PRE-ELECTION STATEMENT ON OUR POST-PANDEMIC VISION

One thing is certain; we do not want to go back to the old normal.

The pandemic experience has exposed the gaping holes in our systems and institutions.

We believe that now is not the time to cut education, social and health services, ease environmental regulations, or relax labour laws in the name of austerity to help the economy “bounce back”.

Now is the time to reimagine the social, economic, and ecological environment in which we want to live.  If we are really “All in this Together” then there must be systemic change.

It is time to empower governments to intervene on behalf of citizens.  Our governments have shown that they have the capacity to respond to crisis.  Canadian citizens have shown that they have the capacity to co-operate and to care for each other.  We have the tools and the will to respond with common purpose.

In recent decades, we have seen racism targeted towards many minorities.  We have seen the steady rise in insecure and low paid work, which has left many individuals and families one pay cheque away from disaster.  We have seen the devastation to our long-term care homes, and the neglect of our vulnerable elderly.

We have seen how women are suffering disproportionately, most especially where gender intersects with age, race, poverty, and disability.   

Work as the vehicle for the distribution of wealth has turned out to be a shaky foundation for a life of dignity. It has also become apparent to everyone that the essential work of providing food and care for the vulnerable has been grossly undervalued.  We know now that service jobs are essential to society and deserve to be paid accordingly

We need a new vision where the wealth and resources of this nation serve all our people not just a few.

We must reform Medicare.

We must strengthen our income support system and include some form of universal basic income.

We must create a robust social safety net which includes improved labour rights and decent work.

We must ensure a fair taxation system that treats taxes as a national treasure to be used in the service of a well-functioning society. 

We must focus on caring for the planet, safeguard our democracy so that it is one in which all voices are heard and where people are not marginalised because of their race or gender expression. 

We must invest in women by developing universal childcare and public transit, by providing affordable housing and ensuring safety from violence.

We must consciously acknowledge and speak up for the importance of equal human rights for all.

PRE-ELECTION STATEMENT ON EDUCATION

Over the last 2 years children in Ontario have lost more education time than in any other jurisdiction in North America. This has deprived them of important academic, social, and emotional learning experiences. Virtual schooling, in spite of herculean efforts by education workers, was not a successful experiment for everyone and created additional harm to families and students in far too many cases.

Many mental health issues have already been recognized and more are anticipated when students finally return full time to classrooms.

School boards and education workers, students and families need the resources to return to and remain in the classroom safely and with as little disruption as possible.

The Ministry of Education has recognized gaps in learning for many students by investing in a $176 million tutoring plan. The plan is insufficient because it demands that students make up these gaps by adding longer hours of after school, weekend, and summer instruction. This deprives them of social, cultural, or physical activities which are required to build well rounded, balanced lives. We can accomplish this within current structures when public education is properly funded and provides for welltrained specialists and adults supporting teachers within the school setting.

The underfunding of public education became glaringly evident during the pandemic. Additional changes must be implemented for current students who have already suffered inordinately and for all future students, so we thoroughly mitigate against the risks of this happening again. 

We call on the Ministry of Education to invest in at least five years of remediation for this unprecedented educational loss, and to equip students to meet whatever challenges await them, including the following measures:

  • Add COVID-19 to the list of designated diseases in Ontario Regulation 261/13 Designated Diseases under the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA);
  • Renovate buildings and improve ventilation by installing HEPA filters with publicly available air quality metrics and standards as well as adequate internet capability in ALL facilities.
  • Support in-person learning as the best model for instruction.
  • Recruit sufficient qualified teachers to reduce class sizes and ensure that each student has the support needed to achieve success.
  • Funding of specific tools, equipment, and specialized settings to address diverse student needs.
  • Provide Funding to provide specifically qualified, medically trained staff, to address the physical needs of children.
  • Invest in a staffing system, which includes fair and transparent hiring and retention practices based on the needs of students, not just a specific number of students in each class.
  • Sufficient staffing for library, arts, music, health, and phys. ed teachers; counsellors, psychologists, speech and language therapists
  • Funding for staff professional development with teaching strategies for students with special needs including enriched student learning.
  • Funding for students with special needs including increased mental health supports and opportunities for newcomers.
  • Fund inclusive classrooms with specialized culturally appropriate programming and staffing for all students; address systemic inequities with a focus on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Communities; confront Anti-Black racism and other forms of discrimination and oppression.
  • Collaborate with school-based education workers to sustain safer, healthier, more accessible schools, addressing workplace health and safety including violence in the learning/working environment.

