the year. This essential role has been increasingly magnified during this pandemic. Yet, despite the dangerous and essential work security guards carry out, I’ve received reports that the guards still aren’t receiving the $4 top-up that the government promised. To be clear, Mr. Speaker, many guards are working around the clock in care homes, hospitals and detention centres, in roles placing themselves and their families in danger and at risk. So I trust that this government will take the immediate steps to rectify this apparent oversight.
Limo drivers, taxi drivers: I have many in my riding of Brampton North. Ten Pearson taxi and limo drivers have died during COVID-19. Two of these drivers—Karam Singh Punian and Akashdip Grewal—are not coming home. Drivers were getting infected because they were picking up people from the airport who were infected. We need to ensure that we have the proper protections for limo drivers and taxi drivers in Ontario.
I want to briefly talk about long-term-care homes. The member from Kingston mentioned earlier today that he has a senior whose family was concerned about this individual in the long-term-care home, and they brought her home because they were scared. Now, they’ve been told that if they want to bring her back, it will be a three-year wait-list to go back into the long-term-care home. The minister said, “This isn’t our policy,” but it is exactly what is happening.
There are many things, many concerns. I’m going to let my colleague from Spadina–Fort York continue with this debate.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I’m pleased to recognize the member for Spadina–Fort York.
Mr. Chris Glover: It’s an honour to rise here to talk to this government motion to extend the state of emergency to the end of June. It’s a motion that we in the opposition will be supporting, and it’s also an opportunity for us to fix some of the problems that have been highlighted during this pandemic. This pandemic has cast a spotlight on our failings as a society. It’s two months in and there are still many front-line and health care workers who do not have adequate access to personal protective equipment. There are many front-line workers who are disproportionately women and racialized members of our community who continue to be grossly underpaid and often work at multiple sites to try to put together a living. The tragedy of long-term care in this province has taken 1,500 Ontario seniors. For months, many homeless individuals have been stuck in tents with no place to go. The lack of rent supports has meant that individuals and businesses are losing their housing and many will be losing their business.
But the light shining through all of this, the darkness of this pandemic, is the way that communities have come together to support each other. The Liberty Village community, in my riding, has rallied around local businesses. The Bathurst Quay community has been providing food and other essentials to people stuck in tents. Conquer COVID-19, just two days ago, was donating hand sanitizer to front-line workers in a seniors home in my riding. Commercial kitchens, like the one at Scotiabank Arena and like Kitchen24, have been preparing meals for front-line workers and vulnerable people across the city.
In my 40 years of living in Toronto, I’ve never seen the sky so blue. The pandemic has created a consciousness that we are all in this together, that our society is only as healthy as the most vulnerable members in it. We have an opportunity now to rebuild our society so that every worker makes a living wage, so that seniors get the care that they need, so that everyone has adequate housing, and so that we are creating a sustainable green economy so that our children and grandchildren don’t inherit an environmental debt burden of global warming.
We have a chance to build a better society now, and it begins with strengthening our democracy. It begins with making our decisions more transparent, with listening to the voices of seniors, front-line workers, racialized communities and those with disabilities. It begins with treating our air and water and earth as not a place to dump toxins but as the life-sustaining forces that they are for all of us. This state of emergency that’s being extended to June is an opportunity to address some of the issues that we are facing, that have come into the spotlight during this pandemic.
I’d start with anti-Black racism and racial unrest. At a meeting I held in February, there was a young Black woman, Samantha Tomilson. She said at that time, at that meeting—and she was talking about Black workers—“We are the ones who keep the society going.” Disproportionately, they are the ones who “prepare and serve food.” They are the ones who “work in stores.” They are the ones who look after seniors. At the time, in February, I was thinking, “Yeah, that’s true.” It was a bit of a revelation.
Then the pandemic hit, and it has become so obvious now that women and racialized community workers are the ones who are disproportionately affected by this pandemic because they are the essential workers who keep our society going when the rest of us, who can work from home or whatever—when we’re not working or when we’re working from home, those are the ones who provide the food, who keep our society going.
There’s an opportunity during this extension of emergency orders: The pandemic pay of $4 an hour that has been offered was not retroactive to the beginning of the pandemic. There’s an opportunity now to use the emergency orders to extend it back so that those essential workers who are disproportionately women and racialized workers get the extra pay going right back to the beginning of the pandemic. It’s also temporary. That $4-an-hour increase is temporary, but there’s an opportunity to use this state of emergency to make it permanent.
The government has refused to release the list of red-coded long-term-care homes. There’s one other thing that I would ask: Use the state of emergency to release the list of red-listed long-term-care homes so that people will know who is being affected and the PSWs who are working there will know which homes they’re in and what risks they are facing.
I also want to talk about anti-Asian racism. A large portion of Chinatown is in my riding. It is one of the tourist meccas of this city. People come from all over the country to visit Chinatown, to get the experience of that. It has been a rich part of our cultural tapestry in this city for generations.
But I got a call a few weeks ago from a young woman named Jane Jing Ran. She had experienced three incidents of harassment in a two-day period. One was, while standing at a stop light, somebody thought that she was standing too close to him and started yelling at her. I phoned some other people, and this is not limited to just Jane. This is across the riding. This is happening to middle-aged Chinese and Asian women as well.
There’s another incident that was reported by the CBC last week. It actually happened a month ago. Zhao Guang Yu, who is a store owner on Dundas Street, and his wife run this store. They asked that everybody who comes in wear a mask. They offer masks for a dollar, so if you don’t have one, you can buy one when you’re going in, but if you’re not going to wear a mask, they don’t want you in the store.
This one woman, a customer, came in. She refused to put on a mask. They asked her to leave. A scuffle ensued. The woman left and she brought back four men who beat up the husband, the store owner, Zhao Guang Yu. He was so badly beaten that, a month later, he still has bruises on his face. It’s absolutely appalling that this has happened in Toronto. It’s absolutely appalling that it has happened in this province.
