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FORUM: Omicron demands leadership, not indecision (Jan. 2022)

February 4th, 2022 · No Comments

Ontario suffers while Ford dithers

By Jessica Bell

As the Omicron wave overwhelms Ontario, University-Rosedale residents are facing big challenges. Parents are wracked with the decision over whether to send their children to school. Hospitals are near capacity. You can’t get a PCR test. Surgeries are being canceled. Demand at food banks is at record levels, driven by rising poverty, job loss and inflation. The science is rapidly evolving, people are exhausted, and there is no public consensus on how to proceed. 

This is the time for leadership. Government has a responsibility to make choices that are both tough and wise – for the public good. There are no easy answers. 

Here’s our take on the big issues we’re hearing from constituents. 

Schools and daycares should open safely

Ontario’s two million parents and one million children have endured some of the world’s longest school shutdowns, placing unbelievable strain on our kids’ learning and mental health, and parents’ ability to work.

Education is a human right. It is a shocking indictment of Premier Ford’s priorities that schools remained closed while critical measures that effectively control COVID-19 spread – like paid sick days, effective and properly enforced workplace safety measures, and vaccine mandates – were not implemented. 

The Conservatives have had over 600 days to make schools as safe as possible, but their response has been cheap, reactive and confusing. Ford hoarded federal money earmarked for education, and just cut another $500 million from the school budget this year.  Some school boards are still waiting for their HEPA filters – fortunately Toronto schools have received theirs’. Class sizes are the largest they’ve ever been. It took weeks of advocacy for education workers to be fast-tracked for booster shots, and it is simply astonishing that the government is doing away with public testing and reporting of COVID-19 in schools and daycares.  

We must move mountains to keep schools open and make them as safe as possible. We are calling for school vaccine clinics, vaccine mandates for education workers, smaller class sizes, proper tracking and reporting of COVID-19 cases, free rapid tests for the school and daycare community, improved ventilation, N95 masks for all workers, and support for teachers and staff to help address critical learning gaps caused by previous shutdowns. The measures we take today will prepare us for future waves so we are less likely to be presented with an urgent no-win crisis situation like we’re in today. 

Our hospitals are struggling

Despite Omicron being less virulent than the Delta variant, hospitals are near capacity, and staffing shortages are impacting care.  Ontario has paused many surgeries, including cancer and heart surgeries. Tragically, people will die. 

Staffing issues can and should be addressed by increasing pay for front-line health care workers, and that starts with repealing Bill 124, which capped wage increases for public sector workers to one percent.  I also fully support the government’s decision to allow internationally trained nurses to work in Ontario’s hospitals. This should have happened years ago. 

The best thing you can do to stop overcrowding in hospitals is to get your vaccine and your booster as soon as you are eligible.  Vaccines are very effective at preventing people from severe illness, hospitalization and death, and vaccines are safe. 

Small business needs our help

Every time I walk by Kensington, Bloor, Dundas and College, I see another empty storefront with a “for lease” sign in the window. Many businesses, especially restaurants and tourist businesses, are struggling and going under because they’ve done the right thing and followed public health guidelines.

To help small businesses survive the economic sacrifice they have made, it is our duty to provide help.  Along with government financial assistance, we are also calling for a reinstatement of the commercial eviction ban, which was lifted in January. In response to our pressure, the Ontario government has announced another round of funding for small businesses that have lost income. Our office is able to help eligible small businesses access this program.

Jessica Bell is MPP for University–Rosedale.


Tags: Annex · Columns · Opinion