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Queen's Park Highlights - December 15, 2017

The Legislature adjourned on December 14 for its winter break. MPPs return to Queen`s Park on February 20, following the Family Day Weekend. Question Period continues to be a forum for the parties to field test issues and messages in anticipation of the June 2017 election. This week, the Opposition continued to focus on energy and health care sector matters – including mental health, issues on which they clearly believe the government to be vulnerable.

1. ETFO presents Submission to Pre-Budget Hearings

On December 14, ETFO President Sam Hammond made a presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, which is holding its 2018 round of pre-budget hearings. The ETFO brief speaks to the policy and funding changes required to address classroom violence issues. President Hammond`s oral presentation focused on the importance of increasing supports for special education and lowering class size.

2. NDP Leader continues to press Government on overcrowded Hospitals

Throughout the week, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath returned to the issue of overcrowded hospitals. On December 12, she referred to Southlake Regional Health Centre that is reportedly at 125 per cent of capacity and cited examples of patients being treated in hallways, auditoriums and gymnasiums. She asked why the government was not doing more to address the shortage of hospital beds. Long-term Health Care Minister Eric Hoskins replied:

“We’re opening—and, in most cases, have opened—the equivalent of six community hospitals across this province. The hospitals that are involved in the Humber site include Mackenzie Health, Southlake, North York General Hospital and the Humber Wilson site as well. Each of those hospitals is moving 30 of their existing in-patients into that better transitional, rehabilitative and reactivation care.

“In fact, Mr. Speaker, in early 2018, Markham Stouffville will transfer an additional 24, and Mackenzie is going to send over another 90. It will result in a 17% reduction in the in-patient load at Mackenzie.

“Not to be beaten by that specific announcement, Hillcrest Reactivation Centre, through the University Health Network and Saint Elizabeth, just opened this past weekend an additional 75 beds for transitional rehabilitation care. This is fantastic progress, and I congratulate all of those involved.”

3. NDP Leader asks Government to respond to Ontario Hospital Association funding Demand

On December 13, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pointed to the Ontario Hospital Association’s pre-budget submission, which suggests the health care system is in crisis and requires a 4.55 per cent funding increase to “avoid a significant capacity crisis.” She asked: “Will this Premier now finally admit that she was wrong to freeze hospital budgets for a decade, and actually invest in the quality care that Ontario families deserve?”  Health and Long-term Care Minister Eric Hoskins replied:

“…Mr. Speaker, the leader of the third party knows that our health care and hospital budget has continued to increase year over year. We invested this year, between the budget and the fall economic statement, an additional $600 million into the hospital system and $1.3 billion over the next three years to decrease wait times.”

4. PC Leader calls on Government to match PC Election Promise on Mental Health Funding

On December 13, PC Leader Patrick Brown returned to the PC platform promise to invest an additional $1.9 billion in mental health services and asked whether the government would match its commitment. Premier Kathleen Wynne responded by asserting the Liberal government commitment to mental health funding surpassed that of the PC platform:

“I certainly agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there is much more that needs to be done on mental health. Mental health care in this province is an area where we’re catching up. Over the last decade to 20 years, there has been increased awareness of mental health concerns. That has meant, rightly, that there are more people who are presenting with mental health issues, and those need to be dealt with.

“But, Mr. Speaker, the remedy that the opposition party is putting forward is inadequate. That’s the reality. Over the last 10 years, we have invested $10 billion. What they are proposing, going forward, is $1.9 billion over 10 years. That is not enough. We are going to commit to more than that, because there is more that is needed.”

5. NDP MPP calls for Action on Waitlists for Children's Mental Health Services

On December 12, NDP MPP Monique Taylor cited examples of children requiring mental health services and being forced to wait or pay for private services outside the health system. She asked what the government was doing to eliminate wait times for children’s mental health services. Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau stated:

“Our government is working to truly build a mental health system here in the province of Ontario for young people that aims to reduce wait times and offer more services to those who need it.

“As a government, we’ve increased our mental health spending every single year since we’ve been in government. We’ve invested over $10 billion more into the system since 2008, and we’ll continue with that trend. Our party and the Minister of Health have publicly committed in this House on a number of occasions that we will put forward more than $1.9 billion over the next 10 years. We’re working with experts right across the system, right across the province, to ensure we’re putting the investments in the right place so we can reduce wait times for young people in our ministry and within the sector.”

6. PC MPPs continue to raise Concerns about Minimum Wage Policy

Since the passage of Bill 148, the labour reform bill that includes the provision to increase the hourly minimum wage to $15 by January 2019, PC MPPs have brought forward concerns about how the wage increase would lead to job loss.

On December 12, PC MPP Sylvia Jones raised concerns about the impact of the wage increase on the level of services available to Ontarians with disabilities. Community Living is claiming that if the government doesn’t increase operational grants then it will have to cut the services it supplies to people with disabilities by 25 per cent. Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek replied:

“Certainly, our ministry is committed to ensuring that front-line services are available to those with developmental disabilities. We are aware of some of the recent changes to our legislation in terms of Bill 148 that are impacting those particular agencies. We’ve certainly heard from them; my ministry is very aware.

“We are looking at the figures they have produced for us and we’re looking at them very carefully. I would assure the member that we will not see any diminution of any services for those adults with developmental disabilities.”

7. PC MPP blames Government for Number of College Students dropping out after Strike

On December 12, PC Associate Education Critic Lorne Coe asked the government to confirm that 25,000 college students had dropped out of their semester following the five-week community college strike. Advanced Education and Skills Development Minister Deb Matthews replied:

“We will be confirming numbers very shortly. We are collecting data from colleges to understand what that withdrawal rate was. We thought it was important to give students the choice, given the strike, that they could stay in, get caught up and complete their semester. I’m happy to tell you that the vast majority of students have chosen to do that…

“We did think it was fair to students to give them the choice to make the decision that was right for them. If they chose to withdraw within two weeks after the strike, their tuition would be fully refunded.”

In response to comments that MPP Coe made in a supplementary question about the government “sitting on its hands” during the strike, Minister Matthews responded:

“But if the member opposite is suggesting that we throw collective bargaining out the window, that we just legislate back, he clearly needs to understand that, by law, we simply aren’t allowed to do that. We must let the collective bargaining process work. We wanted to let that happen. There’s no question that the people who were most impacted by the strike were the students. We’ve talked about that all the time, and we’ve given them choices.”

8. Trans Day of Remembrance Act receives Royal Assent

On the her last day in the Legislature before retiring as MPP for Parkdale-High Park, Cheri DiNovo was present when her private member’s bill, the Trans Day of Remembrance Act, 2017, received Royal Assent. The bill, which establishes a day to remember Trans people who have been victims of violence, is just one of a number of legislative initiatives the NDP MPP sponsored during her political career.

For more information, check the website of the Ontario Legislature.

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