Ontario’s legislators are back at Queen’s Park for the first time since the June election, and there’s a lot of work to do. That was the impression left by Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner at his inaugural press conference for this term. Going into the new session, Schreiner wants to focus on affordability, climate action, and, obviously, the healthcare staffing crisis.
“We are experiencing the biggest healthcare crisis of our generation, and the premier has been AWOL throughout the summer and failing to ‘get it done’ when it comes to addressing the health care crisis in this province,” Schreiner said referencing the Progressive Conservative campaign slogan.
“Over two years ago, the Ontario Greens put forward a plan to recruit and retain nurses and other frontline healthcare workers to address the health human resource crisis that we’re facing,” he added. “So when the premier reintroduces the budget this week, we’re demanding that he repeal Bill 124 and enables nurses and other frontline healthcare workers to negotiate the fair wages and benefits they deserve.”
Schreiner explained that dealing with the healthcare’s issues is not just immediately important, but important in the long-term as we’re entering cold and flu season and a likely seasonal increase in COVID-19 cases. But more than getting healthcare workers better compensation, the Green Party leader said that we have to act on the social factors that contribute to the healthcare crisis too.
“Some examples of that would be bringing in 10, legislated paid sick days, so that workers can afford to stay home and not spread that sickness, whether it’s a cold, flu, or COVID,” Schreiner said. “We need to be looking at a variety of measures to take pressure off of the healthcare system while we’re investing in that system, and especially investing in the people who deliver care within the healthcare system.”
Enter another one of Schreiner’s priorities, what he calls the cost of living crisis. This is a two-pronged issue for Schreiner who’s asking again for the government to double support payments for people with disabilities, and to take action to cool off an overheated housing market.
“I renew my call to the premier to double ODSP rates so that people with disabilities will no longer live in legislative poverty and can afford the skyrocketing cost of living that’s affecting so many families and people in our communities, but especially the most vulnerable,” Schreiner explained.
“And to address the housing crisis, we need the premier to end exclusionary zoning, and to invest in building the affordable housing that people need in order to be able to live in the communities where they work, they play and they want to raise their families,” he added.
Schreiner attached climate action to the priority of affordability noting that the recent heat wave and drought are a threat to farms and their ability to grow and cultivate food. Schreiner acknowledged that climate action will be a tough sell to a government still investing in the construction of highways, but he noted that the people can be persuasive if they speak and act together.
“I think what we’re going to need is a combination of citizen action, people speaking out, and you’re already seeing that at the grassroots level when it comes to the stop sprawl movement in particular,” Schreiner said.
“And then we need opposition politicians like myself to be working with those citizen and community groups to help with their organizing and to amplify their voice here at Queen’s Park,” he added. “We saw during the first term of the Ford government that they will respond to public pressure, and I intend to be a part of working with community and citizen groups to put that pressure on the government.”
At the media availability, Schreiner was asked about the effectiveness of the opposition given that he’s presently the only elected opposition leader in the legislature.
“I’m not worried about our ability to hold the government to account. I feel like I’ve done a good job over the last four years, and I will continue to hold government accountable over the next four years,” Schreiner said. “I think one of the things that makes the Green Party’s approach to being in opposition so effective is that I’m willing to work with government. I will work across party lines to get things done for people to improve their lives, but I will also hold government accountable, and I think that’s what the people of Ontario want.”