I appreciate the messages of support to end racism from all sides of the House, but we actually need action to back it up. I would suggest a couple of actions. One is, in the 2019 budget that was passed by this government, the Anti-Racism Directorate budget is listed at $1,000. A thousand dollars is not going to address racism in this province. You need to restore the budget for the Anti-Racism Directorate. You also need to collect race-based data, because we know from other jurisdictions that racialized people are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic.
The other thing is to define hate crimes more broadly so that you can collect data. The gentleman who was beaten in his store: That probably was not reported as a hate crime. The harassment that Jane experienced on the street, that was definitely not reported as a hate crime. We need to broaden the definition of hate crimes. We need to collect that data so that we know where the problem is, what the problem is, and we can address racism in that way.
I’ve only got a minute and 20 seconds left and there are so many issues that I wanted to talk about. I’ll talk about homelessness. There are a lot of tent encampments in my riding. I want to reach out and thank the Seeds of Hope people, because two months ago when the pandemic started, they started to invite me to come and help deliver care packages to the people in the encampments. It has been such a steep learning curve for me. The conversations that I’ve had were not the conversations I expected to have. I was standing with three people one day. One had been a home care worker in a small town in Ontario. Another had graduated from the Conservatory of Music in guitar. Another had been a music producer. These people were stuck in tents, and there was no place for them to go. The shelters were full, the respites were full, and the hotels and the apartments that the city had secured were full. They had no place to wash because the restaurants were closed. For weeks and weeks, they had no place to go and get warm. This was in March when it was still cold, and we had a long, cold spring.
The other thing that I’d ask this government to do: Use the extension of the state of emergency to declare homelessness in this province an emergency so you can put the resources into bringing an end to homelessness in Ontario while we are still under the state of emergency.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Mr. Stephen Crawford: It’s a pleasure to be able to speak here tonight. It’s unfortunate that I have to speak here. I think I speak for all the members of the Legislature that we don’t want to be here debating putting through emergency legislation and shutting down our neighbours’ businesses and curtailing people’s movements. It’s with a heavy heart, but I nevertheless support this legislation because it’s something we need to do. I’m glad to see that all parties and independents are supporting the legislation of extending the emergency orders through to the end of June.
I just also wanted to comment—it was good to hear from the member from Spadina–Fort York. I listened intently to your speech—very, very good, but very sad to hear about some of the acts of racism you discussed which are here even in Toronto, let alone south of the border. I think what this pandemic has done has really been a magnifier on our society. It has brought the best out in people. We see all kinds of acts of charity, love and support. I’ve certainly seen it in my community and I know we all have in all of our communities, but we’ve also seen some negative acts as well. So we’ll take from that, we’ll learn from that and try to make our society better.
I would, though, correct for the record: You mentioned the Anti-Racism Directorate budget being slashed to $1,000. That’s a placeholder; we’ve talked about that in the House. We can get you the numbers in terms of what we will be spending on that. This government takes anti-racism very seriously.
With that, I did want to talk a little bit about the emergency orders and COVID-19. COVID-19 is a unique threat, and it’s a challenge that certainly nobody has seen here in our lifetime. We know that COVID-19 affects everyone, regardless of your background, and we know it can affect some people—particularly people that are elderly or in a fragile state—more seriously than others. We know that the negative financial impact of this pandemic on the provincial budget, as well as on households, is enormous, and we’ll know much more about that in the years ahead. But we know we’re in a precarious financial position right now as a province, and many individuals, of course, experienced that as well.
Due to this COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario has declared a state of emergency. This is a decision that was not made lightly. We took this extraordinary measure because we must offer our full support and every power possible to help our health care sector fight the spread of this virus.
COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions, and the health and well-being of every individual and families must be our number one priority. We are taking the steps necessary to protect you and your loved ones. We are taking these measures now while our system is strong to ensure that we are strong in the days and months ahead. The decision will also provide health care providers the ability to ensure that resources and personnel are directed appropriately throughout the health care system. No expense will be spared in the support of the health care of Ontarians. There is no level of support we will not consider. This decision was based on the Chief Medical Officer of Ontario. While there is evidence that the public health measures are working, it is important to remain vigilant to avoid experiencing additional surges or waves.
To be clear, the outbreaks in long-term care and congregate settings continue to be a major concern. The focus clearly remains on enhancing current public health measures and ensuring continued compliance.
The province established a public health measures table to provide advice to Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health on public health measures that may be strengthened or implemented to prevent or slow transmission of COVID-19. Current discussions on how public health measures may be scaled back or reduced during the post-peak period are part of forward-focused planning under way by the public health measures table. The gradual easing of existing measures and then a full lift will only be considered at a time advised by public health experts and when recommended by the Chief Medical Officer of Ontario.
Speaker, we must have an international perspective on why this emergency order was needed. I think we need to look at other countries and other jurisdictions to see how we got here. COVID-19 has not only affected certain countries before us but also the extent to which these countries were hit. I’ll briefly highlight a few of these examples.
Let’s start where it all began: in the city of Wuhan and other areas of China. The Chinese government totally suspended any remaining civil rights as a means to fight COVID-19. They just simply didn’t exist. Do we want that here in Ontario?
Our government does not want these draconian measures here in Ontario. So we took proactive, preventative steps to ensure this pandemic is under control by our systems in place. If we look at what happened in other western countries, we can see what happened before we enacted the emergency orders. We can look at two unfortunate examples—in Italy and Spain—that could have been similar for us if we had not taken preventative, proactive steps with our emergency orders. Italy and Spain’s health care systems have been maxed to the capacity in certain regions, overwhelming the front-line health care workers and compounding the cases of COVID-19, almost creating a never-ending feedback loop.
In these international examples, a lack of strong, proactive, preventative measures led to extensive cases of COVID-19 and a surge in deaths, practically pushing their health care systems over the edge and risking socio-economic stability. I’m sure we all saw the images in Italy and Spain of the hospitals and the morgues. Fortunately, we have not had that happen in Ontario, and we want to ensure that does not happen in Ontario.
