Westmount Townhall Report (2017)

Many thanks to all who attended my November 8, 2017 Westmount Townhall Meeting! This report provides a summary of the topics that were discussed. 

In the past, my townhalls have focused on specific issues, such as seniors, student debt, hydro, jobs, long-term care, mental health, and autism. This was my second "ask me anything" neighbourhood townhall meeting, and it was a great opportunity to hear people's thoughts and concerns about a wide range of issues.

When people contact their MPP or share concerns during public townhalls, there are a number of ways that MPPs can help. For example, we can: 

  • resolve the issue by contacting the relevant ministry on the constituent's behalf
  • write a letter to the minister advocating for policy change
  • reach out to the media to raise public awareness of the issue
  • ask a question of the government during Question Period
  • collect signatures on a petition urging the government to act
  • introduce a Private Member's Bill (PMB) to change legislation
  • share constituent stories during legislative debates at Queen's Park
  • incorporate the issue into our party's election platform

As MPP for London West, I have successfully used each of these strategies to solve problems and advance issues on behalf of the people I represent. 

MPP Peggy Sattler welcome to Westmount Townhall

The townhall began with an overview of some of the issues I have been working on locally and with the NDP caucus at Queen's Park: 

  • Chronic hospital overcrowding, the explosion of hallway medicine, and wait-times for orthopedic surgery that are longer in London than anywhere else in Ontario
  • Lack of supports for Londoners struggling with mental health, and the Liberal government's ongoing refusal to approve a local pilot project to help relieve the pressure on hospital mental health services 
  • Unacceptably long waitlists for autism diagnosis and treatment 
  • Crisis facing children's mental health agencies in London and across the province, with 12,000 kids on provincial waitlists  
  • Negative impact of college strike on students and government's failure to avert the strike or help reach a negotiated settlement
  • Auditor General report showing that the Liberals spent an extra $4B to finance their $40B hydro borrowing scheme
  • Financial Accountability Officer's projected annual 6.8% increase in hydro rates after June 2018 election 
  • Ontario NDP push to expand the scope of the enquiry into long-term careto include staffing, quality and system capacity
  • Urgent need to increase the stock of affordable housing and improve the condition of social housing
  • Challenges created by high cost of child care in London for middle-income families who don't qualify for subsidy but can't afford the equivalent of a second mortgage
  • Troubling statistics released on London's low rate of workforce participation (lower than any major city in Canada), coupled with some of the highest rates of opioid hospitalization and child poverty.

Crowd at Westmount Townhall

HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUES RAISED 

1. Mental Health, Health Care, and Long-Term Care

  • Severe shortage of mental health beds is forcing patients to wait days in the LHSC emergency department hallway, with one constituent waiting 11 days for a mental health bed. 
  • Too many people with mental health needs are in the criminal justice system or incarcerated at EMDC, instead of receiving the care they need from the health care system. 
  • Hospital parking fees are too high, with profits going to the private business that operate the lots.
  • People with long-term care crisis designations often have no choice but to take the first long-term care bed available. With long wait lists for basic beds, the only available long-term care beds are often semi-private, which are not eligible for subsidy. This forces low-income seniors who urgently require long-term care, and would qualify for subsidy if a basic bed was available, to pay the full cost of a semi-private bed, creating significant financial pressures for other family members. 

2. Education and Employment

  • Urgent need to review education funding formula! 
  • Mismatch between job openings and skills of graduates entering the labour market. 

3. Political Engagement 

  • Young people don't see politics as relevant, and unless they do, they won't make the effort to become engaged in the political process.
  • Liberal policies are almost entirely focused on what will benefit the GTA, with little attention paid to regional issues and priorities.

4. Hydro 

  • Instead of rewarding Ontarians for reducing energy consumption, the Liberals have allowed hydro rates to increase even as usage declines. 
  • Locked-in private sector energy contracts have resulted in surplus electricity, which is then given away to neighbouring US states while the cost of hydro goes up for Ontarians.

6. Persons with Disabilities

  • Complete lack of supports for young adults with disabilities, especially as they transition from child to adult system, with almost no funding available for respite or community day programs.
  • Unacceptably long waitlists for Passport funding and lack of transparency about the list. 
  • More accessible parking will be needed to deal with aging population.

7. Housing

  • Rents are far too high, especially for people on social assistance, which forces tenants to choose between paying the rent or paying their hydro bills.
  • Developers are choosing to build high-rise luxury condos instead of affordable housing. 

8. Regulatory Oversight

  • Ongoing safety concerns about trucks on highways highlights the need for improved regulation of trucking industry.

9. Immigrant Services

  • Services must address the needs of newcomers who arrive as refugees and are dealing with experiences of war and trauma 

MPP Peggy Sattler at Westmount Townhall

PEGGY'S RESPONSES 

1. Mental Health, Health Care, and Long-Term Care

  • After hearing from London West constituent Angela Cameron-Jolly, who was forced to wait a week at LHSC for a mental health bed, I pushed repeatedly for government approval of a pilot project proposed by Middlesex-London EMS, LHSC, and the CMHA Crisis Centre. The pilot would allow ambulances to divert non-acute mental health patients from the hospital emergency to the crisis centre, relieving some of the pressure on LHSC mental health beds. Unfortunately, instead of moving ahead quickly with a London pilot, the Liberal government instead introduced legislative changes that will take up to two years to fully implement. It will be well into 2018 before the additional 24 mental health beds promised by the Liberals in October 2017 become available. 
  • To address the crisis in mental health and improve coordination of mental health services that are currently delivered by 11 different ministries, the Ontario NDP has committed to the establishment of a stand-alone Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. I was pleased to speak in support of this proposal when it was debated in the Ontario Legislature.  
  • The Ontario NDP has committed to expanding the scope of the current enquiry into long-term care, which would allow issues such as funding and access to subsidy to be addressed. At my Seniors Care Townhall, a wide range of long-term care issues and concerns were identified by those who attended.  

