Algoma-Manitoulin MPP, Michael Mantha writes a regular column about provincial initiatives and issues impacting our community. This column was originally released by Mantha's office.
Everywhere I go, it is clear that autumn has come to Algoma-Manitoulin. Harvest festivals are happening in communities, students have returned to their studies, and the leaves are starting to change, creating a wonderful kaleidoscope for all to enjoy.
Autumn is bittersweet for many reasons. We say goodbye to warm summer days and prepare for winter to set in (often sooner than we’d prefer). I know that for me, one of the hardest parts of this seasonal transition is curtailing opportunities to travel across our riding to meet with people in communities, replacing it with routine sittings at Queen’s Park.
Don’t get me wrong, bringing the voices and concerns of people in Algoma-Manitoulin to the Ontario Legislative Assembly is an honour for me. I still approach it with the same enthusiasm and pride I did when I was elected 12 years ago. However, I have often pointed out in this column the stark difference I face as a politician between my work in the riding and my work at Queen’s Park.
This summer, I was able to travel to every corner of Algoma-Manitoulin and meet with people where they live and work. I had the pleasure of engaging with hundreds of constituents about the issues they’re facing, something that is vital to inform my work at the legislature. And, as I’ve always said, while the people I speak with may not always agree with me, they are always willing to listen and engage respectfully.
Unfortunately, the same is not always true when I get to Toronto.
The return to Queen’s Park this year was certainly a raucous one. Many people will be familiar with the details of the Greenbelt scandal that took up the government’s attention all summer. Last week, another minister was forced to step down after giving untrue testimony to the Integrity Commissioner under oath.
On this issue, I still want to see the government show that it takes the findings of the Auditor General and Integrity Commissioner seriously by reversing the changes to the Greenbelt once and for all. Also, the government must agree to comply and commit to conducting a public inquiry into what happened. This is the surest way for Ontarians to regain some level of trust in their government.
What is sometimes forgotten while focusing on the politics of this scandal is that the government has spent months defending, explaining, and undoing their Greenbelt policy while ignoring the (supposed) factor for introducing it – the housing crisis. We have now spent countless hours of the legislature’s time on this policy that has not tackled Ontario’s lack of housing supply. It’s my intention this session to press the government on what it is planning to do to support more housing in Algoma-Manitoulin to ensure our communities continue to have affordable and appropriate housing for everyone.
While the Greenbelt may have dominated the headlines since August, there are still many bread-and-butter issues that I want to see addressed by the legislature. One of the most important of those is the ongoing crisis in our healthcare system.
The Ontario Healthcare Coalition hosted a rally in front of the legislative building on its first day back. I can honestly say it was one of the largest protests I have ever seen take place there and confirmed what I had heard from constituents all summer long… people are fed up with underfunding and privatization in our healthcare system.
That’s why I used my first question of the session to press Health Minister Sylvia Jones on the potential emergency room closures facing rural and Northern hospitals. ER closures are a symptom of this government punting the issue of doctor recruitment down the road for too long. I have often highlighted the burnout affecting our healthcare providers in the North with the government.
During Question Period, I told Health Minister Jones how unacceptable people in Algoma-Manitoulin find it that not only is it impossible for many to find a family doctor, but now there is a risk that even emergency medicine may not be readily available when it is needed.
I believe that, in many ways, the Ford government’s lack of willingness to seek meaningful collaboration has led this government down a path that has left Ontarians feeling disheartened and angry with their government. One of the most egregious examples is the government’s lack of meaningful dialogue and respect for First Nations governments in consultation and collaboration.
Chiefs of Treaty 9 First Nations made an offer to the Premier this week to meet with him publicly to discuss their opposition to mining and logging claims being made on their territory without their consent. They set up a table in front of the legislature and made themselves available to Mr. Ford for a dialogue.
Unfortunately, elected First Nations leaders were rebuffed by the Premier and were not offered anything by way of acknowledgement of their legitimate and important concerns. In the past, I have written about the wrongheadedness of the Ontario government’s divide-and-conquer approach to development on First Nations territory. I still believe that this government needs to take steps to ensure that no resource projects go ahead without the open, informed prior consent of every First Nation affected.
All in all, it is clear that summer is over, and the fall sitting of the legislature will again generate many challenges to ensure we are addressing the issues that are top of mind with Ontarians. At the same time, I firmly believe that it also offers an opportunity to put aside partisan divisions and work together across party lines and levels of government.
For this session, my focus, and I hope that of my colleagues, will be to bring about improved cooperation, collaboration, and respect.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at my new address, [email protected] or by phone toll free at 1-800-831-1899.