Speaker, by declaring emergency orders we received the needed time for our public dollar investments to switch our public health care system into high gear to be prepared for this pandemic. That’s what it all boils down to. Ontario is investing $3.3 billion in additional health care resources to protect the health and well-being of the people of Ontario. The government is ensuring that our front-line health care professionals, such as those in my riding of Oakville and those in all of our ridings, have the resources they need to fight COVID-19. We are committed to a dedicated $1-billion COVID-19 contingency fund for emergency needs related to the COVID outbreak. The province is investing $935 million in the hospital sector, including $594 million to accelerate progress on the government’s commitment to address capacity issues, as well as $341 million for an additional 1,000 acute care and 500 critical care beds. We are increasing public health funding by $160 million to support COVID-19 monitoring, surveillance, and laboratory and home testing while investing in virtual care and Telehealth Ontario. Furthermore, we are investing $243 million in surge capacity in the long-term-care sector as we are funding 24/7 screening, more staffing to support infection control, and supplies and equipment to help tackle the COVID-19 outbreak. To conclude: On our public health side, we have spent the money but we are also offering $75 million to supply personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies to front-line staff.
Regarding long-term-care homes, Ontario acknowledges that due to years and years of neglect we clearly see a long-term-care system in this province that is broken. We acknowledge that. The minister herself has acknowledged that. We are committed to a fully transparent and independent commission to investigate this matter. I want to make that clear: a independent, non-partisan commission to investigate what has been going on in long-term-care homes.
The government’s number one priority is protecting the health and well-being of Ontarians, especially our most vulnerable seniors. Without these emergency orders, I am sure that cases in long-term-care homes would have increased substantially. It was these proactive preventative measures that have helped to keep more people here in Ontario safe, and we need to keep it that way. The province is bringing long-term-care homes to a place of health, safety and stability, which is essential to overcoming COVID-19 in Ontario.
From day one, our government promised we would push the system and move at lightning speed to immediately address the problems in long-term-care homes across the province. We have taken decisive action, including appointing temporary management of seven homes across the province of Ontario, and we are immediately deploying inspection teams to every home in the province.
In April, an incident management system structure was established to coordinate operational support to long-term-care homes. The IMS table meets every single day to organize efforts across multiple providers and ministries and to make rapid decisions to support long-term-care homes in need. Homes identified for support are those struggling to control outbreaks, to complete infection prevention and control assessments, and to ensure appropriate staffing levels, as well as have access to PPE and complete testing for all long-term-care residents and staff. Speaker, by extending the IMS, we will continue to establish critical infrastructure that will rapidly respond to the problems that are in our long-term-care homes.
Our commitment to the residents of long-term-care homes and their families is that we will do everything in our power to protect our most vulnerable seniors to ensure that they get the care they deserve.
Speaker, we are deeply thankful to those individuals who are working at long-term-care homes, and our hearts go out to those affected. We keep those who have passed away due to COVID-19 in our thoughts and prayers, with our sincerest condolences to the families, but our proactive measures have prevented a situation that has been bad from being a lot worse.
Speaker, to help us take even more proactive measures, our government is investing $20 million to advance medical research and develop tools and resources to combat COVID-19 and other infectious diseases through the COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund.
Ontario’s post-secondary education sector and research community has already taken on a leadership role to combat COVID-19. Colleges and universities, research hospitals and institutes across the province have stepped up to support their local communities by donating life-saving ventilators and personal protective equipment and by conducting invaluable research on detection and treatment.
Of course, Speaker, our children need to be protected, and these emergency orders will help in that goal. Our government is planning for the reopening of schools in the 2020-21 school year and the gradual reopening of child care and opening of summer day camps. Of course, this has all resulted in students learning online.
The government has also unveiled an expanded seven-point summer learning program for Ontario students to ensure that those that participate remain intellectually stimulated throughout the summer months. I certainly understand the challenges of helping one’s children learn from home. As a father of four girls engaged in online learning, it’s certainly a different experience.
Work is also under way to leverage partnerships with the telecommunications sector to provide innovative low-cost and high-impact solutions to solve the equity challenges facing some of our students across Ontario. One example is that the province has provided 21,000 Rogers WiFi-enabled iPads to vulnerable students.
By providing clarity for parents, enhancing support for students, and enabling that teacher-student relationship, we are ensuring that our children will continue to safely learn, providing some sense of stability and hope for them amid all this difficulty.
Speaker, regardless of what transpires over the coming weeks, Ontario students will be able to complete their school year with confidence. In particular, for students in their final year, we are removing all impediments to ensure students graduate to pursue their post-secondary education.
Along with the emergency orders, each university and college campus has been requested to prepare a COVID-19 response plan for academic continuity for students and faculty that does not put their personal health and well-being at risk, while ensuring that students can continue to receive the world-class education that our institutions here in Ontario provide.
Furthermore, Ontario is helping OSAP borrowers by temporarily suspending student loan payments and initiating a six-month interest-free moratorium on OSAP loans. Both measures will automatically apply to current OSAP loans, providing immediate relief to OSAP borrowers during this difficult time.
Speaker, emergency orders to protect us from COVID-19 have financially impacted many families. Nobody wants to shut down businesses or not go to work every day. Unfortunately, this has put families in some difficult financial times. As a result, we are providing families with a one-time financial payment of $200 per child up to 12 years of age, and $250 for those with special needs, including children enrolled in private schools.
We’re spending $5.6 billion subsidizing electricity rates to charge households and others off-peak rates.
The province has issued the first double GAINS payments. Individuals will receive up to $166 per month, and couples will receive up to $332 per month. These double payments will continue for six months and provide $75 million more to 194,000 vulnerable seniors who may need the money now more than ever to cover essential expenses.
Ontario removed a piece of regulation to allow vehicle insurers to provide rebates that reflect the reduced risk environment.
Our government is providing emergency funding of up to $12 million for the mental health and addictions sector to expand the availability of both online and virtual mental health services.
The province is providing emergency child care to more front-line workers.
Some $40 million is being invested to support organizations that provide residential services for children and youth and for people with developmental disabilities, and emergency shelters for women and families fleeing domestic violence.