The Ontario public education system has long been a leader on the global stage. The pandemic has shone a light on the dangers of finding short terms savings on essential aspects of our society like public education.  In order to ensure we maintain the level of excellence we all rely on, government and all citizens must collaborate to ensure stability and the opportunity for each student to reach or exceed their potential in our classrooms. We know what a world class public education system costs and how to achieve it, so let’s do it!

Investing in public education is investing in Ontario.

PRE-ELECTION STATEMENT ON INCOME SECURITY

A society that respects human rights must ensure that all its members have an adequate livable income and opportunity to participate in meaningful and productive work. We need a 21st century system of social protection that is a life enhancing approach, offering Canadians and Ontarians genuine opportunities to reach their potential and achieve their goals as well as to make successful life transitions. These turbulent times have given AWH an opportunity to reflect and one thing is certain; we do not want to go back to the old normal.  Nowis the time to reimagine the social, economic, and ecological environment in which we want to live.   Now is the time for a vision that will transform our policies, programs, and institutions so that all members of the community live with dignity.

Early Learning and Childcare

The gaps and diminished capacities of our systems of social and health protection have been revealed by the shocking impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic. We are witness to the disproportionate effect of this pandemic on women, their families, and their children. As our country and our province lay the groundwork for an economic and social recovery, we believe that foundational to this recovery is the development of a universal, quality, inclusive, and publicly funded childcare system. 

Ontario has now signed to the federal-provincial agreement for child care. Within this framework, provinces and local communities have the opportunity to design programs that address their uniqueness and specific needs. One size does not fit all geographies. 

While we are pleased that this agreement has been signed, there are still major concerns. Without caregivers there is no child care. It is necessary to address the chronic working conditions that are leading to the exodus of staff, to increase the salaries and benefits of caregivers in licensed facilities. It is necessary to protect the staff with paid sick leave. It is necessary to develop plans that work for all parents in all locations.

Universal, quality, inclusive, publicly funded childcare system is the most effective path to gender equality, economic prosperity, and children’s development. Many Ontarians agree. Childcare is an important and critical election issue.  

Paid Sick Days

The recent report, Before it’s Too Late: How to Close the Paid Sick Day Gap During COVID-19 and Beyond, from the Decent Work and the Health Network points out that Canada falls in the bottom quarter of countries globally that do not guarantee paid sick leave on the first day of illness. The situation in Ontario is the same. The COVID pandemic has made it evident that paid sick leave provisions are essential to protect the health of individual workers, their workplaces, and the broader community. Workers require a minimum of 10 permanent, job-protected, employer paid sick days annually and this should be raised to 14 days during a public health outbreak,

Consensus on the need for paid sick days is broad and loud and fierce. Workers and organizers have been joined by top public health officers, municipal governments, some chambers of commerce, opposition politicians, unions, faith groups, and grass roots community organizations. All agree that paid sick days save lives and keep Ontario’s critical resource of workers healthy and on the job which, in turn, protects our communities – hospitals, schools, businesses and the families that need and use these critical resources.

Some employers provide paid sick leave to their employees, through collective agreements, company benefit policies, or otherwise, commonly in the form of several paid days followed by the provision of short-term illness or disability insurance benefits. However, workers without paid sick leave – a majority of workers – particularly low-wage, precariously employed essential workers who are disproportionately women, Black, Indigenous, and racialized, experience financial pressure to work even when ill. If they do not work, they face an immediate loss of much needed income, but also the tenuousness of their employment status frequently means that taking time off work could jeopardize their standing with their employer or future earnings, through either a cut in their hours or job loss.

A poll commissioned by the Ontario Federation of Labour and conducted by Environics Research from November 17 to 29, 2021 showed overwhelming support for paid sick time. Eighty percent of Ontarians surveyed support a call for at least 10 days of permanent paid sick leave, paid for by employers in Ontario, and 85 per cent agree that businesses have a responsibility to provide paid sick days to their employees to ensure workers are not faced with the choice of working sick or losing pay. Seventy-seven per cent of respondents agree that Ontario’s sick leave program should cover part-time and casual workers.

All workers should have the protection of paid sick days. No Ontarian should have to make the choice between going to work sick or losing their livelihood. We require legislation that guarantees a minimum of 10 permanent, job-protected, employer-paid sick days per year for all workers, and this should be raised to 14 days during a public health outbreak.

Paid sick leave is one election issue.

