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“Mind your elders, Michael.”  That phrase was an important part of the family values that I was taught.  One that I am proud to continue to practice every day.  It is well known that around the world, many societies, nations and cultures have differing perspectives on generational values and interaction with society.  For example, Chinese Confucian law promotes great respect on the family unit with particular emphasis on older citizens.  The same can be said for other Eastern cultures and some of Latin origin.  Here in North America, I have long admired the emphasis that Indigenous Peoples put on honouring and respecting their elders.

To be clear, the sage advice to “mind our elders” does not just mean that we must be polite to them.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  When we are taught to mind our elders it means that we must listen to what they have to say and consider the messages they have to pass down to us.  Having lived longer than us, our elders have experienced so much and figured things out long before we came along.  Give them credit as they may know a lot more than we think.  Often times they have walked more than a mile in our shoes and have the benefit of seeing matters from perspectives just not evident to us yet.

It is also important to keep in mind that many of our elders also understand that life-long learning is a two way street.  They are often just as eager to learn from us.  In fact, one of my office team members has a parent who took up servicing computers as a hobby at around age 70.  Now a year from being 90, he is still fixing them and even rebuilding them from discarded equipment.

New Democrats learned these lessons long ago and believe that Ontario can do better in terms of appreciating, respecting and protecting our senior loved ones.  The recent loss of so many of our seniors to the pandemic has in some ways helped us open our eyes and hearts to truly re-examine our values and actions in this regard.  As horrific as these losses are, many of which were preventable with better decision making by both Conservative and Liberal government, the one good thing that may come out of this is to right the lack of respect and value that we have been putting on the lives of our senior population.

Doug Ford didn’t invest in protecting seniors during the pandemic, and nearly 4,000 precious loved ones died in the midst of a humanitarian disaster where people were dying of neglect.  But the problems didn’t start or end with COVID.  Right now in Ontario, long-term care staff are run off their feet.  Some people are left immobile until they develop painful bed sores.  Many can’t get help with the basics, like brushing their teeth, getting to the bathroom on time, or eating and drinking enough.

After years of cuts and privatization by Liberal and Conservative governments, the majority of nursing homes in Ontario are owned by for-profit corporations, focused on keeping staffing costs low so they can pocket more profits.

Doug Ford chose not to staff up care homes as COVID-19 tore through them.  In contrast, British Columbia quickly hired 7,000 new long-term care staff and Quebec added 10,000 new staff to protect seniors from COVID-19.  Their success offers proof that an urgent staff increases are possible, contrary to what Doug Ford says.

This is not just political grandstanding.  There is clear evidence that there are problems with Ontario’s senior care policies.  According to Ontario’s Auditor General, people who need home care often get less than they need and less than they’re entitled to.  As well, location can determine the level of care a person gets.  In 2019, the Ontario Community Support Association said 18,000 people living in long-term care could have been at home with better home care, and the Ontario Hospital Association reported 750,000 patient days where someone was stuck in a hospital bed while waiting for home or long-term care.

This is not just unsatisfactory, it’s neglectful, cruel and causes unnecessary hardship and stress.

My NDP colleagues and I have been fighting for a minimum four-hour standard of care for years — but Doug Ford has pushed the goal off to 2025.  From recent events, it is clear that our seniors can’t wait that long.  They need the four-hour standard to be legislated urgently, and fully implemented before the end of 2021.  The NDP is committed to establishing realistic minimum of care standards that will protect Ontarians quality of life, both now and in the future, as we age, instead of taking it away.

The NDP instead envisions guaranteeing having enough staff in nursing homes to actually get the job done.  Our elders deserve to actually enjoy meals that aren’t rushed.  They deserve to count on receiving assistance with their hygiene that respects their dignity.  Imagine the peace of mind families could have knowing there’s someone to listen, to care, and to protect our parents and grandparents when we can’t be there.

There is so much that can be done to improve the lives of Ontario’s senior population.  The NDP has developed a long-term care platform that is realistic and will stand up to scrutiny.  Any long-term care policies must include concrete plans to:

·       Overhaul home care to help people live at home longer

·       Make all long-term care public and not-for-profit

·       Build small, modern, family-like homes

·       Staff up with full-time, well-paid, well-trained caregivers

·       Make family caregivers partners

·       Create culturally responsive, inclusive and affirming care

·       Clear the wait list

·       Guarantee new and stronger protections

Our elders have paved the way for us and now it is time to show them the respect that they have earned.  As a society, Ontario can and must do better.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.  You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha MPP/député

Algoma-Manitoulin

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