Ontario legislature resumes amid high inflation and health care workforce crisis

TORONTO – Ontario’s legislature will resume this week for the first time since the re-election of Prime Minister Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, with politicians returning amid a health care staffing crisis and skyrocketing inflation.

Members will return on Monday to vote for a president, followed on Tuesday by the speech from the throne, which outlines the government’s new agenda and budget, which is not expected to change much since it was introduced but not approved at the spring before the elections. .

The prime minister is expected to acknowledge the health care and economic pressures, but it is unclear whether new measures will be added to the budget or speech from the throne to address them.

“The pillars of the agenda are the same as before and during the election campaign, including rebuilding Ontario’s economy, getting more people into the skilled trades, and putting shovels in the ground to build more housing, roads, highways, transit and others. key infrastructure,” said a senior government source.

“The government will also reiterate how it is supporting the health care system, particularly in light of current pressures. That said, we are signaling that the context and climate in which that agenda is implemented is changing based on global economic trends.”

Since the June election, nursing shortages have prompted hospitals to shut down emergency departments in communities across the province for hours or even days at a time.

Nursing groups, hospital executives, other health professionals and advocates have said exhaustion after being on the front lines of COVID-19 for more than two years and not receiving adequate compensation has caused people to leave the mass profession.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones sent a directive Thursday to the College of Nurses of Ontario telling it to do everything possible to register internationally educated nurses “as quickly as possible” so they can practice in the province.

Opposition critics and nursing groups say the nursing college directive does not equate to the province doing everything in its power to address the situation, as Ford recently promised.

A key demand they have is the repeal of House Bill 124, 2019 legislation that capped wage increases for public sector workers, including nurses, at one percent a year for three years. Nursing groups say some nurses could stop retiring if the bill goes away.

When the question period resumes on Wednesday, opposition parties are expected to press the government to find solutions to the health workforce shortage, including repealing Bill 124, which they have long called for.

Acting NDP leader Peter Tabuns said Bill 124 is symbolic of the Ford government’s attitude toward health care workers.

“I think that’s part of the problem that we have with retention right now, as well as with recruiting,” Tabuns said at a news conference Friday.

“(It’s) a very clear signal from the provincial government that we will say all kinds of good things about you, but in the end, we are not willing to put dollars on the table to make your life better.”

The Liberals will technically sit back as independents as they failed to win back enough seats for official party status in the legislature, but caretaker leader John Fraser said his priorities will be healthcare and affordability, including pay rates. disability support.

“People can’t survive on what they get,” Fraser said in an interview.

Ford promised during the election campaign that he would increase those disability support payments by 5 percent, which is the only new measure he has indicated will be in the reintroduced budget.

Rates have been frozen since 2018, with a single person on ODSP able to receive up to $1,169 a month for basic needs and housing. Advocates say it’s too low and payments should be doubled, especially given that inflation hovers around 8 percent.

The first order of business for the legislature is to elect a Speaker and two Progressive Conservatives are expected to compete for the position. Ted Arnott, who has served as chairman for the past four years, will face off against Nina Tangri, who served as deputy minister for small business and red tape reduction.

The vote is secret, but the opposition NDP has indicated that its members will vote for Arnott.

“He has shown himself to be fair and impartial in his dealings,” Tabuns said.

If Tangri is elected, she would be the first woman in office, which Tabuns acknowledged would be an important milestone but would not change her vote.

“We thought it would be nice to have a woman as Speaker, but maybe another woman at another time,” he said.

The Conservatives, who are the deciding factor, with their sizeable majority, have not said whom their caucus members will support.

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