We are expanding pandemic pay by $4 an hour for those on the front line of COVID-19.
The government has stopped residential evictions, as we see countless landlords and tenants arriving at a solution for their rent payments.
To conclude, we’re providing $200 million in social services relief funding for critical municipal services, Ontario Works and Indigenous communities.
Speaker, those are just some of the many initiatives we are putting forward to help families.
Throughout these emergency orders, our government is ensuring the safety of Ontario’s workers. To assist employers in their responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment, we are providing specific guidelines to numerous sectors. These guidelines offer practical advice to help every business operate safely in our new environment.
Speaker, while the vast majority of employers do the right thing and ensure that their workplace is safe and clean, we know that, as always, in any profession, there are some bad actors. That’s why we’re adding 58 new inspectors. We want workers to have confidence that the government will investigate if they feel unsafe on the job. In order to get this economy back and the people of Ontario moving again, we must have trust and confidence.
By providing clear guidelines on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and adding new inspectors, we are preparing for a responsible reopening of the province that will balance the health and safety of the people of Ontario. As of last week, the Ministry of Labour inspectors have completed inspections and investigations for 8,668 workplaces and issued 4,481 orders, which includes 20 stop-work orders related to COVID-19 violations.
Now, given there are emergency orders impacting the economy, our government is ensuring we mitigate the financial impacts of COVID-19 on business. We are making available $6 billion by providing five months of interest and penalty-free relief for businesses to file and make payments for the majority of their provincially administered taxes, and over $1.8 billion by deferring the upcoming June 30 quarterly municipal remittance of education property tax to school boards by 90 days, which will provide municipalities with the flexibility to in turn provide tax deferrals to residents and businesses while ensuring school boards continue to receive this essential funding.
Ontario is making available $1.9 billion by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board allowing employers to defer payments for up to six months.
Ontario is committing $241 million to partner with the federal government and deliver more than $900 million in urgent relief to small businesses and their landlords through a new program, the Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program.
The government created online portals, such as connecting Ontario residents to needed jobs in certain essential sectors; a fund financially to help those finding solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic; and allowing recommendations for possible reductions of red tape if it interferes with getting critical products moving.
Ontario has worked with the federal government to enable up to $40 billion in lending to businesses.
Overall, we all need to start planning for the recovery phase, which will begin as soon as this outbreak is contained, but we need to carry on these emergency orders in order to ensure we don’t have a second wave, have to shut everything down again and we’re back to square one. We need to do so in a responsible, organized, thoughtful way.
As a result, I will certainly support this legislation, and I am pleased to see the opposition will support it as well.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Miss Monique Taylor: I’m pleased to have the opportunity to rise today on behalf of the residents of Hamilton Mountain and to be back in the House and to see everybody doing well.
I want to start by saying thank you to the Clerks, to the Speaker’s office, to the communications broadcast folks, Hansard, to all of the folks who allow this place to run and who have become essential workers. Thank you for being here and thank you for working so hard to keep all of us safe.
I also want to thank my constituency office staff, who have worked extremely hard since the very beginning, scrambling at first to make sure that we had the setups to be able to work from home and then to start answering those calls and taking those emails while dealing with small children in their homes and trying to be teachers and teach their children. They have worked extremely hard, and I can’t thank them enough for all of the work that they have done to ensure that the people of Hamilton Mountain have had good service. I just want to put it out there that I appreciate them so much.
I could not leave out our health care workers, our personal support workers, caregivers, paramedics and essential workers who have allowed us to have access to the basics, like groceries. I thank them for each and every day that they go out and work so hard on all our behalf so that we can stay home to keep our community safe.
These days, we’re all calling health care workers, caregivers and other essential workers heroes, and they are heroes, Speaker. Their work is essential and they are potentially exposing themselves to COVID at work each and every day.
Yet these workers were not treated like heroes before COVID, or with these emergency measures that we see before us in the debate today. It wasn’t that long ago that this government stopped the planned increase to minimum wage to a lot of those same heroes, and stripped workers of their sick days. In our long-term-care homes, or those working for our LHINs, PSWs are forced to cobble together several part-time jobs at multiple facilities just to make ends meet. They’re often paid low wages for this work. I hope that the government sees fit to change that going forward in future.
When the government did try to help, like with the pandemic pay increases, we’re hearing in our communities that that money is still not flowing. People are still not getting that money, and that is making morale even worse. That’s why the Ontario Hospital Association sent a letter last week to the Premier asking for greater clarity on when pandemic pay will flow. This government promised to recognize health care workers during this state of emergency by increasing their wages, but that increase has still not come. Not to mention, the increase excluded some of our very important front-line workers, like lab technicians who process the COVID tests, radiologists and other diagnostic professionals who treat patients.
It also excluded other health care professionals who were reassigned to COVID-related duties. I’ve heard from physiotherapists, for example, reassigned to do screening for COVID-19 within a hospital. They are putting themselves at risk but they’re not eligible for this pandemic pay.
I’ve heard from many people from all walks of life who are impacted by the state of emergency and who feel that the emergency orders and programs are failing to support them to do the right thing while they’re staying home. Using my time today, I want to share some of what I’ve been hearing about how the emergency orders are failing Ontarians.
People with disabilities: This week is National AccessAbility Week across Canada, a week where we recognize and celebrate the contributions of Canadians living with disabilities in our society. Here in Ontario, COVID-19 has added new barriers for people with disabilities, and this government has failed to properly support them throughout the state of emergency.
We have been calling for a plan for people with disabilities for weeks and weeks, a plan that would ensure that the human rights of people with disabilities are respected in clinical triage protocols, that we would ensure that care workers who support people in their home have access to the proper PPE, and a plan to declare the Assistive Devices Program an essential service so that no one is forced to go without critical care or medical aids.
The government has not provided any of these. In fact, there was a point where the Assistive Devices Program was entirely shut down. This government even clawed back ODSP for people who had applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to cope with the extra cost during the pandemic shutdown. Some of those folks were working and yet still not eligible for that money. They would have been clawed back for every single dollar.
