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Ontario fightback: Progressive MPPs headed to Queen's Park speak out

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Photos of France Gélinas, Peter Tabuns, Laura Mae Lindo, Terence Kernaghan, Mike Schreiner and Chris Glover

On June 29, Ontarians will have a new premier who takes power with a Progressive Conservative majority government. However, Ontarians also elected some amazing progressive candidates, and at rabble.ca we intend to amplify what people are doing to stand for what Ontarians want and to continue to support progressive change. This is the first of a new Activist Toolkit series on Ontario's fightback against proposed cutbacks and attacks on the things you believe are important. Tell us about what you are doing by sending an email to maya[at]rabble.ca.

To launch the series, we reached out to all the progressive MPPs who were elected and asked them three questions: why they ran, what they heard at doors, and what we can do to help them stand for Ontarians. After a hard-fought campaign, the slate of MPPs headed to Queens Park are busy and need time to recuperate. We are so grateful to (in no particular order) 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) for taking the time to respond. We will continue to cover what progressive MPPs do and build.

Meet the MPPs

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

Laura Mae Lindo: As the Director of Diversity and Equity at Wilfrid Laurier University, I care deeply about equity issues and ensuring that the most under-served and under-represented communities have access to the public services they need. Fighting for a more comprehensive mental health strategy -- one that supports rather than ignores marginalized communities -- has been just one of the many issues that I have worked on. I have also learned so much from my Indigenous colleagues at Laurier. From them, I have learned that addressing the problems that plague our society requires the building of strong, respectful relationships. That is what reconciliation is truly about, and that is why we must move from "reconciliation" with Indigenous, First Nations and Metis peoples and towards "reconcili-action" right here in Kitchener Centre.

I'm committed to fighting hard to improve access to health care, lower wait times at local hospitals, stronger and more comprehensive mental health supports, fighting for better transit, lower hydro costs and making sure students aren't set behind by crushing student debt. I am also ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the innovative start-ups, small and medium businesses across Kitchener, helping them to connect with and learn from the amazing tech hubs and business thought leaders right here in Kitchener Centre.

Kitchener Centre has the highest poverty rate of all the Waterloo region ridings and I am committed to fighting hard to lift people out of poverty and change that.

Terence Kernaghan: I first decided to run for office because I saw how Conservative and Liberal cuts to our education system impacted the learning experiences of our children and youth. As a teacher, I witnessed children and families who couldn't get the help they needed due to over-long waiting lists and budget constraints. I firmly believe in creating more mental health supports in our schools, hiring more Educational Assistants, and lowering class sizes so that all students get the care that they need. Investing in education pays dividends in our future.

Chris Glover: I raised my kids in this riding. I've coached kids soccer and hockey and I've taught at schools and served on a neighbourhood association in this area. I got involved politically when Harris was making cuts to my kids' school. As a teacher, parent, and professor, education has been the focus of my career and community advocacy for three decades. I served as a TDSB Trustee for eight years, and, among other issues, worked to change our schools so that students with intellectual disabilities are on track for jobs at the end of high school. I've also served on the Toronto Board of Health where I advocated for improved bicycle safety and a public health approach to gun violence.

Mike Schreiner: I'm active in politics because I want to be part of building a livable, sustainable future for my children and the next seven generations. Guelph is a progressive city where people are committed to being part of an inclusive, caring community. I started one of Ontario's first local organic food delivery businesses in Guelph 23 years ago. I've spent years working to promote local sustainable food and farmers, to protect our water supply, to support local businesses and economies, and to push for Guelph and Ontario to leap into the clean economy. In this campaign, we pushed for action on these issues and for solutions to address housing affordability, mental health and public transit. I'm proud that in this campaign the GPO was the first party to put forward a costed plan to implement a basic income guarantee in Ontario as the most effective way to eliminate poverty.

France Gélinas: I want to help people, businesses and agencies gain access to the programs and services of the provincial government. I really care about health and long-term care as well as equity.

Peter Tabuns: I have been involved in Toronto-Danforth for a while now and so running for re-election in this community made sense to me. Key issues for me are climate change and income inequality.

What are their constituents saying?

