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FORUM: Vaccines, development, judicial reform dominate Queen’s Park (Mar. 2021)

March 26th, 2021 · No Comments

Massive power grab by Ford with Omnibus Bill 245 

By Jessica Bell

I was sitting near MPP Sol Mamakwa in question period, when Premier Ford accused Ontario’s only Indigenous MPP of jumping the vaccination queue after he flew into a remote community to be vaccinated.

MPP Mamakwa had been invited by First Nations leaders to address vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous people, many of whom have been traumatized by the healthcare system’s systemic neglect of their needs. MPP Mamakwa did not jump the queue.

Doug Ford’s accusation was racist. It was also an attempt to distract from the government’s messy vaccine rollout as it implies that MPP Mamakwa and First Nations people are somehow responsible for others having to wait longer for their vaccine.

Questions and concerns about the vaccine are the top reasons why residents are contacting our office. Residents want to know when they’re eligible for the vaccine, where they can register, who is being prioritized and why. These are critical questions because for some of us, COVID-19 is life threatening.

This is the largest vaccination campaign in Canada’s history. We should expect and accept a few hiccups. The biggest issue Ontario faces is a critical shortage in vaccines, which is not the provincial government’s responsibility.

Now here’s where Ontario could do better: the government factors in vulnerability, risk of exposure and age to determine vaccine priority. Experts have assessed the government’s framework as mostly ethical, but there have been some gaps. 

We have been asking the government to take an equity-based approach and move people with disabilities and underlying health conditions further up the queue. 

We have been advocating for the government to allocate more vaccines to postal codes that have higher COVID-19 spread, such as Scarborough and Peel. 

We also want the government to do a better job of distributing vaccines fairly to accommodate the fact that some regions, like Toronto, have a higher percentage of people eligible for a shot in phase 1, like health care workers.  It’s a failure to be fair that led to some public health units to vaccinate people over 80 while some PSWs working in long-term care homes in Toronto were still waiting. These equity issues should be fixed. 

Ontario’s vaccine registration system is just plain bad. Every public health unit in Ontario had to set up their own registration system because the Ontario government did not have a working registration system set up in time. They had a year to get this right, and they didn’t.

If you have additional questions or concerns about the vaccine rollout that you believe I should raise with the government then please contact our office. 

While vaccines dominate the news, at Queen’s Park, the government is introducing legislation that has nothing to do with health. Here are three bills that we’re debating that you should know about. 

Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, further limits the participation of municipalities and residents in land use planning decisions. 

Bill 245 merges the Local Planning Appeals Tribunal into a new mega-tribunal called the “Ontario Lands Tribunal.” This new tribunal gives adjudicators the power to dismiss a hearing without listening to the evidence, bans most appeals to tribunals, and limits everyone who is not the lead applicant to just giving written testimony at hearings. Bill 245 also gives the Attorney General more say over the judicial appointment process, politicizing a judge-selection process that is recognized as a global model of fairness and impartiality.

Bill 25,  Protecting Ontario Elections Act, doubles the maximum donation Ontarians can give to a political candidate from $1650 to $3300. This is a blatant re-jigging of the rules to help the Conservatives raise more money for the next election. Bringing big money back into politics will mean that everyday people who cannot afford to donate $3300 will have even less influence over the Conservative government.

Finally, Bill 261, the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Act gives the Ontario government even more power to use Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) whenever and wherever it wants. 

If this law passes, the government will not only be able to use MZOs to override municipal rules and impose its own planning rules, but will be able to exempt itself from key provisions of the Ontario Planning Act.  Recently, the government has issued dozens of MZOs on land being developed by developers who have donated to the PC party.  This is unethical, and not how planning should proceed at all.

Instead of debating planning laws, I believe we should be approving measures to get us through this crisis. Here are a few ideas: an eviction moratorium, more support for businesses, paid sick days, safer schools, and more funding for public health. That’s what I’m fighting for.

Jessica Bell is MPP for University–Rosedale.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion