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Mehra makes keynote address

Posted: March 5, 2016

(March 5, 2016)

By: Todd Hambleton, Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

CORNWALL – Natalie Mehra, considered to be at the forefront of shaping social policy at the provincial level and beyond, was the keynote speaker Saturday morning at the Cornwall & District Labour Council’s annual 2016 International Women’s Day Breakfast.

The event was held at the Best Western Plus Parkway Inn & Conference Centre, and Mehra, the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, spent 45 minutes touching mainly on economic and social issues, and of course the status of women in the country.

“I think we can all be proud that our federal government now has a cabinet that is 50% women,” Mehra said early in her talk. “It’s about time – the cabinet is starting to represent the diversity of our country in a very real way.”

But not all is trending in the right direction.

“The symbolism of equal representation for women in cabinet covers an alarming set of (economic trends) that are reversing gains in income equality and stretching the gap for far too many women – primarily working class and middle class women,” Mehra said.

“The fact is, an entire generation of Ontarians has grown up in a province that is becoming increasingly unequal. And to a large extent that’s a function of choices, choices that governments make in budgets, trade – which is really corporate rights – deals and social policy. . .it’s hard to imagine how such a rich and beautiful province with so many advantages can see its hard-won gains in equality over a century and a half fall into decline.”

Mehra pointed to economic and social ills from manufacturing work draining out of the province at an accelerating pace over the last decade, government cuts that “are choking social programs that create equity, boost the standard of living and improve life opportunities” and the increasing share of the workforce that’s earning minimum wage, and tied it to the plight of women in Ontario in 2016.

“More and more, circumstances outside our individual control limit our ability to boost our standard of living,” she said.

On the gender cap, Mehra said Ontario women earn an average of $34,500 per year, while men earn $48,500.

“That’s a gendered pay gap of 29.2%,” she said.

Mehra pointed to statistics that show that 550,000 of the 1.3 million children in Canada who live in poverty are from Ontario.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Mehra said. “We need only to look at our own province’s history for an alternative. The relative social and economic equality of Ontarians, which was far from perfect, nevertheless grew and improved up until the current generation.”

Heather Megill, the Cornwall & District Labour Council president, thanked Mehra for her presentation that, at times, was quite gloomy.

“You’ve gotten right into everything, your research is tremendous,” McGill said. “It’s always wonderful to hear you speak. . .but sometimes what you say is very chilling and quite tragic.’

The Cornwall & District Labour Council calls Mehra a warrior woman, the heroine of public medicare whose tireless and informed advocacy continues to protect public healthcare from both “rapacious privatizers on one hand and cash-strapped governments on the other.”

The Ontario Health Coalition is a network of over 400 grassroots community organizations across the province, and dedicated to protecting public healthcare for all.

The OHC says it works to honour and strengthen the principles of the Canada Health Act, led by a shared commitment to core values of equality, democracy, social inclusion and social justice.

International Women’s Day is Tuesday.

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