Federal Retirees was able to sit down (virtually) with Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner to talk about his party’s take on the Association’s advocacy priorities.
Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner promises to eliminate election gimmicks, such as the PC’s car registration kickback, hire more staff for long-term care and pay early childhood educators better.
My heart just goes out to everyone who lost loved ones. It is so tragic what happened in our long-term care homes. The government said the proper protections were going to be in place and failed to do so. That is completely unacceptable. I think it really highlights the need to completely rethink the way we care for seniors to ensure they receive proper and dignified care.
First of all, we need to mandate a minimum standard of four hours of care each and every day for each resident. Implementing that now — not waiting four years like the current government — and on top of that, I think we need to prioritize people in care over profits and phase out for-profit long-term care homes. That’s where you saw most of the outbreaks and sadly most of the deaths.
You have said you would reduce wait times for LTC, increase funding for home-based care, provide support for family members and research smart home technology. Can you say how you will do pay for this and when it will happen?
First of all, we would reverse a number of the election gimmicks like removing the licence sticker fees, cuts to the gas tax because those types of moves are draining billions of dollars from our public treasury that need to be invested in improving and expanding long-term care, providing better home care, etcetera. So, they are not taking away those vital sources of revenue that need to be invested to improve care for elders.
Should all LTC be public and/or not-for-profit and why?
Our tax dollars should be prioritizing care for people, not the size of shareholder returns.
You’ve said you would “monitor and improve the quality of care in LTC homes.” How and when?
We need to hire more staff and pay them better wages, so we make sure that we provide a minimum standard of four hours of care for every resident each day, that we have the proper staffing ratios, that we have enough nurses in our long-term homes. That is investing in people, and we need to make sure those people receive fair wages, guaranteed full-time work with benefits because we know the quality of care is directly related to the quality of people caring for our loved ones.
What are you committing to in terms of new funding for health care and is there any new commitment for spending on home care (to keep seniors in their own homes longer)?
I am a strong believer in investing more in publicly delivered home and community care and also looking at best practices around living arrangements such as co-housing, for example. You see co-housing for seniors in a number of countries. [They] can live independently and not isolated and lonely and be part of a community.
The other one for us is mandating universal design in the building code so that all homes and apartments are accessible for people because we know people, as they age, face accessibility barriers. That can force some people out of their homes.
What lessons did your party learn from the pandemic?
I think the biggest lesson for us is that there are so many cracks in the foundation of our systems of care — in our health-care system, in long-term care, in our social services, in our education system and that we simply can’t paper over those cracks. We actually have to fix the foundations. That’s going to take investment.
What do you plan to do about the province’s surgical backlog, some of which was caused by COVID, and some of which has just always been a problem?
We absolutely have to expand capacity in our hospital system to address the surgical backlog and hallway medicine that existed prior to COVID. The COVID situation has only made that worse. One is to make sure we have enough staff and physical space to meet our health-care needs, but also addressing things like home care is vitally important. I talk to people in the health-care sector about the importance of integrated services. Sometimes they have people in a hospital bed who belong in a long-term care home or in a temporary alternative level of care facility or in their home. But because there isn’t home care available for them or long-term care space available for them, they end up in hospital.
On the environment, you’ve said you will put a price on carbon pollution that will put money in taxpayers’ pockets. What shape will that take?
We would take over the federal carbon tax. We recognize having a serious price on pollution is a key foundation to addressing the climate crisis. And the money collected we would refund back to individuals through a carbon rebate cheque. All the analysis I’ve seen from economists as well as the parliamentary budget officer show the vast majority of people would actually receive more money back in the rebate than they pay into the tax. They can use that rebate money to help reduce their carbon footprint and increase their savings. It provides the kind of market incentives needed to change people and business behaviour to crush climate pollutions.
Any comments on Doug Ford’s gas tax cut, which reduces the gas tax by 5.7 cents per litre and the fuel tax by 5.3 cents per litre?
We don’t support these election gimmicks that are draining literally billions of dollars from the treasury that need to go into fixing the cracks.
You’ve promised to create jobs, electrify our transportation system, store carbon in nature, charging stations on the 400 series of highways, phasing out combustion engines, raising the average fuel economy emissions standards, to name a few. How will you pay for these and what is the projected cost?
We have a detailed costed program to roll out what would be the most ambitious and practical plan that any Ontario party has ever put forward. Our primary funding mechanism would be to cancel the $7-billion electricity subsidy that the Liberals brought in, and the Conservative government has only accelerated. We are the only jurisdiction in North America that directly subsidizes electricity prices. It disproportionately benefits wealthy households. We would limit supports to lower and middle-income households and use the revenue to help finance a big portion of our climate action plan. We also would also bring congestion charges to enter Toronto to reduce gridlock and congestion and raise money to help finance electrification of our transportation system and also parking levies on commercial parking lots, malls and things like that. They don’t pay anything for those parking spaces.
So, utilizing those funding mechanisms would pay for electrifying our transportation systems and our buildings. Both of those efforts would save people money. You can operate an electric vehicle for about a 10th of the cost of operating a gasoline-operated vehicle. So, if we truly want to help people save money at the pumps, we would actually make electric vehicles affordable for them and have charging stations conveniently available. And if we want to help people with their home utility bills, we would help them make their homes more energy efficient so they could save money by saving energy.
You’ve promised a dental and pharmacare program. You’ve said you would push for federally funded pharmacare, which the federal NDP appears to have revived in its deal to keep the Liberals in power until 2025. Does it matter what shape it takes?
We would sign on to federal government’s plan. We absolutely support the federal government bringing in universal dental care and pharmacare. We would sign on to those and bring provincial financial resources to the table to make sure they are implemented in Ontario. Obviously, the most recent federal budget starts bringing in the dental plan immediately and we’re going to continue to push on pharmacare. We would restore the pharmacare program that the previous government had in place for individuals under 24 and also fund take-home cancer treatments as well. So, we would take some immediate steps even without the federal government. For pharmacare to truly work in the most effective and efficient way we really need the federal government at the table, and we need Ontario to commit that it would sign on to any deal and put the necessary financial resources in place to make it happen.
Would you change anything with the Conservatives’ agreement to sign on to the federal child care program?
The biggest change we would make is increase the hourly wage for early childhood educators to the same level that Manitoba has, which would be $25 an hour because we think the current government proposal at $18 an hour isn’t going to attract enough ECEs [early childhood educators] into the profession to be able to open up enough childcare spaces. To truly deliver $10 a day childcare for everyone in Ontario who needs it, we’re going to have to make sure we pay early childhood educators a living wage.
Will you continue to cap the Ontario Guaranteed Income System (GIS) benefit rates at $83 a month?
We need to increase it. We’re still costing out our platform. I want to see what the (Ontario) budget looks like to see how fiscal room we would have. We would absolutely increase the GIS.