Looking toward the election, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath breaks down her party’s platform and what’s planned for the province’s seniors.
Leader Andrea Horwath promises more to staff up long-term care homes and expand home care while also reducing emissions and raising more green bonds.
- Older adult care
- Wait lists and profits
- Health care and pandemic lessons
- Environmental policies
- Child Care
- GIS benefit
I have a platform plank that we put out after the first wave of COVID hit and it’s called “seniors deserve the best.” It’s everything from overhauling long-term care, getting the profits out, getting the people in, increasing staffing, upping the ratio of staff to patients, making sure people are guaranteed four hours of hands-on care. As we continue to need long-term care beds, it’s making sure they’re more community-like — that they’re smaller, more intimate, more responsive to the people who live there in terms of culture and language and food. There are other models around the world that do it much better than us. There are a couple in Ontario that we could look to as well. Things were uncovered and laid bare by the pandemic, but we all know that only showed what some of the worst situations were and have been for several years now.
For long-term care and home care, we are going to get the profits out and make sure every single dollar we’re investing is going to the care of seniors, not to large corporations or the pockets of investors. We need to staff-up in home care, hire thousands upon thousands of nurses and PSWs [personal support workers] to make sure we’re able to provide the home care people need because we know the trauma of moving into the long-term care system is something that can be avoided and the health outcomes are better, the rate of deterioration is reduced and mental health-wise, people feel comfortable where they live. We should be able to give them the dignity of staying in their homes for as long as we possibly can.
Clearing wait lists is also on your strategy for addressing long-term care problems. How will you do that?
We know we have seniors who are trapped in hospitals and unable to have the quality of care they deserve. Hospitals are noisy, they’re busy and not very home-like and they’re not conducive to well-being. They’re not for people to live in and that has to stop. That’s one of the big drivers for me and it has double benefits. It gives people the dignity and quality of life they deserve, and we all know the cost of keeping someone in a terrible place for them is massive, so it makes no sense on the financial side either.
We’re not suggesting that the wait list can only be cleared by putting more people into long-term care. There are other things we need to do, including the home care piece we just talked about. I’m from Hamilton and one of the things our municipality had was called Helping Hands — [which was people who helped] folks with their laundry, made sure they’re taking the medications, did the grocery run or just shovelled the stairs in winter. There are lots of things we can do to make our communities and our province more senior-friendly and, at the same time, to completely overhaul the quality of life that many seniors are dealing with right now.
And what new funding will you commit to these initiatives?
A total costing for our platform will be released very shortly. If we make these investments, we’ll also have savings. There will be savings for the hospitals. Yes, there are investments in alternatives, but in some cases those things will offset [other costs.] We get a pushback occasionally on the idea of public and not-for-profit delivery of services for seniors. It’s a line in the sand that we drew a long time ago.
You’ve said you’ll make all long-term care public and not-for-profit — those are two different models. Are you suggesting combining them?
No. So, we know many municipalities are delivering long-term care, and also not-for-profits are delivering it. But we know the amount of funding needed to properly provide the support seniors need to ensure they have a good quality of life and are given four-hours of hands-on care will require [investment]. A lot of the municipally run homes are the best ones in the community because the city often augments the staffing from the municipal budget. With COVID, it was often the for-profit providers that did very poorly and habitually where the Canadian Armed Forces found people perishing from dehydration and malnutrition. We have an obligation to change this right away. We’ll also continue to demand [or order] a full public inquiry on COVID-19, not only long-term care but the whole enchilada.
What are the costs of your LTC and home care overhauls?
Our plan for LTC and home and community care will rebuild Ontario’s LTC system by making record investments so that seniors can stay in the safety and comfort of their home, for as long as possible. We will immediately increase annual funding for LTC and home and community care by $450 million, growing to $1.9 billion by 2026.
You’ve said you’ll create a position for a seniors’ advocate. Who appoints this person, to whom do they report and will they have staff and resources?
In our estimation, the best advocates are officers of the legislature, so they don’t report to a ministry — they report directly to the public and the legislature writ large without having to be censored by a bureaucratic or political lens. That’s the best way to get the straight goods on what’s happening.
You’ve said you would guarantee new and stronger protections including comprehensive inspections for long-term care homes. What would they entail?