It is shameful that this government has left people with disabilities behind during this state of emergency. Even more shameful is that they’re dragging their feet even as advocates and self-advocates are bringing to their attention the need for more support. If we are to extend the state of emergency for another 28 days, we need to make sure that people with disabilities are not left behind for those 28 days, as they have been for the past two months.
Over the past few months, we have heard from families with children with disabilities who are left out of emergency measures. They have reached out because special services at home and the Ontario Autism Program one-time interim funding was not moving. It was stalled. Nobody heard a thing. Nobody could find out anything about where that money was. Many families are facing financial hardship due to COVID, and they could not afford the delays in those reimbursements.
There are also many families with medically complex children who have reached out to me. These families tell me that they’re not receiving the help that they need at home due to the emergency orders, which are not flexible enough to accommodate them.
These families are part of the Family-Managed Home Care program run by the LHINs. Many are finding themselves without PSWs and nurses to fill hours of service that they were getting from the Ministry of Health.
There was no contingency plan put in place for these families. Right now, they’re asking the government to allow family members who are trained to care for their children as substitutes. Their pleas continue to fall on deaf ears. I hope that the members opposite are listening about these critical care children who truly need the extra supports in their home.
They’re also asking the LHINs to assist with sourcing PPE so these medically fragile families can get through the pandemic in both the traditional home care and the family-managed programs.
This pandemic has pushed already struggling families to the breaking point, and they need immediate support to provide the continued care necessary for their medically fragile children. Throughout this pandemic, I have heard from families in deep distress and in crisis. These are families whose children have high needs or severe behavioural challenges. For them, staying at home and breaking routine creates a dangerous environment for both the child and the parents. In these cases, everyone is suffering while trying to do the right thing.
This government has had no plan for people with disabilities or families with children with disabilities. They were forgotten in the emergency orders, and it is shameful. How do we extend a state of emergency without a plan for people with disabilities? MCCSS should be working on this and pushing the government for better supports.
Let’s talk about protecting renters and homeowners, another issue that has come up over and over again in my riding and across Ontario and that the emergency orders—which we’re debating today—fail to address. Homeowners and renters are unprotected. Over the past few months, my office has heard from many renters and homeowners who cannot make their payments and who have their bank or their landlord coming after them. While evictions have been suspended, landlords are still serving tenants eviction notices, hoping to scare their tenant into paying what they can’t afford during this time due to their job loss, or scaring them into moving. Many tenants do not know their rights when it comes to the Residential Tenancies Act, and bad landlords will take advantage of this.
While the federal government’s Canadian Emergency Response Benefit helps, it’s not supposed to bail out the landlords. Also, we need to remember that the CERB is coming to an end very soon. When this pandemic is over and the courts reopen, the backlog of eviction hearings will be immense, and families across this province will owe large sums in back rents. What’s going to be the plan then?
For low-income people, recovery after this period will take a long time, and many could be displaced due to failure to pay their rent. Life won’t return to normal at the flip of a switch. Many will still be out of work or have reduced hours. Rent will remain an issue for many Ontarians.
Our emergency measures must recognize this and address it properly, with rent subsidies and enforceable rules that say that no one can be penalized for missing a payment, even months after this pandemic ends.
We are risking a wave of evictions across this province. Do we want COVID to be the result of displacement of thousands of Ontarians? I hope the government is taking that into consideration. And they must do something to stop this from happening.
Small businesses and the economic recovery: This government’s state-of-emergency plan fails our small and medium-sized businesses. We need to be debating how to save small businesses because they’re the ones who keep our community dynamic and livable.
I held a virtual small business round table and heard from a variety of businesses, but they all share the same anxiety and fear of the future. Their lost revenue was one thing. They understand that they need to close to stop the spread of COVID-19, but they are deeply worried about their fixed costs and the fact that the government has not stepped in to support them with their commercial rents.
Further, there is a range of businesses that cannot open yet but need greater clarity about what the future holds. People need to hear the plan ahead of time. Just a little bit of foresight would probably go a long way.
I spoke with Carmen. She’s an esthetician in my riding. She is very worried about her future. She needs support for her overhead costs and guidance about when she may be able to reopen. She and others in the beauty industry, and business owners, keep their workplaces sanitary as a matter of regular, everyday business operations. They are seeing businesses reopen that are just as hands-on.
We are seeing lip fillers—people can go and get their lips injected, but they can’t go and get their hair done. There is something wrong there, and we need to be able to look at the entire picture to ensure that we’re not putting people like Carmen on the backbench while others are able to move ahead—and that are probably more invasive.
Small businesses across Ontario are making very difficult decisions about closing down their businesses entirely. Many won’t survive until the recovery phase. They are all following the rules, but they are being left to fail.
On May 25, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Council of Canada and restaurant organizations wrote an open letter to the Premier. Here is part of that letter:
“However, since the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance ... program was announced, we have been hearing from numerous small and medium-sized businesses that many improvements are desperately needed to make it work. Even though the program just officially started, we already know from our members that many landlords will not apply, meaning that their tenants will not be able to access the program and the commercial tenant eviction protection it includes. To make matters worse, it is extremely easy for a landlord to evict a commercial tenant in Ontario.”
There are no safety measures in place to protect our commercial tenants. They can raise the rent whenever they want. They can put them out on the street whenever they want. There are no protections in place. And now that we’re leaving these businesses, who have put all of their investment of their lives into this, they are being left to the wolves. That’s a scary situation. I am shocked that this government, which claims to be open for business, has allowed this to happen and is allowing this to continue.
We may only be one week in, but we have heard from—I only know how many I have heard from. So if all of you are hearing from your constituents, which I know you are, just imagine how many tenants, how many businesses—their landlords are not applying to that program because they don’t want to. They don’t want to.
In my question this morning, we talked about one business. The property owner owns 60 commercial properties and calls themselves a small family business. They own 60 commercial properties, and they’re telling them, “No.” They’re not applying, and there is nothing that this tenant can do about it.
