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Ontario fightback: Progressive MPPs elected to Queen's Park speak out, part 2

Images used with permission

On June 8, progressive Ontarians woke up to the news that Doug Ford would be Ontario's new premier with a Progressive Conservative majority. But we were also heartened by the fact that an amazing set of progressive MPPs were headed to Queen's Park. While Ontarians were gearing up to fight the good fight, rabble.ca's Activist Toolkit launched the Ontario Fightback series to amplify the efforts of activists standing up against destructive PC policies and to help connect us to progressive MPPs who will fight with us.

The first part of the Ontario Fightback series involved reaching out to the new progressive MPPs with three main questions: why they ran, what they heard at the doors, and how we can help them stand up for us.

Right before the new government took power, on June 29, we published part one with the first set of responses from France Gélinas (Nickel Belt), Peter Tabuns (Toronto Danforth), Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre), Terence Kernaghan (London North Centre), Mike Schreiner (Guelph), and Chris Glover (Spadina Fort-York).

We continued to receive amazing responses from progressive MPPs -- so many that we had to publish a second part! Thank you to Jamie West (Sudbury), Doly Begum (Scarborough Southwest), Judith Monteith-Farrell (Thunder Bay-Atikokan), and Marit Stiles (Davenport) for your responses which are below

And don't forget: One of the first tools shared Activist Toolkit is a crowdsourced list of Ford government cuts and changes which was developed by Scott Neigh and Greg MacDougall. Please keep it updated and continue to send things you are working on to maya at rabble.ca.

Meet the MPPs

Activist Toolkit: What made you run in your riding? What are some of the issues that you really care about?

Judith Monteith-Farrell: I ran because I was alarmed at the disparity and negative attitudes taking things backwards in so many areas of our region and our province. 

Jamie WestI know it's cliché, but I got involved with politics because of Jack Layton. In 2009-10, my union and I were on strike at Vale. Considering that we were on strike for nearly a year -- with 10 24-hour picket lines -- I think that the other parties had ample opportunity to speak with us -- even if they disagreed -- but they never made the effort.

Frankly, I didn't think that politicians cared about people like me. They always seemed to be eager to help people who were wealthy and well-connected, while "studying" obstacles that the poor and working class faced. However, during this year-long strike, I noticed that only the NDP took the time to visit us, speak with us, and try to help us. Jack, in particular, came to our city several times; met us in Toronto and Ottawa and really spoke to us about the importance of working-class jobs and the value that we bring to our communities. While the Liberal MPP actively avoided us, our local NDP MP's and MPP were there for us consistently -- at one point in the strike, there were nearly a dozen NDP MP and MPP's together at our union hall to speak with our members.

At the time, I wasn't planning to run for office. However, from a union perspective, I said, "If you have leadership that won't represent you, then you have to vote them out." Just as I said this, I noticed that France Gelinas (MPP for Nickel Belt) was directly across the road from me. France has an incredible work ethic and is always available for people. I immediately thought to myself that Sudbury needs a "France Gelinas." During the walk home, I decided that I was going to become the "France Gelinas of Sudbury."

I was raised to believe that you have to pay your debts: if someone helps you move, then you better be there to help them when they move too. So, in 2010, when our strike ended, I began volunteering for the elections -- all of them: federal, provincial, and municipal. I also joined our NDP riding association and volunteered to be a delegate to our Labour Council (and eventually became their President).

Over the years, I noticed that we were spending a lot of time protesting bad decisions after they were made. The sell-off of Hydro One is a good example. I also noticed that workers and unions were marching to our local MPP's office to be heard -- and the doors were typically closed. During the college strike, for example, I wondered why faculty had to march to the MPP's office. Shouldn't the MPP go out to meet and talk to with the workers at their picket lines?

More recently, 37 hospital laundry workers were losing their jobs. Their work was being contracted out to a location near Hamilton, Ontario. This decision was wildly unpopular in Sudbury. Although there was a lot of public support to keep these jobs, we were not successful -- our city lost 37 good-paying union careers. Those workers held a rally on the last day of work. Members of the community came out to watch the last transport of laundry leave their workplace. During that rally, the president of their Local said that she had met with the former MPP but felt as if he wasn't interested in helping these workers. She said that she felt like he only wanted to be able to tell the media that they had met.

Doly Begum: Scarborough Southwest is my home, where I grew up and attended school. The people of this riding are my neighbours and friends who deserve to have their voice represented in Queen's Park. As a young daughter and woman in Scarborough Southwest I have lived in this riding and have lived the struggles people here face. Working with the Warden Woods community, with the Scarborough Health Coalition, and managing the Keep Hydro Public campaign, I fought for people's right to an affordable life. With my education in Development and Planning and with experience working for the City of Toronto, I learned the ways we can help people.

Marit Stiles: I've been the public school trustee in my riding for the last four years and wanted to see the flawed school funding formula finally addressed (it was introduced by the Harris Conservatives and never fixed by the Liberals.) Many local residents were also unhappy with the quality of local representation we had from our incumbent Liberal MPP, and so I was encouraged to run. But I have a long history of activism and political organizing, and there were so many issues I felt Andrea Horwath and the NDP were addressing in a bold and hopeful way -- like our housing crisis, poverty, dental and pharmacare, and child care.

