42e législature, 1re session

L243B - Thu 1 Apr 2021 / Jeu 1er avr 2021


Report continued from volume A.


Private Members’ Public Business

Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act (Access to Mental Health Support for Essential Workers), 2021 / Loi de 2021 modifiant la Loi sur la sécurité professionnelle et l’assurance contre les accidents du travail (accès des travailleurs essentiels aux soutiens en matière de santé mentale)

Miss Taylor moved second reading of the following bill:

Bill 267, An Act to amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 to establish a presumption for certain workers respecting chronic or traumatic mental stress in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic / Projet de loi 267, Loi modifiant la Loi de 1997 sur la sécurité professionnelle et l’assurance contre les accidents du travail afin d’établir une présomption de stress mental chronique ou traumatique chez certains travailleurs en lien avec la pandémie de COVID-19.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Pursuant to standing order 101, the member has 12 minutes for her presentation.

Miss Monique Taylor: It’s been quite some time since I’ve had a private member’s bill, and I am truly proud to be able to bring this bill forward. As we fight this pandemic, this bill is going to be critical in supporting the workers who have supported us over the past year.

If this bill passes, my bill would provide essential workers with presumptive access to WSIB benefits for mental health injuries that they sustained at work during the pandemic—that is, any worker who was deemed essential or who worked in a workplace deemed essential by this government’s emergency orders over the past year.

My bill directly lists the eligible workers. I want to note that this list was taken from a current government order.

These are the workers that the government itself recognizes as essential while this pandemic rages on. If this government votes to support this bill, it will show that they recognize that these workers deserve to have their mental well-being looked after. These workers, instead of having to fight the WSIB, would automatically be eligible under the presumptive legislation.

This bill is timely. Most experts that I had spoken with in the past few months tell me that the fourth wave of this pandemic will be mental health. We are going to see the impacts of this pandemic right across Ontario. My bill targets front-line workers, but I also know that much broader mental health and addiction supports are needed in this province.

The impending fourth wave of mental health will require a broad government response. We will need more funding for community mental health and addiction treatment. We’ll also need a strategy to tackle the overdose crisis, which grew by 50% over this last year. That strategy must include harm reduction initiatives like supervised consumption and safe supply, as well as the tools that people will need to be able to recover, like supportive housing.

My bill today only tackles a very tiny piece of the overall mental health and addiction landscape in this province, but it is an important piece. If we’re going to recover from this pandemic, we must take care of the workers who took care of us by making mental health benefits and services more accessible.

The Access to Mental Health Support for Essential Workers act was born out of my conversations with PSWs in my riding. Throughout the province, we have seen a catastrophe unfold in long-term-care homes. Grace Villa nursing home in my riding of Hamilton Mountain had a horrible outbreak in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. From November to January, Grace Villa had 234 cases—including 144 residents, 88 staff and two visitors—and over 40 deaths. In December, Hamilton Health Sciences took over management of the home because the home was so severely understaffed after so many of the workers had tested positive.

Workers described the place as a war zone and shared how they were struggling to keep up with the basic needs of residents, not to mention that they watched while the residents they cared for suffered and died.

Thankfully, that outbreak is over. I want to share my condolences to all of the families who lost loved ones in that home, and my thanks to the many who worked so hard to save as many as they possibly could. Thank you.

When I introduced this bill for first reading, I was joined by Tammy Reed. She is a health care aid, which is similar to a personal support worker. Tammy shared with me that she was currently on WSIB benefits for PTSD symptoms that she experienced after working at Grace Villa during the pandemic and the outbreak. She shared that many of the other workers in that home—and the many other homes with outbreaks—have experienced mental health issues from the pandemic also. Tammy wanted to join my press conference, because she wanted to share her story for her peers and her colleagues. She wanted them to know that it’s okay to seek help if they are feeling unwell. Tammy actually joined the press conference at the very last minute, and I am so very grateful that she stepped in.

Another PSW from Grace Villa named Christine was originally going to join as I introduced the bill. Her story is similar to Tammy’s. Christine worked during the outbreak and actually contracted COVID-19. After COVID, she was diagnosed with PTSD and accessed benefits for this. Christine shared with me that there are many similar experiences for others who were working in that home.

These two long-term-care workers are not unlike many others across the province who worked during the COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, due to this government’s inability to safeguard long-term care, their story is not unique.