Back to my small business round table: I was told that most small businesses would be lucky to qualify for even one of the programs being offered by the federal government. The federal programs, including the joint rent relief program, are not working. Large landlords do not want to reduce the rent to qualify for the rent relief program. Small landlords are also not getting a break on their mortgages, so they will not reduce the rents. There are many loopholes within the business guidelines that leave a lot of families not even eligible to apply for a lot of those programs.
Riding on the federal government’s coattails is not working for Ontario businesses. We need an Ontario-made plan to save small business in our communities. All the Ontario government has offered through emergency orders is a deferral on health taxes and a cut to WSIB. Imagine: injured workers on the chopping block again.
We are going to see businesses close across Ontario due to inaction on this, and it will be because this government wouldn’t help. They are doing the right thing by staying closed for public health reasons, but they can’t be expected to stay closed for much longer without proper support. They need help, or they are done for.
Passing the buck to the federal government is not working. Too many small businesses are falling through the cracks, and too many Ontario business owners are watching their dreams of operating a business disappear before their eyes.
Speaker, I also want to touch on a few other things, such as long-term care and the insurmountable amount of deaths that we have seen of our seniors in this province. Action needed to be taken quicker. Now is not the time to worry or to want to argue with the opposition about what’s right and what’s wrong. They need to listen to opportunities.
I have sat in this chamber since 9 o’clock this morning, Speaker. I have sat here and I have listened all day. Every time someone from the government side gets up to speak, they talk about co-operation; they talk about working together. From this side, we’re not seeing any of that. Every solution that we put forward is shut down. Every thought is turned away. They don’t even want to meet with us anymore. They don’t tell us what’s going on in the House. They drop it to us at the last second. That’s not co-operation. That is not the spirit of what this government claims to be talking about.
Testing has been a major issue in this province. The Premier has been on TV talking about congregate care: “All congregate care is going to be tested.” Yet retirement homes in my riding are not getting tested. They’re only being done on a crisis management. We have memory care units where people don’t know how to social distance. We’re talking about dementia and Alzheimer patients, who are waiting—they’re on wait-lists to get into long-term care, but they’re not getting tested because the government’s directive in the letters that they sent to public health is not quite the same as the announcements that they make on TV.
Then the Premier comes out and says, “Anybody who wants to get tested can go get tested.” I think it was late on a Friday afternoon when that happened. I got people calling me on Sunday, blowing up my phone on Sunday like crazy, saying, “I went to go get tested, and I can’t get tested. They said they don’t know what the Premier is saying, but they’re not ready to do this,” because the Premier drops an announcement and doesn’t even tell the people who have to provide the service. That’s not what people need.
As we heard earlier, every single word that the Premier says counts. It counts. So it’s great that he wants to be everybody’s big friend and give everybody a hug and say, “I am there for you,” but you cannot tell people that you’re doing things before you actually have real measures in place. These are the kinds of things that are troubling our constituents. These are why our phones are blowing up, all over the weekend—just to get stuff done.
I hope that we can find a place where we can work together. I hope that we can build a better relationship with the government through this COVID, to really, truly, do good things by the people of this province. I hope they change their mind when it comes to the public inquiry into long-term care. People deserve better in this province. Our seniors who have built this province: We owe them everything. Yet we cattle them in homes that aren’t worth our pets.
We need to do better. I appreciate having the opportunity to speak to this motion today.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Further debate?
Mr. Jim McDonell: Thank you, Speaker. I will be—
Mr. Jim McDonell: It’s a slow night.
I will be splitting my time with the member from Kitchener–Conestoga.
I look back over the past two-plus months and I am so impressed with the timely and responsive action taken by this government. All the way back to March 9, the public was introduced to the seriousness of the situation with the announcements that schools were being closed. The serious conditions ramped up in a hurry, requiring a rapid response from our government to shut down the economy and the province. Gatherings were prohibited; offices and businesses were closed. Vacations were cancelled and travel was restricted.
Around the world, many countries were experiencing severe outbreaks, overwhelming their health care systems and resulting in many needless deaths. We were able to learn from some of these earlier jurisdictions that experienced the pandemic: China, Italy, and even our neighbours to the south in New York.
In my riding of Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry, we border on two of the most seriously impacted locations in North America, those of Quebec and New York.
Ontarians needed reassurance. They needed our government to step up to address a pandemic the likes of which we had not seen in over 100 years. The Spanish flu, by many historians, changed the course of the First World War. The German army was in the midst of a very successful offensive, overrunning the Allied armies. The Spanish flu hit them first, affecting over one million men and allowing the Allies to reorganize and mount a successful campaign that led to victory.
If I could just take a moment to commemorate a resident of my riding, a neighbour from North Lancaster, Claude Nunney, who fought a number of these important battles and was the only Canadian to be awarded three of the highest honours: the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal, and the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
After the war, the flu spread around the world, killing more people than the First World War. Stories from my parents talked of funerals where no one showed up, including the family. The flu was different as it hit everyone fast and hard. A friend recounted yesterday how his grandfather, completing the milking chores in the morning, felt a little nausea during breakfast and died later that day. People were terrified, and for good reason.
This virus is different, but it can be deadly, especially to our seniors. During these serious situations, decisions have been made responsibly and quickly—
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): I have to interrupt the member. Pursuant to standing order 50(c), I’m now required to interrupt the proceedings and announce that there have been six and one-half hours of debate on this motion. This debate will therefore be deemed adjourned unless the government House leader directs the debate to continue.
Hon. Paul Calandra: Let it continue, Mr. Speaker.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The government House leader has indicated that the debate will continue.
I again recognize the member for Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry.
Mr. Jim McDonell: Thank you.
This virus is different. It can be deadly, especially to our seniors. During these serious situations, decisions have been made responsibly and quickly to keep public confidence and to bring our communities together to defeat this deadly virus.
Through this pandemic, I have been working with my MP, Eric Duncan, a newly elected member of the House of Commons. We have hosted together more than a dozen virtual town halls. For one of our agricultural town halls, the Honourable Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, joined us to speak to our farming community and answer questions. The session was just before our farmers were to start their work of planting this year’s crops. I know that the farming community appreciated the reassurance that the government has their backs.