2. Education and Employment

  • The Liberals have consistently failed to follow through on their promise to review the education funding formula.  Almost all of the current issues in education -- school closures, lack of support for students with special needs, deteriorating school buildings in desperate need of repair -- are the result of a flawed funding formula. The Ontario NDP has committed to a full funding formula review. We have also committed to the development of new school closure guidelines that allow for meaningful parent and community engagement in school closure decisions. 
  • There is an urgent need for provincial government leadership to guide the collection and dissemination of local labour market information. This information will help students make informed career choices, assist postsecondary institutions to develop relevant programming, and connect employers to job-ready graduates.  

3. Political Engagement 

  • Political parties must improve efforts to understand the issues that youth care about most, like climate change and income inequality, and ensure that political platforms speak to youth priorities.
  • Many provincial decisions have a direct impact on young people, for example, school closures, high postsecondary tuition fees, lack of affordable housing, an unstable labour market, and the high cost of child care. Ontario has been identified as the province with the second worst economy for young people.   
  • I have been an outspoken critic of Liberal policies that put the needs of the GTA ahead of London.

4. Hydro 

  • For 20 years, Liberal and Conservative governments have signed fixed rate long-term private contracts that have made energy insiders wealthy, while leaving Ontarians paying for surplus electricity that cannot be used. In her 2015 report, the Auditor General reported that Ontario paid other jurisdictions $32.6 million to take our surplus energy. An NDP government will review every private sector energy contract, so that bad contracts can be cancelled or not renewed.   
  • Hydro rate increases are regularly approved that make hydro even more unaffordable for Ontarians. The Liberals' privatization of Hydro One will mean more requests for rate increases, with private sector shareholders seeking to maximize profits. The NDP hydro plan will bring Hydro One back into public hands, so rates are publicly controlled.       
  • When the Liberals began the sell-off of Hydro One, the Financial Accountability Officer stated that the privatization of Hydro One will hurt Ontarians. This was confirmed in the FAO's updated analysis of the impact of the sale.   

6. Persons with Disabilities

  • According to Community Living London, there are 1,300 people with developmental disabilities in London and Middlesex on the wait list for residential and respite services. An additional 13,600 people are waiting for residential supports across Ontario – on a wait list that has continued to grow despite scathing reports from the Auditor General in 2014 and the Ontario Ombudsman in 2016.   
  • My office has advocated on behalf of specific individuals for Passport funding, sometimes with success. 
  • I have spoken to the Minister of Community and Social Services about this critical issue, and have written letters urging immediate action.  
  • I held a media conference to raise awareness of London's "50 year wait list" to access supportive housing for persons with complex physical needs.  

7. Housing

  • Many London families struggle to find affordable housing
  • London's hot housing market has resulted in a more than 20% increase in the price of detached homes in 2017 alone. 
  • 3,400 Londoners are waiting for rent-geared-to-income housing, with half waiting for one-bedroom units. City-wide vacancy rates for one-bedroom units are as low as 1%. and many of the available units are luxury condos.
  • Inclusionary zoning would require developers to set aside a portion of new residential units as affordably-priced homes. However, the Liberals have watered down the regulations, which means that few affordable units will be built. 
  • The Ontario NDP has committed to an equitable one-third split of the cost of affordable housing, alongside the federal government and municipalities like London. 

8. Regulatory Oversight

  • With commercial vehicles involved in a quarter of all fatal collisions investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police, the Ontario NDP has called on the government to investigate the Ontario trucking industry and order a coroner's review.

9. Immigrant Services

  • Agencies like the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration provide vital services for both Muslim and non-Muslim immigrant families, but face ongoing funding challenges. London has welcomed more refugee newcomers than many other communities, whose experiences of war and trauma make the need for specialized services even more important. 

MPP Sattler closing remarks at Westmount Townhall

REQUESTS FOR FOLLOW-UP INFORMATION

What is the NDP's position on the age restrictions in the new cannabis legislation?
When I spoke to the legislation on November 20, 2017 I highlighted the weak penalties set out in the legislation for selling cannabis to persons under 19 years of age, which were much less than penalties for selling alcohol or tobacco to minors. The bill was later amended to fix this inconsistency. I also raised a concern about the lack of information about compensation for cities like London for the additional costs involved in enforcing the legislation.   

Are businesses required to have accessible parking? 
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) only requires that new or redeveloped parking spaces meet accessibility guidelines. The requirement has been in place since January 1, 2017 for businesses with more than 50 employees, and since January 1, 2018 for businesses with less than 50 employees.   

What are the current rules for hospital parking fees?
Hospital parking fees are frozen until March 2019.  Hospitals that charge more than $10 per visit are required to provide discounted 5, 10 and 30-day passes.

I hope you find this report interesting and informative. If you were not able to attend the Westmount Townhall, several more townhalls are planned in February and March (see my website for details).  As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions!

Sincerely,

Peggy Sattler, MPP
London West