What are their constituents saying?

Activist Toolkit: What are some local issues you heard at the doors?

Marit StilesWithout a doubt housing was the number 1 issue raised at the door. Young people who can never imagine renting let alone buying in the neighbourhood they were raised in. Two-income families forced to move and take a two-hour commute to work because rent is unaffordable. Meanwhile, developments in our community are not building enough affordable, family-sized units. There was also a lot of talk about crumbling school buildings and people receiving hospital care in the hallways. People in my riding are also really worried about pedestrian and cycling safety. Overall, there was also a sense that the Liberals had taken our downtown community for granted too long.

Judith Monteith-Farrell: As we went door to door, it highlighted how people were being left behind. There are cases of seniors having to legally separate in order to afford care. There are too many cases of health-care fiascos from our regional office, which is in gridlock most days of the year. We heard of cases of mental health treatment or the lack thereof which has people who are suicidal waiting over six hours to be seem with absolutely no intervention. The lack of supportive housing spaces for the mentally ill also was very evident. 

Doly BegumThe local issues we heard about include affordable housing, lack of good jobs, transit, health care, and long-term care. Residents I met were in tears when sharing their difficulty in keeping up with their rent and maintenance costs while trying to balance other expenses like buying groceries. The lack of jobs is another issue that's impacting the lives of residents. Many new immigrants and skilled workers in Scarborough Southwest are struggling to find good-paying and stable jobs. Students graduating with high level university and college degrees are also concerned about making a living and finding a way to get the jobs they have trained for. The lack of efficient and reliable transit options within the riding and in Scarborough is a significant concern for all ages and groups of people. With long wait times and residents having to take multiple buses, it's harder to get to commute to school, shops and work.

Jamie West: Like many ridings, Sudbury has been struggling with hospital underfunding. As a result of inadequate funding, Sudbury has had patients staying in hallways, shower rooms, television rooms, etc. In fact, one year ago, Andrea Horwath, France Gelinas, and I held a press conference outside of Health Sciences North (Sudbury's Hospital) talking about an elderly gentleman who spent three days with the head of his hospital bed against a toilet in a washroom. This issue hasn't been resolved. Currently the hospital is facing job cuts due to lack of funding. As well, I don't think that the media would come to press conference about "hallway medicine" because it's no longer news -- it's become unacceptably normal.

The second most common issue I heard from voters -- from all political stripes -- was the need for adequate funding for long-term care. It didn't matter if the voter identified as Liberal, Conservative, Green, or New Democrat; they wanted better care for family members in long-term care. One of the most common phrases I heard was "those workers are representing me as family when I'm not with my family."

The third most common issue I heard from voters was about affordable child care. It didn't matter if the voter was part of a dual-income with well-paying jobs or if they were a single parent on social assistance; they felt like child care was unaffordable and disincentivized parents who wanted to return to work. One family I spoke had parents who worked as a lawyer and a teacher. Although the teacher wanted to return to work, with two small children, it didn't make sense to work full-time and be without their children all day, just to break even. Another family I spoke with lived in geared-to-income housing. The mother was on OW, but wanted to return to work as a role-model for her two children. She secured a minimum-wage job. After child care, she earned $1 per hour.

How can Ontario help MPPs fight for progressive change?

Activist Toolkit: Given the Conservative majority, what are you going to need activists across Ontario to do to help you fight for progressive change?

Jamie West: Many people are polarized -- focussed on surrounding themselves with people with the same opinions. Being in an echo-chamber is not good for democracy or progress. I think one of the most important thing for people to do is have difficult conversations -- don't talk at people, talk with people... especially people who you may disagree with! Even if you don't think that your conversation will influence them, it's likely to influence people who may be listening (or reading) and are less-entrenched in their opinions.

Union members, in particular, need to have conversations with their members -- not emails, but face-to-face or telephone conversations. Life seems busier than ever, and it's important that we reach out to our allies and help them to become more involved -- and to understand why they need to be more informed and more involved.

Doly Begum: Unite, organize and resist!

All activists must come together to empower each other and create a strengthen force. It is extremely important to keep the Conservative majority to account at all times. The people in this province are working harder than ever and yet they are struggling to keep up with the bills. We need all the activists to join forces and fight against any and all cuts that the Conservatives introduce.

The Ontario NDP has developed an excellent progressive platform which we must work to realize. Throughout the next four years it is critical to show the people of what Ontario could look like as we battle against the changes which threaten to hurt the vulnerable in Ontario. 

Marit Stiles: The NDP has a large and highly skilled group of MPPs making up one of the largest official opposition caucuses in Ontario history. We have to push back against Doug Ford's regressive cuts and policies, and stand up for Ontarians. We're going to need a movement behind us. So get involved! Get active now in your community, and let's make sure Doug Ford and his government have no doubt what Ontarians really expect. 

Images used with permission.

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