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FOCUS: Gleaner sits down with Jessica Bell (Fall 2021)

November 11th, 2021 · No Comments

With less than a year before the provincial election our MPP reflects

MPP Jessica Bell has had an eventful first term serving her riding of University-Rosedale with the pandemic likely affecting at least half of her four years. Over a year into COVID-19 and less than one year left before the next election, Bell reflects on her term thus far and what’s to come. MADELINE SMART/GLEANER NEWS

By Madeline Smart

MPP Jessica Bell has spent her first term representing University-Rosedale mostly serving throughout the unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic but she hasn’t let that dampen her experience. 

Elected in 2018, Bell is also the NDP critic for urban planning and transit. 

In an interview with the Gleaner, Bell said the pandemic has been challenging especially when the community engagement work that a politician would typically do like in-person events, door-to-door canvassing, and having people to testify at Queen’s Park, has been banned for a year-and-a-half.

“It’s been such an honour [to serve University-Rosedale],” says Bell. “I’m lucky because Queen’s Park is in the University-Rosedale area so I get to live and breathe legislative work and the community work at the same time every single day.”

With regular heat advisories happening in the city, MPP Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale) and MPP Suze Morrison (Toronto Centre) co-mediated a virtual tenant town hall to help renters know their rights when it comes to keeping cool during the summer. 

The meeting was a forum for renters struggling to have an air conditioning (AC) unit in their apartment. Helle Hulgaard, a paralegal at West Toronto Legal Services, attended to debunk some of the legal misconceptions on installing an AC unit in your apartment. Prophetess Reid, a tenant organizer, spoke about the process of starting the tenant organization in her own building, the benefits of having one in these situations.

“Toronto city bylaws are very clear that tenants are allowed to have a window [AC] unit,” said Hulgaard.

The consensus of the meeting was that there are no bylaws against having AC in apartments and everyone is able to exercise that, despite what a landlord might say. 

Being a long-term community advocate and the NDP critic for housing and tenant rights, this kind of tenant town hall fits perfectly into Bell’s wheelhouse.

The pandemic also created problems for her constituents and the riding’s economy that she could have never predicted  when she was elected. Still, Bell says she’s grateful the pandemic made existing problems impossible to ignore so that resolutions could be made, like the situations in long-term care homes. 

“The public’s awareness of the failings of our long-term care system has risen, people understand that we need to do a whole lot better,” said Bell. 

One of her most memorable moments of serving during the pandemic was hearing first-hand about how dire the situation was in long-term care homes, not just for the residents but also for the people working in them. She adds that successfully petitioning the government into increasing the number of direct care hours residents of those facilities receive to four a day was a highlight. 

Now with just under a year left of her first term, Bell’s main goal going forward is to push the NDP’s Green New Deal and get re-elected in order to “rapidly implement it.”

Her second goal is to address the city’s affordable housing crisis. 

“There are whole generations of people, young people, newcomers, middle-income people. Even upper middle-income people who can no longer afford to rent or buy a home in our city,” Bell said. “The provincial government has the jurisdictional authority to take groundbreaking steps to make housing more affordable and we need to do it.”

Current polls are showing Liberals leading in popularity with 35.2 per cent, Conservatives have dropped down to 29.8 per cent and the NDP are sitting at 17.9 per cent despite being the official minority. Bell says she stands by her party and is confident that they will succeed in raising those numbers by the next election. 

Bell also highlighted the drop in popularity for the Conservatives and Premier Doug Ford due to their handling of COVID-19.

“People no longer trust Doug Ford to do the right thing, he’s shown that he’s incapable of listening to public health, putting people first, as he navigated us through this pandemic,” said Bell. 

“That is clear, his popularity is dropping and it should be our goal as a party to make it very clear that Andrea Horvath should be the next premier.”

Bell says she tries to ignore the polls and chooses to focus on being the best representative for her riding that she can be.

“It’s the voters’ job to decide,” she says. “My hope is that they will choose me but my job is to just do the best job I can.”

The next provincial election is set to happen on or before June 2, 2022. 


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