Farmers take many risks each year, outlaying huge capital to ensure that they have the food we need. Then they have to wait to see what Mother Nature has in store for them. If the weather co-operates and they have a good crop, then they have to deal with the fall weather to harvest it. Finally, they have to dry it and get it to market. Last fall, they had to deal with trade sanctions and a CN strike that stopped the flow of propane that is required to dry their grains. So many outside impacts are beyond their control.
I grew up on a mixed farm, and my brothers still run that farm today. It’s hard work, with very few days off, and when things aren’t going well, there’s lots of money on the line. It can be stressful. I remember one farmer telling me that he didn’t need an alarm clock, for he had enough money borrowed that his banker called him early every morning to make sure he was up and working so he could pay off his loan. There’s a bit of fun behind it, but it was also a message. The bottom line: Farming is stressful. The message was timely and responsive to the farming community.
Speaker, I hope that you can see that the people of Ontario need this government to be able to act swiftly and to be responsive to whatever conditions present themselves on a daily basis. The state of emergency allows us the ability to make these important decisions in a timely manner. The people of Ontario deserve no less.
Today’s notice of motion 78 extends the state of emergency for 30 days. When one looks at the legislative time to pass this motion—almost two full days of normal debate—how could anyone consider less? To put it in perspective, two days were not enough to get this motion through with all the legislative wrangling being put in place to delay its passage; basically, the entire planned two-day legislative week was used up. If this is the way the opposition wants to run the province, there would be no time left to deal with the problems that are facing everyday Ontarians.
My residents are facing real challenges, as their lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic. My riding of Stormont–Dundas–South Glengarry borders on two of the hotter spots in North America. Just a short time ago, New York’s health care system was completely overrun, with many more people dying than necessary if they’d had the time to build up their health care capacity. The system was dire, and their hospitals were short of almost 30,000 ventilators. The president called up announcing the good news that they were about to ship 600. New York Governor Cuomo summed up the situation when he commented that that was great, but who was going to choose the 29,400 people who were going to die because there were none for them? That’s not a message that anybody wants to deliver.
Just east of my riding, the province of Quebec has been hit the hardest of any province in Canada, with almost six times the per capita cases than here in Ontario. A simple, contributing factor: They experienced their March break just one week before Ontario and the rest of the country. Parents and their families had left on vacations and had returned, many already exposed to the virus, taking it back and spreading it to the community. The rest of the country benefited by that extra week of worldwide data, so crucial in the fight against this battle.
Speaker, this instance talks to the case for the need to be able to make swift decisions. People’s lives depend on it. Times were also dire in Quebec, especially in their long-term-care homes. They were the first to call in the military. In one home, less than an hour from my home, there was a horrendous situation where seniors were going without basic necessities. When I listened to the stories of the children, upset with the conditions their parents were faced with, they were truly heart-wrenching and never should be allowed to happen.
But the details told a story that is the same as those across the country. We talked about the pre-pandemic times, and how they enjoyed the staff and visiting the home. But everything changed when the pandemic hit. They mentioned that during their stay, one of the nurses poked their head in the door and said they would be a while, for only two of the regular eight staff had showed up to work that day. Staff could get by and were doing a great job, but all of a sudden they were swamped by the extra work.
During this pandemic, the province and the country are already facing huge shortages of personal support workers. Our government realized this once coming to power and were working hard to train more PSWs, to fight the shortage, putting in programs and initiatives to convince new students to consider entering the college to train in this rewarding but tough career.
The other issue with long-term care was a matter of capacity. When I was elected in 2011, I was faced with many constituents who needed long-term-care facilities for their loved ones. Seniors were facing severe health issues trying to look after their spouses. There was just no room. The Liberal government had ignored the problem, believing no one would notice.
The AG report of 2012-13 showed that people in my riding were waiting up to three years after qualifying for a long-term-care home. I had one lady in my office frantic to place her mother, for she had taken emergency leave from her job in California to look after her until they found a place. She either had to get back the next day or lose her job after two months. Neighbours told her just to walk her mother into the emergency room and leave her there. Patients were backed up and it was causing all kinds of issues.
You know, this was a problem that had been developing, especially, in the last 15 years. This government before us did not build any new long-term-care facilities. We can sit there and blame the Liberals, but when I got elected here in 2011, there was a minority government and there was an NDP government that supported that minority government for three years. Never once did I hear them bring up that issue, and they could have brought up that issue and forced the government of the day to start building facilities. So when I hear the other side talk about how it’s our fault after a year and a half, I just wonder: Who had the greater chance to make an impact?
Now I’ll turn it back to my colleague.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The member for Kitchener–Conestoga.
Mr. Mike Harris: It’s an honour to rise here today to speak to this motion to extend our province’s declaration of emergency.
This week, I am reminded that it has been two years since the people of Kitchener–Conestoga put their trust in me to be their representative here in this chamber. Speaker, it’s the greatest privilege to be here for them, to advocate and to work on their behalf, especially over the last three months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I’ve spent countless hours on Zoom, making phone calls, responding to emails and, most importantly, listening to what my constituents are going through right now.
COVID-19 has impacted every one of us in this province, and we are all facing unique challenges and struggles each day.
I want to take a moment to recognize and extend my gratitude to some of the people in Waterloo region who have really gone above and beyond in response to this pandemic.
To Dr. Wang and the team at Waterloo Public Health, thank you for coordinating our local response and for your expertise.
To our regional chair, local mayors and municipal leaders, thank you for taking swift action in the early stages of this pandemic.
To our local hospitals—St. Mary’s General Hospital and Grand River Hospital—and their leadership, thank you for continuing to provide top-notch health care to the patients in our region.
To the doctors, nurses and other health care workers on the front lines, thank you for fighting this virus head-on, day in and day out.
All of our essential workers who have shown up for their shifts throughout this pandemic are our everyday heroes. They truly embody the Ontario spirit. The extraordinary efforts made by the people of this province have kept us going through these difficult times, and I want to recognize their hard work and dedication.