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

France Gélinas: Most of the people in my riding do not have access to natural gas, oil or propane. They heat with electricity or wood. The number 1 issue I heard at the door was the increase in their hydro bill, followed by the price of gas which went up before the long weekend and never came back down. Our hospital Health Sciences North is really over-full, so I heard a lot of stories of people being admitted in bathrooms, TV lounges and hallways.

Terence Kernaghan: Health care was by far the most frequently discussed topic at the door. Andrea Horwath often called London "ground zero" for Ontario's health-care crisis and I could not agree more. We have amazing nurses and health professionals, but cuts to our hospitals have made their jobs far more difficult. London's Cardiac Fitness Institute almost closed due to cuts and government inaction. The CFI was preventative medicine at its finest, supporting people who survived a cardiac event with diet, medically supervised exercise, stress testing, and lifestyle counselling. First and foremost, the CFI saved and prolonged lives. I was proud to stand alongside this amazing group of people. I also heard numerous stories of Londoners waiting in hospital hallways without privacy or dignity. This is frankly unacceptable.

Mike Schreiner: Mental health and housing affordability were two big issues. People liked our idea to have mental health services covered under OHIP+. Many people in Guelph are deeply worried about not being able to afford a place to call home, especially young people and seniors. People liked our plan to require 20 per cent of any new development to be below-market housing whether rental, subdivision, condo, etc. They also responded positively to innovative solutions to use our existing built environment more efficiently by changing planning laws to support "tiny homes," laneway housing, secondary suites, co-housing and other solutions that don't require us to always build up or out. People don't want the Greenbelt sacrificed for housing, as Ford initially proposed.

Transit was another issue that voters talked about at the door. People in Guelph are still waiting for two-way, all-day GO train service along the Kitchener-Guelph-Toronto corridor. Many people in Guelph want direct express bus service to KW, Hamilton and Cambridge as well. People across the political spectrum responded positively to our bold and honest plan to pay for transit with congestion pricing and parking levies. Even people who disagreed with road pricing or tolls told me they voted Green because I was the only politician with the courage to be honest about how to pay for world-class transit.

Protecting our water supply is a big issue in Guelph since it is one of the largest cities in Canada that still relies only on groundwater. Our plan to strengthen Ontario's water-taking rules and to phase out single-serve water bottling permits resonated strongly at the door in Guelph.

Finally, support for people with disabilities came up a lot at community events and debates. Our fiscally responsible, costed plan to raise benefit rates immediately up to the low-income measure was supported by people across the political spectrum.

Chris Glover: Spadina-Fort York is one of the fastest growing areas in the country and making sure this development creates neighbourhoods with green space, parks, recreation centres, schools and daycares is essential to creating vibrant, healthy communities. We also need to provide better protections for condo owners who are often stuck with huge repair bills because the best materials were not used in the original construction, to create affordable housing options through co-ops and rent control because too many people are being priced out of the market, and to build more transit.

Peter Tabuns: There is a desperate need for affordable housing. People find themselves retiring and realizing that they cannot afford their rent on their pensions and can see no option that left them with a decent place to live. Similarly, people badly need child care which they can afford but cannot access.

Laura Mae Lindo: People talked about health-care wait times, the need for better mental health supports for children and young adults, long wait lists and huge quality of care problems in long-term care homes, fear of privatization, incomes not keeping up with the cost of living, the need to better equip local schools with mental health support and smaller class sizes. They talked about literally having to choose between paying for groceries or paying for prescriptions for their children. We talked about the need for jobs -- paid apprenticeships, jobs for new graduates (approx 2,100 live right here in Kitchener Centre). Another issue was the need to turn reconciliation into action by taking seriously the needs of urban Indigenous families living in Kitchener Centre. There are also ongoing challenges of ODSP not keeping up with the cost of living in Kitchener Centre and the need for a poverty reduction strategy. 