Recently, the Ontario Nurses’ Association surveyed members working in long-term care. They found that 60% of nurses working in long-term care during the first wave had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Further, a Statistics Canada survey of 18,000 health care workers across Canada found that 70% of doctors, nurses and personal support workers reported worsening mental health as a result of working during the pandemic. It is clear that workers in long-term care, and our health care system more broadly, will need to be able to access mental health supports in the coming months. My bill would provide easy access to be able to help them get that support.

While these workers were my initial inspiration for introducing this bill, they’re not the only workers in this province who need the same support. I also wanted to bring the bill forward for all of the other workers who have been keeping us going, especially grocery, food and retail workers. In health care, the mental health burden in working through this time has been very well-published, but we need to remember that there are so many other sectors where workers have been impacted: grocery, retail, pharmacy, child care, education, food processing and restaurants.

In all of these sectors and in many others, new demands were placed on workers. Think of the grocery or the retail setting, where people refuse to wear a mask or they become agitated, or where the staff don’t have access to adequate PPE and are in constant fear. If workers in these settings show symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression, what benefits can they access? What help is there for them? Many of these workers are part-time or don’t have the workplace benefits that many white collar or unionized workers have. That’s why it was important to make this bill as broad as possible and to include as many workers as possible.

When I introduced this bill for first reading, I was joined by Josie, a grocery store worker from Toronto. Josie shared that her workplace had a COVID-19 outbreak and that she contracted the virus and was very sick for months. As soon as she received a negative COVID-19 test, WSIB cut her off, even though her doctor said she was still recovering and that she had developed symptoms of PTSD. She shared that she was having panic attacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, all of which she attributes to her experiences of working during the pandemic and contracting COVID-19. For these mental health issues, Josie was not able to access the WSIB mental health benefits. Josie mentioned that she was grateful to be in a unionized environment, represented by the great United Food and Commercial Workers, who helped her know her workplace rights, and she is concerned for all of the other grocery food and retail workers who are not unionized and may not know how to navigate a situation like hers.


Josie’s story is a very common one. There are thousands of workers across Ontario who worked in retail, food processing, pharmacy and other retail settings who had new burdens and stresses placed on them. A just recovery from this pandemic means that we must take care of these workers. Essential workers continued to work so that we could stay home and stay safe.

We are now in a third wave of this pandemic. As cases rise, so does the anxiety of workers who cannot stay home. There is a whole range of things that workers need: better pay that reflects their work and risk, access to paid sick days, and better support for their mental health in this very stressful time. My bill is one piece of this puzzle, but it is a very important piece.

I want to share a quote from one of the letters that I received from the workers at Grace Villa; this truly tells the story: “We’re alive and desperately needing care, and the third floor is still left with little—while other floors have nine, 10, 11 agency PSWs, the third floor has six to seven staff only. The third floor has the most residents, but again no help. We are overlooked and have the least number of staff.

“Our staff’s mental health needs to be addressed. Some of us handle things better than others but all of us are broken. We need someone to take responsibility for failing to protect our staff and residents, for forcing us to ‘nurse’ in a way that made us decide who got care today and who had to wait. The images of residents, some hanging out of beds moaning, vomiting, crying. It is all too much to bear. I still can’t sleep at night. I am not the same person who went to the third floor on November 27. None of us will ever be the same again and how do we return and work for a company that did not give a crap about us? We need our story to be told. Maybe then we can begin to heal.”

That is the true story of what our PSWs felt in long-term care. That is the story of so many workers across this province.

I urge the government to support the Access to Mental Health Support for Essential Workers act so that workers can access mental health services if they need it.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?

Mr. Rudy Cuzzetto: I appreciate the opportunity to address Bill 267, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act (Access to Mental Health Support for Essential Workers), introduced by the member from Hamilton Mountain. I want to thank the member for introducing this bill and for continuing the debate on this very important issue because mental health in the workplace is an issue that demands attention.

Speaker, in my role as parliamentary assistant to the President of the Treasury Board, I was honoured to host or co-host over 30 virtual pre-budget consultations, from Mississauga to Muskoka and Stratford to Stormont, through the month of February. I can report that the issue of mental health was raised at almost every single consultation.

Over one million Ontarians each year experience a mental health or addiction challenge, with two million Ontarians visiting their family doctor for mental health or addiction-related reasons every single year.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has created many new and complex challenges. As the member opposite noted, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the need for mental health and addiction services, particularly for our essential workers. We know that many essential workers are reporting mental health concerns, including depression, addiction and anxiety during COVID-19.

