Ontario Legislature Update
The Ontario Legislature often returns from their summer break in mid-September and continues with the work they had started before the break. But, with the federal election in full swing this September, the government chose to prorogue the legislature (end the current session) and return on October 4th with a new session. So, following the extended break, with the provincial election in June 2022 coming into sight, the Ontario Legislature has been quite busy over the past month. Some of this activity is particularly worth noting.
Every new session of the Legislature begins with a speech from the throne. In the speech, where the government can share their priorities, the government once again emphasized the importance of prioritizing health and long-term care moving forward. The opposition is also keen to share their priorities leading up to the election and many of their private members’ bills also have a focus on health and long-term care. Over 35 bills have been introduced in the past few weeks. Some of these prioritize important policies which align with various recommendations in ARPA Canada’s recent elder care policy report. Others focus on more concerning policy options.
When a legislature is prorogued, all bills that have not been passed need to start the process over. This was the case with the More Than a Visitor Act. MPP Lisa Gretzky has re-introduced this bill which recognizes the value of care from family and friends for residents in a formal care setting. This bill, if passed, would allow designated caregivers to visit residents in congregate care settings, to provide physical and tangible support – even during a pandemic. The More Than a Visitor Act has been reintroduced as Bill 19. As when this bill was first introduced, we encourage you to send an EasyMail to your MPP in support of this legislation.
Another of ARPA’s elder care recommendations is that governments work with care homes to develop minimum staffing requirements for long-term care. Bill 14, the Time to Care Act, seeks to ensure that long-term care residents have at least four hours a day of nursing and personal support services. Last year, the government committed to having this in place by 2024-25 and shows the same priority in recent long-term care legislation. Last year, the Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission also provided recommendations to the government, many of which were in line with ARPA Canada’s recommendations on Elder Care. Another private member’s bill, Bill 4, seeks to ensure that the Ontario government implements those recommendations and reports on the progress being made.
Bill 6, the Jobs and Jabs Act, is another private member’s bill that many Ontarians have been paying attention to. This bill would prohibit employers from intimidating or dismissing employees based on their vaccination status or their refusal to disclose vaccination status. On the surface, the intent of the bill is helpful, with its desire to ensure that employees are not penalized based on their personal medical decisions. However, we also ought to be concerned when the government tells private businesses who they can and cannot fire. Because the legislature randomly draws ballots for when private members’ bills will be discussed, this bill will not be on the agenda for 2nd reading until March 2022.
There are also two different private members bills that seek to ban COVID-19 protests outside of hospitals and other health facilities. This is concerning because Ontarians should be allowed to protest if they choose, as long as they are not breaking existing laws around obstruction, trespassing, or other misbehaviours. You can read some further commentary on this topic here. If you are concerned about this, you can also send an EasyMail to your MPP here.
Another bill of concern is Bill 17, the Gender Affirming Health Care Advisory Committee Act. This bill seeks to create an advisory committee that would make recommendations to the Minister of Health with regards to “improving access to and coverage for gender-affirming health care.” The bill goes on to define gender-affirming health care as “procedures, medical treatments and referral processes that align a patient’s body and physical presentation with their gender identity.” Recommendations from the committee would likely include things like improving access and coverage for procedures related to gender transition, expanding OHIP coverage for various sex-change treatments, and how to “define gender-affirming health care procedures as lifesaving procedures.”
Bill 17 explicitly promotes and normalizes sex-change surgeries and other medical procedures and treatments for gender dysphoria, instead of supporting body-affirming counselling for those who struggle with their gender and sexuality. The Gender Affirming Health Care Advisory Committee Act has already passed second reading with all-party support and has been forwarded to the Standing Committee on Social Policy for further study.
We mention just a few of the current bills on the Ontario agenda to look at some of the priorities that MPPs have been promoting with the return of the Legislature. We can continue to encourage our elected representatives to promote positive elder care, including prioritizing the involvement of family caregivers and ensuring adequate staffing ratios in long-term care homes. At the same time, we can point out areas of concern where our MPPs do not view the role of the government correctly, or where they have an improper understanding of healthcare and its purposes. As some of these bills progress, we will provide updates and action items as necessary.