Ontario is facing the greatest threat it has seen in decades. These are absolutely unprecedented times. Even though families and businesses continue to face uncertainty and immense challenges, all across the province we continue to see examples of Ontarians working together to support each other. From the signs in the windows that I see in my neighbourhood thanking front-line workers for protecting us to donations of essential supplies to our hospitals and long-term-care homes, it is humbling to see that even in the toughest of times, our communities are supporting one another.
We have said from the beginning of this crisis that there is nothing more important than the health and safety of people here in Ontario. Right away, our government acted swiftly to protect the public from this virus by declaring a provincial state of emergency. This gave us the ability to offer our full support to fight the spread of COVID-19 by closing non-essential workplaces, limiting public gatherings and directing resources to our health care system.
The progress that our province has made in stopping the spread of this virus is significant, Mr. Speaker, but we cannot stop now. We are in the middle of this fight, and every resource at our disposal needs to be available.
I know that these emergency orders are impacting families across the province who are facing changes in their employment, the education of their children, and their daily lives. But these emergency orders have also allowed us to act to provide much-needed relief to household budgets that have been stretched thin by the financial pressures that families are facing.
Soon after the state of emergency began, I heard from families with young children whose household income had been reduced. Their child care centres, although closed, were asking them to still pay fees. These parents were at home with their children and yet still were expected to pay fees to hold their spots. Our Premier and Minister of Education were able to take action to provide them with relief by issuing an emergency order to prevent operators from charging fees if care was not being provided. This emergency order relieved families from having to pay hundreds of dollars for services that were not being delivered.
Another example is our government’s emergency order to fix hydro rates at the off-peak price, and the new COVID relief rate. Working from home, physical distancing and following public health measures means we are all spending more time at home during the day. I think we can all agree that households should not be punished for doing the right thing.
No one in this province is spared from feeling the impact of COVID-19, and we need to be able to act quickly and in their best interest. We are not out of the woods yet when it comes to fighting this virus. The decision to extend the emergency order is not taken lightly, as many here have stated already today. It is something that our government has carefully considered and consulted on with the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
The motion before this House will allow us to continue to act without hesitation in response to this deadly virus. It is not lost on us that it is our responsibility to represent our constituents, and I am standing here today to support this motion because I know it is in the best interest of the people of Kitchener–Conestoga to have a government that is able to respond quickly to the evolving crisis we are still facing.
As outlined in this motion passed this morning, this House will be working throughout the summer for the people of this province, sitting on a regular basis for question period, members’ statements and other legislative business. While my constituents stay at home and do what they can do to stop the spread, their government should also be doing everything it can to respond to COVID-19, and without extension of the declaration of emergency we just can’t do that, Mr. Speaker. COVID-19 is still spreading; there is still a need to have the power to take extraordinary measures, as we have done in the past.
Along with using the emergency measures to provide relief for families, we have also issued orders to support our health care workers. It cannot be said enough in this chamber how much we owe to the front-line workers in our hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes, who selflessly go to work every day to protect our loved ones from COVID-19. The emergency orders have allowed us to support them through this crisis by deploying and relocating additional workers to facilities in need of assistance.
Unfortunately, we are still facing outbreaks at homes and they will continue to require additional assistance. Our province must have the ability to respond to the needs of these particular facilities quickly and safely, Mr. Speaker. As I said, the health and safety of the people of this province have always been our number one priority, especially as we transition to our new normal coming out of COVID-19.
Our recovery is top of mind for many businesses and workers. Our Minister of Finance and the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee have been working to implement our plan to safely and responsibly reopen. We are starting to see many of our retail stores open up, with measures in place to protect both their staff and customers.
Just this past weekend, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Minister of the Environment, Conversation and Parks amended the emergency orders so that camping on crown land and in back country areas of our provincial parks would be permitted. I know that as we move into summer months, people from across the province are going to be looking for more ways to enjoy the great outdoors. As an avid outdoorsman myself, I am definitely one of them. This summer is going to look a lot different, but as our steady progress continues, there will be a times when we can enjoy the activities that we love.
But now is not the time to move too quickly or loosen our adherence to the advice of the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. People do not need to be put at unnecessary risk and we do not want to see a surge in cases.
At this time, I also hear that businesses are still struggling while their doors are closed to help protect our health and safety. I’ve been a part of a number of round tables to discuss the challenges that local businesses in my riding are facing, Mr. Speaker. Everyone’s story is different, and the circumstances they are facing are as unique as the services they offer. Many of them have spent time over the past three months preparing their operations for reopening, like installing new equipment such as Plexiglas barriers and developing new protocols for their staff.
Our government has also answered their call for guidance by providing over 60 guidelines to help them prepare for their reopening. I want to thank the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development for his dedication to supporting employers across this province. Issuing these guidelines is an important early step to help prepare for an eventual return to work for many employees across the province, and many workers are eager to get back to their job. But moving slowly and gradually is the right direction, and that’s the direction we need to go.
Our Minister of Health and her team have done an incredible job, carefully working with our hospitals to increase capacity and prepare for this virus. We must be careful as to not jeopardize this work by opening the floodgates too quickly.
To build on the progress and the work we’ve done so far, we need to stay the course, Mr. Speaker: continuing to practise physical distancing, following the guidelines our public health officials have laid out for us, washing our hands, and wearing a mask if you cannot safely physically distance.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I move that the question now be put.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Mr. Harris has moved that the question now be put. I’ve been advised that this debate has gone on for six hours and 45 minutes and that 26 speakers have participated in the debate. I am satisfied that there has been sufficient debate to allow this question to be put to the House.
Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.
All those in favour of the motion that the question now be put, please say “aye.”
All those opposed to the motion that the question now be put, please say “nay.”
In my opinion, the ayes have it.
Mr. Gilles Bisson: On division.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): On division.
Mr. Calandra has moved government notice of motion number 78, relating to extending Ontario’s state of emergency. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? Carried.
Motion agreed to.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Orders of the day?
Hon. Paul Calandra: No further business.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): There being no further business, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock.
The House adjourned at 1954.