Our public safety workers and first responders experience incidents on a daily basis that most of us never face in a lifetime, and this can have serious impacts on their well-being. But I want them to know that they can count on getting the support they need for their mental health and addiction challenges in Ontario.

Since the launch of the Roadmap to Wellness in March 2020, my friend, Ontario’s first-ever Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, has been working to build a modern mental health and addiction system that makes high-quality services available for people throughout their lives, when and where they need it. This is all part of Ontario’s historic investment of $3.8 billion over 10 years for mental health and addiction services.

If passed, Bill 269, the Protecting the People of Ontario Act, which the Minister of Finance introduced last week, would make a record investment to address this challenge, including $175 million in 2021-22 for mental health and addiction services. Just last month, we announced four new mental health tables to better support the mental health and well-being of our front-line workers in policing, fire, corrections and paramedic services. The tables will help to build an awareness of the support, treatment and recovery options that are available in Ontario, but I would like to take this opportunity to highlight just a few of these services now.

First, Ontario is investing $12.5 million over three years to enhance the mental health services available to OPP staff. We all recognize the dedication of our heroic OPP officers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative is part of our response to recommendations made in the OPP Independent Review Panel: Final Report to create a healthier, more supportive work environment for our OPP officers and civilian staff. While the OPP look out for the people of Ontario, they can count on us, the government, to look out for them.

Second, Ontario is investing $8.4 million over three years in a crisis-call diversion program. We know that when a person experiences a mental health crisis, police officers are often the first to arrive and the first to offer assistance. This program will offer immediate support for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, which may include diversions to appropriate mental health services. Mental health workers will be added to the OPP command centre to provide support to individuals facing mental health crises, to offer referrals and to help people find and access existing services.

Speaker, we’re also investing over $6.5 million for mobile crisis services in which a crisis worker teams up with a specially trained police officer to respond to calls involving mental health crises. We have this partnership in Mississauga between the Peel Regional Police and Canadian Mental Health Association crisis workers in Peel Dufferin. I know it’s been incredibly effective.

Earlier this year, on Bell Let’s Talk Day, I was proud to announce an investment of almost $1 million for four new in-patient mental health and addiction beds at the Mississauga Hospital in Mississauga–Lakeshore. But we also recognize that the people living in remote and rural communities often face additional barriers to accessing mental health care. To support these communities, we’re creating four new mobile mental health clinics around the province, which will offer mental health and addiction services beginning this summer.

Turning back to Bill 267, I do have concerns with this bill. Firstly, and most importantly, the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development reports that he has no indication, either from WSIB or stakeholders, that mental health injury claims related to COVID-19 have been denied. Secondly, Bill 267 would significantly change the current standards of proof that the WSIB has established for chronic mental stress injuries from substantial work-related stressors and from predominant causes to presumptive standards. It is not clear from this draft whether the presumptive rules would continue to apply after the pandemic is over. And it is not clear whether the presumption would require a diagnosis for both chronic mental stress and traumatic mental stress.

Regardless, if passed, this would be the most expensive standard in Canada. No other province follows this standard in mental stress injury claims. Most are like Ontario: At most, they have a very targeted presumption for PTSD claims for certain workers. Bill 267, on the other hand, would apply this standard broadly to any workers who were identified as working in essential businesses under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act or the reopening Ontario act, or who would otherwise be considered “essential.” Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with this.


First, some of the workers identified in Bill 267 are not covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, including the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP, and some child care workers and private school teachers.

Second, given that the list of businesses that are considered essential under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and the reopening Ontario act has evolved over time, this would be difficult, if not impossible, for the WSIB to administrate.

Third, the inclusion of workers “otherwise considered essential” is vague.

Fourth, some of the workers captured in this bill may not be front-line workers at all; office workers could be included, for example. There doesn’t appear to be any research to support the broad list of workers identified in this bill. The fact is, it is so broad that Bill 267 could make it easier to obtain benefits for a mental health injury than for actually catching the COVID-19 virus—which is decided by the WSIB on a case-by-case basis.

So, Speaker, unfortunately, I cannot support this bill today. But again, I want to thank the member from Hamilton Mountain for raising this important issue today. And I want to reassure all Ontarians that help is available to everyone.

Our government is going to continue making the necessary investments to build a modern mental health and addiction system, and to ensure these services will be there for everyone here in Ontario.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?

Ms. Doly Begum: I rise today to speak on behalf of all the essential workers and front-line workers in my riding of Scarborough Southwest and across this province.

I want to thank my colleague and my friend from Hamilton Mountain for bringing this bill forward, Bill 267, Access to Mental Health Support for Essential Workers.

