By Lincoln DePradine
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s conservative government has been criticized for failing many in the province during the current Coronavirus pandemic.
Several members of the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Ontario have lashed out at the government for lack of adequate support for frontline essential workers, including personal support workers (PSWs); as well as for shortchanging Black students, the homeless, newcomers, refugees and migrant workers.
Frontline workers are “doing the best they can, literally on shoestring budgets’’, said Dr Jill Andrew, the NDP’s parliamentary critic for women’s issues and culture.
She was speaking at a “Virtual Town Hall’’ of the NDP Black Caucus on Monday evening and was joined at the online meeting by fellow Caucus members Dr Laura Mae Lindo, Kevin Yarde, Faisal Hassan and Rima Berns-McGown.
Yarde, critic for community safety and correctional services, noted that among COVID-19 frontline workers are many racial minorities, who have been trying to save the lives of others without having an adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) on the job.
“This is devastating,’’ said Yarde, MPP for Brampton North. “Many of the PSWs who have died didn’t have access to the PPE that they needed.’’
Yarde called for more provincial investment in the health system, including for longterm care.
“It’s clear that the current longterm care system, it is not working. It’s a patchwork system,’’ he said.
Canada has recorded more than 4,400 Coronavirus-related deaths. About 1,500 of the fatalities have been in Ontario; and, of that number, more than 1,000 have occurred in residents of longterm care homes.
Among the frontline workers who have died, after testing positive for the Coronavirus, was Grenada-born Sharon Neckles Roberts. The 59-year-old woman, who died May 1, was a PSW at a Toronto nursing home.
Lindo, chair of the NDP Black Caucus, said she has been contacted by representatives of several settlement organizations across the province that are concerned about issues such as healthcare access for the people they serve and about the status of work permit holders.
“There are some folks who, during this crisis, their work permit has expired,’’ said Lindo, adding that she has written the provincial government, making some suggestions.
One recommendation, according to Lindo, is to “just roll the deadline over, just keep it open for new work permits; because, nobody can do anything about an expired permit.’’
Lindo, MPP for Kitchener Centre, is the critic for citizenship, immigration services and anti-racism for the NDP, the official opposition in the Ontario legislature.
“I’ve asked for the transition of any kind of work permit that’s tied to an employer to be an open permit, so that people still have an opportunity to find work, should the job that they are here to do be tied to an employer that’s deemed non-essential,’’ she said.
Among adults, the NDP also has been witnessing “the ranks of the unsheltered populations swelling and this is happening in cities across the province’’, claimed Berns-McGown, Beaches-East York MPP and NDP critic for poverty and homelessness.
“Shelters were already in crisis; they were already overcrowded, they already disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous and other peoples of colour,’’ she said. “This is actually a medical and public health issue, as well as an issue of compassion.’’
Berns-McGown said the NDP has been asking the provincial administration “to step up and give the cities the logistical support and the money that they need to get hotel rooms or other places’’ to provide better and safer accommodation for “the unsheltered and migrant workers’’.
Another group experiencing difficulties in the crisis, which includes school closure because of COVID-19, is family with children, said Hassan, NDP critic for youth engagement.
“Families are struggling to stay afloat’’, with the “additional responsibilities of trying to support their kids’’, with some without access to internet service, IPad and laptop, which are needed for their children to complete school assignments, said Hassan, MPP for York South-Weston.
“The NDP,’’ he promised, “will be advocating for students and their families; students getting the support they need and when they need it.’’
The online meeting was also told that years of work on the Eglinton Crosstown transit line have negatively impacted the Eglinton West community including “Little Jamaica’’, the area from Marlee Avenue to Keele Street. Construction work has caused business closures, downturn in sales and traffic congestion.
Andrew, MPP for Toronto-St Paul’s, said the situation for business owners and residents in the area now is compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic.
The community, which had been “hemorrhaging way before COVID-19’’, said Andrew, is plagued by further problems with the outbreak of the virus, “which has caused many to actually have to shutter; literally, close down’’.
“This provincial/federal notion of loans and deferrals is just not enough. It’s not working,’’ Andrew said. “What we need is direct financial support for our businesses.’’