Many other labour issues still need to be resolved and will be our focus in the future.

Income Security and Social Assistance Reform  

Over the years people receiving support from social assistance programs have been systematically stereotyped and abused.  Beginning in Elizabethan England, the Poor Laws created a social divide between those who paid taxes and the impoverished, who needed support.

Since then, recipients of public support have been stereotyped as ‘outsiders’ . unwilling to work, lazy, alcoholics or addicts. There have been debates about deserving versus undeserving poor, real or feigned disabilities. It has been said social assistance support would discourage participation in the labour force. 

Social Assistance in Ontario currently takes the form of Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), both implemented in 1998. Both programs are deliberately coercive and punitive.

The Income Security Advocacy Centre provides updates on the income benefit received. The most recent information, as of July 2021:

*a single individual on OW will receive $733 per month; a single parent with a child will receive $1,124.83; a couple will receive $1,136.

while

*a single individual living on ODSP will receive $1,169; a single parent with a child will receive $1,718.83; and a couple will receive $1,750.

These monthly amounts are well below any designated poverty measures. 

Transformational Reform of Social Assistance

Over the years commissions, major studies and consultations on social assistance have been conducted and reforms have been recommended, but none has led to the transformation of social assistance.

A 21st century system of social assistance must be designed to embrace the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.   Any system of social protection must respect the rights of individuals as guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 “Recovery and Renewal: Ontario’s Vision for Social Assistance Transformation,” the document detailingthe Province of Ontario’s unfolding changes to social assistance, was announced in 2021. The changes being implemented have not been openly shared, vetted, or debated by those with lived experience, or those working in community-based no-profit social service agencies, and experts in the field.  The government cancelled basic income pilot projects that demonstrated the value of meeting basic needs as a steppingstone to social and economic integration. The current social assistance reform effort of the Government of Ontario negates once again the transformation of social assistance into a program that enables individuals to live with dignity:

  • It does not provide a benefit support that reflects the cost of living.
  • It does not restore meaningful financial support to the municipalities and non-profit sector that provide life-stabilization supports. 
  • It separates life-stabilization supports from employment services which have been privatized and outsourced. This practice has been shown to have short-term, ineffective goals by forcing people into a cycle of gig jobs, unemployment, and again social assistance. 
  • It changes and realigns Ontario’s definition of disability to more closely reflect that of the federal government—this redefinition has not grown out of a consultation with the disability movement or health understandings reflective of our times. The criteria to determine disability has not been shared and as people are assessed and designated as having a disability, it is unclear if this provides a guarantee that with those disabilities will have access to accommodating workplaces and food security. The redefinition of disability may force many onto OW, a tax saving practice. 

Income Security: Social Assistance Transformation: What is Needed Now.

A new system of social assistance is needed that recognizes that all members of the community have a human right to income support to meet their basic needs. Immediate action is needed on the following:

  1. Government, community, and those with lived experience must come together to design and implement a new system of social assistance, building on the existing research, deliberations, and recommendations of the respective reports and commissions.
  2. Benefit rates, determined by an evidence-based assessment of the cost of living, must provide recipients of OW and ODSP with the means to meet their basic needs for shelter, food, clothing, education, and health care.
  3. The special needs of people living with disabilities must be adequately supported. The individual and specific needs of people living with disabilities are complex and cover a range of supports such as special foods, guide dogs, assistive devices, hearing aids, mobility devices, vision care, diabetic supplies, surgical supplies, incontinence supplies, medical transportation etc.
  4. Housing provision must be treated separately from all other living costs and based on average community housing costs.
  5. Social protection should begin to integrate social assistance into a basic living income (mirroring the CERB – Canada Emergency Response Benefit- experience during the COVID pandemic).
  6. Social protection must assure access to an income floor that can support transitions to employment. A Jobs Guarantee program would provide the best chance for those struggling with mental health or addictions, who need some accommodation and support, or who are transitioning and need to learn new skills.

PRE-ELECTION STATEMENT ON JUSTICE AND CORRECTIONS

Over the past four years we have been concerned about the following matters related to Justice and Corrections.  We want a truly just, transparent, and fair justice system in Ontario, that treats all people equally.

Persuade the Attorney General (Court Services, Family Law, Access to Justice) to: Restore Accessibility and Transparency to the Justice System.