I met a woman with a PhD in Education who was unable to find work in Kitchener. She is a single mother who graduated while taking care of her child who needed pretty expensive medication. She had to go on social assistance to survive and no matter how many jobs she applied to, she was not able to get hired. Having a PhD in Education myself, we sat and chatted at length. I was shocked to find out that she is part of a network of unemployed people with doctorates who are not receiving the support they need to break into the job market. But I was even more dismayed to find out that she was being told that her social assistance would soon be cut off and she didn't know what she was going to do. She looked right at me and told me that having this honest conversation about what living in Kitchener Centre is really like for families like hers and hearing about a plan to really fight for everyday people was the first time that she felt some hope. We are still in touch and I send her any postings that I find about jobs as they come past my desk. 

I met an entrepreneur who was working diligently to build her business for herself and her daughter who required additional mental health support. Having to find the money to pay out of pocket for therapists not covered by OHIP, she told me that she had to choose between filling her daughter's prescription or paying for groceries right here in Kitchener Centre.

I met a man who had been homeless and was now living in a house just steps away from the bridge he used to sleep under. He had found a way to buy his home, had married and was struggling to raise his children given the steadily increasing cost of living in the city. And though he was cynical about politicians and wasn't sure he could believe that they would actually fight for him, something shifted in our conversation when he realized that we had a plan -- a plan to address poverty in the city. A plan to make life easier for families. A plan to provide better supports for those in need. A plan that was based on real hope for a better future in Kitchener and across Ontario. A conversation that started with great reservation ended with a handshake and his wishing me good luck.

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?

Mike Schreiner: We need progressives to be active both politically and with organizations that support the most vulnerable in our communities. We have to resist cutbacks in essential public services and support the people most negatively affected by cuts.

It could be a long four years with early indications that Premier Ford plans to wage war against the environment. Opposing pollution pricing and cancelling programs that help people save energy will hurt Ontario's economy and take us backwards on climate.

I'm trying to find ways to work with the new government because opposition alone will make progress hard on climate change and social justice issues. I plan to show the new government how climate action will create jobs and help people save money on their energy bills.

But if the Conservatives insist on taking us backward, people and politicians will need to resist.

We need people to become active politically, mobilizing against cuts to public services, social assistance programs and climate denial. Public pressure forced candidate Ford to backtrack on his secret plan to open the Greenbelt for development. So we need people to show their outrage if he cuts public services or guts environmental legislation.

It will take us all working together to engage and mobilize people in our communities. I truly believe most Ontarians will defend the people and places they love in this province if they see the new government threatening what makes this such a great place to live, work, play and enjoy family and community time.

France Gélinas: I need people to continue to share their stories if they are admitted into an unconventional room in a hospital, to continue to demand changes for better care in our long-term care homes, for dental care they can afford, for a pharmacare program and the list goes on.

Peter Tabuns: Activists will have to organize to make their issues visible and they will have to organize in a way that touches and mobilizes people. Often people get caught up with the looks of a right-wing government instead of looking for the issues that will demonstrate the lack of concern for peoples' everyday lives. The need is there to organize around protection of minimum wage standards, environmental protection and health care in a way that is compelling and knocks Ford back on his heels.

Chris Glover: We need to work together to protect public education, public health care and the services that make Ontario a great province to live in. Any threat to cut these should be met with a coordinated response. The 15 and Fairness campaign is already off to a good start with a very successful rally in Toronto and organizing meetings across Ontario. I look forward to working with people from across the province to fight for a progressive Ontario that is a better place to live for all of  us.

Terence Kernaghan: Grassroots organizing has already begun in communities across Ontario. I am so proud to stand alongside my party to fight for change. The NDP platform is our vision for the change we need in Ontario, including pharmacare, dental care, improving health care, seniors care, mental health, education, and fostering true reconciliation with Indigenous communities. We need to make it loud and clear that while Ford may have a majority government, he does not have the majority support of Ontario's voters. The Conservatives do not have a mandate to make even more cuts to our essential services and we need to fight to keep our public services public. I know that all of us will be there to fight Ford every step of the way.

Laura Mae Lindo: More than 60 per cent of Ontarians did not vote for Doug Ford -- and I don't believe people voted for cuts, privatization and the sell-off of things that belong to Ontario. I don't believe people want to see mass layoffs in health care and education; and that's what we need to work together to stop. To stop Doug Ford's cuts and privatization, we need to be united, now. It'll be critical for progressives, activists and families across the province to come together -- join us to protect our province, and keep fighting for that vision for change for the better.

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