Andrea Horwath: We pushed [the former Liberal government] into unannounced inspections that were about popping in and having a look. They didn’t do a very good job of it, and then the Ford government came in and started cutting those inspections as well. We do have to ensure that the inspection regime is respected by family councils and advocates. The best thing to do is to have those folks design the kind of system that people have confidence in. It’s not fair if we just tinker around the edges of a system that is so broken.
What are you committing to in terms of new funding for health care?
Our first commitments are on dental care. The last election, pharmacare and dental care were big items for us, and dental is there again. I talked to seniors who would come to our events just to talk about the dental. They had never voted NDP before, but their dental care was costing a fortune. Pharmacare is exactly the same issue. I know some of these things are being talked about federally, but who knows how long they’re going to take? I’m proud of the work we’ve done to make sure these things are on the national agenda, but just like medicare, it took the leadership of a province to actually finally get these things into place. We are committed to being that province [after the election].
Besides those from LTC, what lessons did your party learn from the pandemic?
Many of the things we would’ve done differently are also things we’ve been fighting for over the last decades [and are discussed above]. What we’ll do differently is immediately implement 10 permanent paid sick days for every worker in Ontario, ensure proactive, comprehensive inspections of LTC homes and staff up by training and hiring at least 10,000 new personal support workers.
Keeping kids safe in school was another top priority for us during the pandemic. So many kids found online learning hard. Kids are now experiencing heightened anxiety and personality changes. We’ll scrap Ford’s plan to make some online learning mandatory and implement our universal mental health care plan so all kids and families have somewhere to turn for mental health and well-being supports, using their health card, not a credit card.
An NDP government will lower class sizes, hire thousands of teachers and education workers, give kids special education and emotional supports they need and address the millions of dollars in repairs our schools need.
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?
The thing I worry about when it comes to the system and surgical and procedural backlogs is people can’t get their MRIs, breast screening or colonoscopies. Then, we’re losing nurses and other health-care professionals. They’re exhausted, they have anxiety. They feel disrespected by the government because [of] Bill 124, which is a wage cap. That’s not helping, but it can be fixed. We have commitments [to hire] 30,000 nurses and PSWs and make sure the international trained professionals who are here who could be providing service are finding their way to credentials in Ontario. It’s shameful that we have people who are doctors and nurses from other parts of the world who are living in Ontario and crossing the border every day to work. We have a plan for that. One of my critics, Doly Begum, an immigrant, a Bangladeshi woman, had the discussions with people to find out where the barriers are. She tabled a private member’s bill that creates pathways for the experience needed to get credentials, as well as breaking down the barriers to nursing and [establishing] an accountability system.
On the environment, you’ve promised a mandate for all new construction to be net-zero on emissions by 2030, to ramp up EV sales to a 100 per cent by 2035, a new cap and trade program, electrification of municipal transit by 2040, $600 to households for EV charging stations at home and planting $1 billion worth of trees by 2030. You’ve said this will cost $40 billion and you’ll pay with it through carbon pricing and green bonds. You plan to raise an additional $10 billion through green bonds. How will you do this?
Right now, we raise about $8 billion so it’s $2 billion more. It’s absolutely achievable. As our climate crisis continues to worsen and we see what’s happening in Ontario and knowing Canada is warming at twice the rate of any other country in the world, those are things we can’t ignore and the more folks understand how desperate things are becoming and the more we can make the shift, we’ll be able to raise those bonds.
Right now, families are paying child care fees the size of mortgages because Ford was months late in signing the $10-per-day child care deal, costing parents thousands more. We learned from Ford’s budget that he isn’t going to implement the deal for another three and half years. Parents can’t wait that long. They need relief now.
We will immediately start working with the federal government to get parents the $10-per-day child care deal faster. We will also increase the supply of affordable child care across the province. We’ll set a wage floor of $25 for early childhood educators and a $20 floor for everyone else working in child care to recruit, retain and return child care workers.
Will you continue to cap the Ontario Guaranteed Income System (GIS) benefit rates at $83 a month?
We’re listening to seniors about the best ways to make sure all seniors have income stability. It’s clear too many retirees’ fixed incomes are not keeping up with the skyrocketing cost of living. We need to bring costs down and lift incomes up.