During the pandemic, legal hearings have been closed to the public and inaccessible to many. Virtual Zoom meetings require all parties to be aware of the hearing time, prepared in advance and able to access computer (or phone) to attend.  The poor and vulnerable are not always able to do so.  They may also require representation by Duty Council.  Sometimes one lawyer is scheduled to be duty council for several simultaneous hearings.  To eliminate hearing backlog, some lawyers have been offered a financial incentive to obtain guilty pleas from clients, denying the right to a fair trial and negating the presumption of innocence. 

For evictions hearings, Fund the Landlord/Tenant Board to ensure sufficient staffing to analyze cases and present options.

The proposed new courthouse for Halton Region was cancelled, with the result that there is little or no physical court space in Milton, Oakville, and Burlington.

To increase accessibility to justice, restore and increase funding for Legal Aid (cut in 2019); Pause eviction hearings until pandemic is over and reactivate the plans to build a new courthouse.

Persuade the Solicitor General (Corrections, Policing, Public Safety) to:

  • Re-establish jail oversight committees.  These were discontinued on the grounds that several entities were doing this, duplicating the work.  Now no-one is doing it and conditions in jails are no longer monitored.
  • Eliminate over-representation of black and indigenous groups in jails.

A deliberate effort must be made to divert members of these groups from jail sentences.  It is important to reduce the societal causes of offences.

  • Rectify shortfall in funding for jail rehabilitation programs. Currently rehabilitation and training programs are unavailable in jails and no rehabilitation takes place, resulting in recidivism
  • Conduct a review of Conditions of the incarcerated during Covid, and the general lack of healthcare provision in Provincial prisons
  • Review Conditions of immigration detainees
  • Review the Provincial/Federal agreement regarding detention of immigrants, such that immigrants are not held inappropriately in Provincial jails. (The government of B.C. recently rescinded their arrangement with the federal government)
  • Replace Remand Without Bail while awaiting trial, so that jobs, family connections and social supports are not lost, putting prisoners at risk of further offences
  • Promote sensitivity to cultural experience when sentencing
  • Extend the use of Gladue reports to understand background contributing factors when sentencing indigenous offenders.  Similarly, consider the use of Morris reports to understand background contributing factors when sentencing black offenders.
  • Build trained mental health response teams to respond to emergency calls (wellness checks) where police intervention is not necessary.

PRE-ELECTION STATEMENT ON LONG-TERM CARE

The COVID pandemic revealed the horror of the many illnesses and deaths in some Canadian long-term care (LTC) homes. COVID revealed chronic under-staffing, inadequate infection control, and inadequate government inspection with enforcement. 

The Ontario Health Coalition reported the for-profit LTC facilities had death rates five times those of the publicly-owned homes, and double those of the non-profit homes. The Ryerson National Institute on Aging reported 85% of Canadians of all ages and 96%of Canadians aged 65 years and older, will do everything they can to avoid moving into an LTC home.

LTC is part of the publicly funded health care continuum.  Funding has not kept pace with the aging demographic and the increasingly complex health needs of LTC residents.

Providing More Care, Protecting Seniors and Building More Beds Act attempted to address some of the issues by reinstating comprehensive inspections with enforcement commencing in October 2022.  The lack of staffing was addressed with increased funding to support educational programs for nurses and personal support workers.  In addition, increasing the daily personal support hours from 2.75 hours per resident to an average of 4 hours per resident across the industry by 2025. 

The following issues remain to be addressed:

  1. Reduce new LTC home construction costs by developing and funding an innovative, flexible, publicly funded home care system that will allow residents to age at home and out of LTC
  2. Implement unscheduled (in addition to scheduled) inspections with compliance enforcement.  Even prior to 2019 unscheduled inspections revealed neglect of care.
  3. Provide adequate government support to all publicly funded health care to ensure staff retention with equalized staff grid, full time positions and wages and benefits commensurate with skills and training required for the job. The pandemic exacerbated the history of 20-25% annual turnover of staff in LTC and nurses leaving health care. Legislation may be required to standardise a  grid for compensation of health care workers, based on education and experience.
  4. Reinstate the requirement that license agreement renewals to LTC providers be contingent on a history of HIGH-quality care.  In 2021, a number of LTC providers with the highest COVID death and illness received new 30-year licensing agreements and funding for additional beds
  5. Utilize evidence-informed, resident-centred care practices that provide a meaningful quality of life as stated in the January 2022 National Long-Term Care Services Standards draft
  6. Prioritize funding of new LTC construction to not-for-profit homes.  Municipal and not-for-profit homes provide more care hours because they do not pay dividends to investors.

Long Term Care is a critical issue in the upcoming election