Speaker, front-line essential workers have seen a side of this pandemic that many of us in this House, I think, are fortunate enough to not experience. We have an enormous amount of privilege working here or from home on Zoom, and I think we need to recognize that privilege when we speak in this House, especially when we speak about our front-line workers and our essential workers. I had notes ready—I listened to the speaker from the government side, and I’m a little shaken. The enormous amount of privilege that we have shifting around our schedules—we really have to stand back and recognize what essential workers and the front-line workers have gone through during this pandemic.

I’ve seen my parents, the way they have worked throughout their lives, bringing us up—and I’m privileged right now that I can take care of them. I have seen my neighbours and I have seen our constituents across this province and what they have gone through, waking up in the morning, getting on a public transit system, on a crowded bus, risking their lives every single day to go to work so that they could put food on the table and keep our province running and keep our families, friends and our loved ones protected. These are the essential workers, the health care workers, the front-line workers that we’re talking about—PSWs, nurses, health care workers, caretakers.

Do you know what it feels like when you’re wiping the counter over and over after you finish one set of groceries and go through the cash? I have talked to these essential workers in places like No Frills and Metro.

This past year felt like a nightmare for all of us; I recognize that. But it felt like—I don’t even know what it felt like for these essential workers. It was much more for these people. The pandemic was not the same for all of us.

We have all stood here, calling them heroes—rightfully so—and thanked them, which is great, but thanking them is not enough. Front-line, essential workers need our support. They deserve to make a living wage. They deserve to get paid sick days. They deserve real action when it comes to ending the idea of deeming. They deserve to get access to legal aid. And they deserve to get mental health benefits.

I’m really proud of my colleague for bringing this forward, because the mental health impacts that we’re going to face—that’s another pandemic itself. Essential front-line workers are battling serious mental health repercussions as a result of the past year, and the gruesome reality that they’ve faced from having to hold patients while these patients took their last breath, to facing serious health risks themselves or losing a colleague at work or bringing home the virus where their family members got infected. Some people actually have lost loved ones in these cases.

Speaker, our front-line workers deserve so much better. I beg the House to reconsider, and I hope that they will support my colleague’s bill, because we really owe it to our front-line heroes. They are counting on us to do the right thing and stand up for them and support them at this time.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?

Mrs. Jennifer (Jennie) Stevens: I rise on behalf of the essential workers and front-line workers for St. Catharines and across Ontario. I would also like to thank the member from Hamilton Mountain for bringing this forward. Really, it is such an important, important bill.

Essential workers have felt the teeter-totter of appreciation. While some weeks they are called heroes, other weeks they seem to be left off the list of decision-makers. A grocery store clerk is one of the few workers that had to go into a job at the start of this pandemic. We recognize them for their sacrifice and the obvious contrast with their compensation. Usually, some are on the lowest end of the pay scale. In fact, they were recognized with more than words for a very, very short time by this government, where they received a pandemic pay boost.

The danger of these temporary swings in enthusiasm for all of our essential workers, both health care-related and otherwise, is that it can externalize the cost of their sacrifice. Being on the front end can result in burn out, mental exhaustion and, in some cases, PTSD. They need to be supported. They need to know that we have their backs and that the support is not just transactional—as if, “We have your backs so long as you are making an important sacrifice.” It cannot just be temporary. That is why this bill matters so much. Internalizing the cost of mental health during this crisis for our front line sends a message that we have their backs, but more than that, it is the right thing to do.

I would like to talk about my co-workers that I used to work with, my fellow colleagues at the Hotel Dieu Shaver. They lay awake at night. They find themselves breaking down in tears on their own time when they’re laying in bed. These unsung heroes have had to hold their iPad in front of a resident and hold their hand while they talked to their loved ones on an iPad while they’re dying of COVID-19. These unsung heroes were there for mothers, grandmothers, fathers, for their loved ones. They were there when they had to say goodbye. Put yourself in that position of having to watch someone that you’ve cared for pass away and you’re holding their hand as their loved ones are there.

I know of a co-worker, again one of my colleagues from the Hotel Dieu Shaver—I talked to her last week. She was with a resident who had COVID-19. She’s a nurse. She went to work. She brought that COVID-19 back home to her daughter. I, as a mother, vowed a maternal vow when I had my daughter. I vowed that I would never bring any harm to them.


Speaker, this bill is not a bill about pointing fingers or saying you dropped this ball or that ball. It is simpler than that. Just do the right thing: Support my colleague’s bill today. It is what we should be doing.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate?

