Healthcare, housing on the mind of MPPs as Queen’s Park resumes sitting

The Ontario legislature resumed sitting Tuesday after a two-month break and many MPPs had healthcare and housing on their minds as they returned to Queen’s Park.

“We’re going to be talking about healthcare. I mean we are, of course, always going to be talking about healthcare. It is of paramount importance to everybody in Ontario. It’ll be very interesting to see how some of our new projects start working,” Progressive Conservative MPP Jess Dixon of Kitchener-South Hespeler told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo’s The Morning Edition.

Dixon was referring to the provincial government’s plan to reduce surgical backlogs by allowing some private clinics to perform minimally-invasive surgeries.

NDP MPP Catherine Fife of Waterloo said healthcare and housing are two important priorities she plans to address as she heads back to the Ontario legislature.

Fife is also the NDP’s finance critic. She spent the two-month break from Queen’s Park visiting 11 cities across the province to collect public feedback on the government’s budget.

Fife said she heard from people with suggestions to invest in prevention measures that will bring more nurse practitioners into primary health teams across Ontario, giving more people without family doctors access to primary health care.

‘Housing is healthcare’

“The theme that we actually heard is that housing is healthcare. People can’t stay healthy or get healthy if they don’t have shelter,” Fife said.

“There were direct appeals for this government to invest in affordable attainable housing and there was a fair amount of concern … around Bill 23 and carving out part of the Greenbelt for large homes and that was not part of the solution for our housing crisis .”

Bill 23 is the province’s new housing plan, criticized for reducing environmental protection in order to build more homes faster to address Ontario’s housing crisis.

Dixon said her party looks at the bill as a way to free up areas for development.

“Of course if those areas aren’t going to be utilized appropriately the way the legislation is set up… it goes back to the Greenbelt. But this is about trying to be innovative and looking at solving our housing shortage the best way we can,” Dixon said.

Bill 124’s impact on healthcare workers

Adil Shamji, Liberal health critic and MPP for Don Valley East also sees healthcare as a top priority and is criticized by the province for not addressing shortfalls in the healthcare system sooner.

He said the province needs to “invest more into our public healthcare system, make sure that we’ve got initiatives like Pharmacare, adequate access to mental health, substance use and supports addictions.”

“We need to make sure that we have an ambition that ensures people in Ontario have access to a primary care physician because that doesn’t exist right now.”

Dr. Adil Shamji is the Liberal’s health critic. (CBC)

Shamji also criticized the Progressive Conservative government’s law that caps wages for public sector employees. He said it drives healthcare workers out of the public system.

Premier Doug Ford’s government passed Bill 124 in 2019. The law capped wage increased for public sector employees at one per cent annually for three years. Last November, the law was struck down by the Ontario Superior Court and ruled as unconstitutional because it infringed on Charter rights that guarantee freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Ford’s government is now appealing to the ruling, a move that opposition parties see as a waste of time and money.

Dixon said she has many nurses in her family and they have no issue with Bill 124.

“The decision about Bill 124 was made in the goal of being as careful as possible with taxpayer money, and that I think remains the goal. We’re the custodians of the public purse, it’s not government money, it’s taxpayer money,” Dixon said.

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