By AMANDA GIBB
East Toronto’s three MPPs, all members of the NDP, have expressed disappointment with the contents of the throne speech revealed earlier this week by Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government to mark the re-opening of the Ontario Legislature.
Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered the speech on behalf of the government on Monday, Oct. 4, marking the beginning of a new legislative session.
The throne speech touched on topics including avoiding future lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the building of transportation infrastructure, and workers’ pay.
Many critics were left unsatisfied by the speech, including Beaches-East York NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown.
“This throne speech was disappointing. COVID-19 is not yet behind us, and our communities still need a great deal of help. Over the last year, Ford withheld $5.6 billion meant to protect us from COVID-19. The government could still use this money to get us through this very difficult time,” she said in a statement to Beach Metro News.
“People were looking for solutions and hope from the throne speech, instead they got nothing new.”
Berns-McGown said many things need to happen to tackle COVID, including a plan to hire thousands of nurses and personal support workers; a safe school plan including smaller class sizes and the hiring of more teachers and education workers; and a round of grants to help small businesses.
She also said mandatory vaccines for health and education workers are needed, along with proper enforcement of vaccines certificates, and safety zones around schools and hospitals to keep anti-vaccination protesters away.
“The throne speech should have included so much more. We know that the pandemic deepened poverty, and so many who were barely hanging on are not alright at all right now. This is true across the province, and it is true in Beaches-East York, where many of our neighbours experienced the worst of the pandemic,” she said.
Berns-McGown said the throne speech should have detailed measures to help people reclaim their lives after the pandemic, including measures to build housing, rent support, a liveable minimum wage, a plan to combat food insecurity, and “so much more.”
“In addition, in the aftermath of the discovery of thousands of bodies at Residential Schools – a mere scratching of the surface so far – and the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we should have seen a solid plan in the throne speech for how the Government of Ontario plans to meet the TRC’s Calls to Action,” she said.
Peter Tabuns, the NDP MPP for Toronto-Danforth, also voiced his displeasure with the throne speech and unspent funds to Beach Metro News.
“The speech was disappointing and frustrating. The Ford government has left billions of dollars meant to help people through COVID unspent,” he said.
Tabuns said parents are concerned about the safety and of schools, and that the pandemic has made a significant negative impact on healthcare workers and small businesses.
“Parents have told me that they want fast antigen COVID tests for their schools to protect their children and keep the schools open. Healthcare workers are pushed to the limit and denied pay increases they deserve. Small businesses know that support is going to run out soon and things are still really uncertain,” he said.
“Ford should have said he was going to put the money into schools, hospitals, and our main street businesses to help people get through the pandemic. Instead, he’s still focused on looking after his buddies,” said Tabuns.
Doly Begum, the NDP MPP for Scarborough Southwest, said the past year and a half has been challenging for the community and that she would have liked to see more from the throne speech.
“Families across our community have suffered due to inconsistencies about school reopening, COVID safety in classrooms, support for teachers and students navigating virtual schooling; many have lost their jobs and businesses with little to no support, people have lost loved ones – all while living through an unprecedented public health crisis,” she said in a statement to Beach Metro News.
“This throne speech could have delivered the help and hope that our community needed to work towards an equitable and safe recovery. Yet, it fell short.”
Begum said the pandemic is not over and the public needs to remain vigilant with preventative measures. She said children are still packed into classrooms without adequate support and the attention they need after a long period of virtual learning and less socialization.
“Small businesses and business owners who need support from the government are left behind as we enter this next phase and those who have lost jobs and income are left with no new support. Healthcare workers are burnt out and our hospitals and long-term care homes are once again understaffed. Yesterday’s throne speech did not deliver the help that Ontarians so badly need to move forward,” she said.
Begum said the Scarborough Southwest community was greatly impacted by the pandemic, citing high positivity levels, barriers in vaccination, an overloaded healthcare infrastructure, and new cases disproportionately impacting the working class, immigrant, and newcomer communities.
“With COVID cases slowing down, hospitals are left with an immense backlog and overcrowded emergency rooms full of people who need care. This government has announced no new supports for existing hospitals serving communities like ours who are struggling, and Scarborough, once again, is left behind,” said Begum.
She said she would have liked to see numerous items addressed in the throne speech, including a hiring blitz for nurses and personal support workers, a new round of small business grants, and “clear and comprehensive instructions around the implementation of proof-of-vaccination and mandate programs.”
Begum also said that she’d like to see a more detailed plan for school safety, through smaller class sizes, the hiring of more education workers, and infrastructure updates.
To read the throne speech, visit https://news.ontario.ca/en/speech/1000920/protecting-ontarios-progress.