Mr. Wayne Gates: It’s my pleasure to rise with my colleague to raise this issue again, but I’m going to start by talking about WSIB. This isn’t about an organization that doesn’t have the money; they’re sitting on $3.5 billion in surplus today, as workers right across the province—essential workers—are being denied WSIB for post-traumatic stress disorder. Think about that: our front-line heroes. It bothers me so much when I listen to the other side.

Yet again, I have an example of WSIB forcing our front-line heroes to fight them for benefits, after all these workers have done for us. The government could fix this this afternoon, if they wanted to. They could vote “yes” and unanimously pass this bill, Bill 267, to ensure mental health benefits and supports for essential workers, front-line workers like workers in our justice system, pharmacies, police, fire and many others described in the bill—my colleague raised those well—for nurses who are providing compassion and support for patients.

Think about this, my friends: They weren’t allowed family in our hospital. Who was the family? The front-line worker who was holding their hand when they died, comforting them in their last few seconds as they fight for their breath. They were there. It is the PSWs in long-term-care homes who have heard residents crying out for help, struggling to breathe with COVID, and not being able to help them because there are not enough staff.

We saw Oakwood Park Lodge in my riding, where they didn’t have enough staff, and sometimes one staff person had to take care of an entire floor. Think about that: 40 residents died.

I’m going to tell a story, and I’m hoping to get to the part from ONA, just in our hospitals. I had a call from one of our nurses. She told me that she was the only nurse on shift for an entire floor, and that night she had three people die. She said that she couldn’t get to them. She could hear them crying out, but because she was by herself, she couldn’t get to them all. She told me that a couple of them died alone, but she also told me this: As that person was dying alone and they were grasping for that last part of breath—and this is what they see every day that they go in to work—that patient was scratching their eyes out of their head because they were in so much pain, because they had nobody to help them, and that’s how that nurse found that patient.

She felt responsible, when she was the only one on shift. She didn’t know when she went in at 11 o’clock that night that three people were going to die. She never knew that. The firefighters came. The paramedics came and took the bodies out. That’s what’s going on. I listen to this party talk about it. You’ve got to wonder why they have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Take a look in our hospitals. I’ve only got 10 seconds left; I wish I had a little more time to talk to this bill. In our hospitals, our young nurses that just graduated, that went into a hospital for the first time—what did they face? Death after death after death, and they weren’t prepared for that.

Give your heads a shake, my friends, and support the bill.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): Further debate? Further debate?

I return to Miss Taylor, who has two minutes to reply.

Miss Monique Taylor: It really was an honour to be able to debate this bill today, to talk about the people who we have all called heroes throughout our province. I want to thank the members from Scarborough Southwest, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

To the member from Mississauga–Lakeshore: There is obviously a point where we have to say it’s not about the money anymore; it’s about taking care of the people who have taken care of us by ensuring that they have presumptive legislation through WSIB. It’s the point of access for them to reach the mental health services that would hopefully be available in this province. To say that it would just cost too much is truly a slap in the face to all of those folks who work so hard and continue to put themselves out there each and every day.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank my executive assistant, Shirven Rezvany—thank you, Shirven; and Bilbo Poynter, our researcher; and leg counsel. They all worked so hard to put this legislation into the words that I dreamt of when I thought of the people of this province who could use this.

A special shout-out to Lisa: You continue to inspire me every single day. Thank you for everything that you do. To Tammy and Josie, who joined me through the press conferences and shared their stories to help others in our province who are facing mental health illnesses or stresses and are afraid to speak out or don’t know what they can do for themselves—thank you to everyone who was involved in this bill. It’s the conversation.

It’s unfortunate that this government refuses to pass this bill and see the need for it, but New Democrats do know the need for it and we will continue to fight for these issues. We will continue to fight for the people of this province, for the workers of this province, to ensure that they have the services that they need when they need them. They can count on us. It’s really unfortunate that the government chose this path.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): The time provided for private members’ public business has expired.

Miss Taylor has moved second reading of Bill 267, An Act to amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 to establish a presumption for certain workers respecting chronic or traumatic mental stress in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed to the motion will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the nays have it.

A recorded division being required, the vote on this item of private members’ public business will be deferred until the next proceeding of deferred votes.

Second reading vote deferred.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Jennifer K. French): All matters relating to private members’ public business having been completed, this House stands adjourned until 9 a.m. on Monday, April 12, 2021.

The House adjourned at 1837.