Build Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2021 / Loi de 2021 visant à protéger nos progrès et à bâtir l’Ontario (mesures budgétaires)
Resuming the debate adjourned on November 16, 2021, on the motion for second reading of the following bill:
Bill 43, An Act to implement Budget measures and to enact and amend various statutes"
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bill Walker): Thank you.
Further debate? I recognize the member from Toronto–Danforth.
Mr. Peter Tabuns: Thank you, Speaker. It’s the first time you’ve had a chance to introduce me, and I’m very pleased to have you there in the chair—very good to see you, sir.
I have to cover a few points. I’ve got 10 minutes here, and I want to say, first off, as I have been talking to constituents in my riding—and not just talking to them; reading their emails, getting their phone messages—I think all of us recognize that life is getting harder for people. The last year and a half, almost two years, have been pretty tough with COVID, with all the restrictions that were imposed on our lives—extraordinarily tough for those who lost jobs and frankly who have a difficult time pulling things together with whatever supports were provided by the federal and provincial governments.
All those things are real, but in fact, on top of that, we’re now seeing that people are having a very tough time meeting their bills, getting the groceries that they require, paying their rents, affording a home, covering transportation. They feel squeezed, and they feel squeezed not only for themselves, but for relatives who are in long-term care. They feel squeezed for the situation that their children are facing in schools. I’m not seeing, and I think those who look at this bill are not seeing, the kind of relief that people need in substantial ways and that they need now.
I want to talk about some of the things that you see here. But what I also want to say is, I’ve talked to my constituents, and across party spectrum, which was very interesting to me, not just the Liberal or NDP constituents—because people declare pretty directly to me where they’re at—but also a lot of Conservative-leaning voters are saying, “I don’t think this is a government that is working for us.” And I have to say, Highway 413 and a very obvious benefit to friends of the Premier who have bought land cheaply along that route is something that’s being generally noticed. People see this as a government looking after itself, or a Premier looking after himself, and not looking after them.
The low-wage policies, Bill 124: I’ve been talking to nurses in my riding, and I’ve been talking to people who need the help of nurses in hospitals. They have questions for the Premier: Premier, why is it that you refer to these health care heroes, people on the front-lines who have risked their lives and continue to risk their lives, and yet you have capped their wages and demoralized them?
They don’t mind being praised for the work they do. They should be praised. But they also understand that they have to put food on the table. They have to pay mortgages. They deserve decent wage increases. Nurses, other health care professionals, people on the front lines should not have their wages capped. Premier, they say to me, “Premier, what are you going to do to treat us with the respect we deserve and give us the pay that we deserve?” This is no way to treat heroes—no way at all.
I go to other constituents, constituents with young children. Some of those constituents are currently on maternity or paternity leave. Maybe they’re working at home. And, God love them, I don’t know how they do it, with toddlers and working on Zoom right through the day. But they say to me, “Can you ask the Premier, ‘Premier, why are you not moving forward with the negotiations for $10-a-day child care? Why?’”
We’ve been listening to the news for the last few days. We’ve been asking questions here in the Legislature, but you haven’t even submitted the negotiating documents so that you can sort things out with the federal government.
You say, Premier, that if you were to go ahead right now, you would only cut the cost of child care in half. Well, I’ll tell you right now, people in my riding, Premier, want their child care costs cut in half. They will settle for that on an interim basis on the road to $10-a-day child care. So, Premier, why aren’t you treating this seriously? Why are working mothers and working fathers who need child care that doesn’t amount to the same bill as they pay for a mortgage—why aren’t you moving heaven and earth to get the $10 billion from the federal government so that they can have affordable child care? That’s what they want you to speak to, Premier. That’s what they want you to answer.
Speaker, I was talking to a gentleman just the other day whose daughter teaches in an elementary school in my riding. He said to me, “My daughter has been given a class with 32 kids.” My guess is many of you have done the same as I have; I’ve been invited into schools to speak to grades 5 and 6 classes about how this place works. Don’t worry, folks; I sugar-coat it. They’re only seven, eight, nine, 10 years old. You can’t be brutal with them. You just tell them as best you can.
But if you put 32 kids in those classrooms, man, they’re elbow to elbow. That’s the reality in almost all the classrooms I go into; 32 kids is a lot of kids. And so, again, my constituents say to me, “Premier, why aren’t you making the investments in the schools so that the kids can be socially distanced, so that we can reduce the chance that they’re going to pass COVID to each other?”
Premier, you know that in fact the incidence of COVID is going up amongst school-aged children. Why aren’t you taking the steps necessary to protect them, to protect the teachers, to protect the other education workers? We’re not seeing that in this budget. What we’re seeing is roughly a half-billion-dollar cut to base education funding. Well, that makes no sense at all—no sense at all.
Again, my guess is that all of you here in the chamber today have been hearing from your constituents. You’ve been hearing about the difficulties that the children have been encountering in the last year and a half: about the need for extra support to catch up, extra support to deal with the mental health issues that come from the stress, from the isolation, and the difficulties that they faced. And, again, constituents say to me, “Can you ask the Premier?” Premier, why aren’t you increasing spending in education so that children get the catch-up help they need, so they get the mental health supports they need, so that they can succeed? This fall economic statement, Premier, is not doing it.
Premier, when are you going to step up? When are you going to stand up for the children and the parents of this province? That’s what they want to know.
When you look ministry by ministry—the Ministry of Health: We’re not seeing the increase in support for people with addictions or mental health outside of the schools. And you’re all well aware of the increasing impact of the opioid epidemic. You don’t go through what we’ve gone through the last two years without consequences. I think we all recognize that. Even people who are totally healthy psychologically have felt great stress, have been pressed harder.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find often when we’re dealing with constituents, they are stressed when we talk to them and more likely to get cranky because they feel that they are being put under huge pressure. Those are the people who are in good shape. The people who are in rougher shape need more than just a sympathetic ear when they call a constituency office or call a friend. They need mental health supports. And I’m not seeing that in the fall economic statement. I’m not seeing action on that here. That’s consequential, Speaker. That is consequential.
We’ve gone through, and continue to go through, an extraordinary disruption of our lives, with huge stress put on people day after day after day, and it has consequences. We need the support to deal with people who have addiction problems. We need the support for people to deal with mental health issues. And that’s not here.
Speaker, I know I’m running out of time. The one last thing I want to say is that I talk to tenants in my riding who find that they are just hanging on by their fingernails. Their pay hasn’t gone up, but their rents are going up. And if they try to move their rents in a new place, it would be dramatically higher. This government has not acted to deal with the rental housing crisis.
The Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bill Walker): To the member from Toronto–Danforth, we do not have time now, but you will have time later for questions and responses, and you’ll be able to get more on the record.