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Two separate protests outside Queen’s Park as MPPs return for new legislative session

Posted: October 5, 2021

(October 4, 2021)

By: Mike Walker, CTV News Toronto

TORONTO — Calls for long-term care reform, as well as better wages for nurses, echoed outside the Queen’s Park on Monday during two separate protests as MPP’s returned to work for the start of a new legislative session.

As the Ford government delivered it’s throne speech, more than a dozen nurses rallied outside Queen’s Park demanding the province immediately repeal Bill 124, which limits wage increases to one percent over three years.

“Every year our salaries get further and further away from a living wage … It’s not appropriate and people are leaving the profession because there is no future,” said emergency room registered nurse Helen Winter.

The protest is the second in two days organized by advocacy groups Ontario Nurses United and Nurse with Signs.

In addition to repealing Bill 124, which the Ford government introduced in 2019, nurses are also calling for a retention plan to address the increasing staffing shortage amid the pandemic.

“There’s not one shift that goes by where we are five nurses short – patients are waiting longer, there’s no beds for patients, it’s a snowball effect,” said registered nurse Nancy Halupa. “They keep talking about hiring new nurses, but there is not talk of retention – if there’s no nurses left to train the new ones coming out, then there’s no profession left.”

A spokesperson for the president of the Treasury Board said “Bill 124 is designed to protect public sector jobs and vital frontline services, which are essential in our fight against COVID-19.”

In a separate protest Monday afternoon, more than 100 long-term care advocates and families of residents voiced their frustration with how the province has responded to the crisis in long-term care homes during the pandemic and demanded immediate action from the Ford government.

The protest organized by the Ontario Health Coalition was one of 16 being held across the province on Monday.

“We’re staggered that nothing has happened to improve care in long-term care, it has been promised repeatedly for the last two years and actually nothing has happened,” said executive director Natalie Mehra.

The coalition is calling on the province to immediately fast-track increases in care levels and staffing, better enforcement through the reinstatement of annual surprise inspections, and real accountability through fines, loss of license for repeated non-compliance and an end to for profit long-term care.

“People are not getting the basic care that they need, not one long-term care home – not even the worse has been held accountable in anyway, there has been no justice for the families of the almost 4,000 residents who died in the pandemic in long-term care,” said Mehra.

Among those in attendance expressing concerns over neglect was Michelle Jones, who’s 102 year-old grandmother survived her bout with Covid-19 last November.

“I’m so stressed, I’m exhausted…I have to go in there and do the job of these staff members because there is not enough of them – this is not sustainable,” said Jones.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was called in April 2020 to help seven long-term care homes in Ontario grappling with COVID-19 outbreaks.

A report from the CAF detailed horrifying conditions including neglect, major staffing shortages and a lack of personal protective equipment.

As part of its throne speech, the Ford government outlined its commitment to hire more than 27,000 long-term care workers over four years and plans to table legislation in the fall to help protect long-term care residents through better accountability, enforcement and transparency.

“The staffing and care levels have not improved at all and we’re saying no more false promises – we’re not going to accept anything less than real improve to long-term care,” said Mehra.

The ministry says it’s plan is built on three pillars: staffing and care; accountability, enforcement and transparency; and home infrastructure and development.

“This government has made historic commitments to increasing staffing levels and building new beds – and we’re making good progress on these commitments. We intend to introduce legislation and we are moving to improve accountability in the long-term care sector to ensure residents get the care they deserve,” said a spokesperson for the Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips in a statement to CTV News. “We look forward to working with groups across Ontario to fix long-term care.”

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