The Vigil mentioned at Queen's Park

Twice local then-Member of Provincial Parliament raised the vigil in the Ontario Parliament (Queen's Park):

May 1, 1997

Ontario Hansard - 01-May 1997

Mr John Gerretsen (Kingston and The Islands): It was 79 Fridays ago that the Sisters of Providence of St Vincent de Paul began holding vigils at Kingston's city hall. They have since been joined by other citizens from the community such as the Kingston Action Network.

The vigils are silent but send a powerful message of solidarity with the most vulnerable in our society, especially women and children, who are bearing the brunt of relentless government cuts to social, health and education spending.

Normally these vigils take place at noon. Sometimes protesters draw even more attention to their cause, as they have, through forming a candlelight circle around city hall and by displaying a six-foot cross on Good Friday. The occasional evening vigil aims at allowing more people to participate.

On behalf of the sisters, I would like to invite members of the public to join them at city hall in Kingston tomorrow, May 2, at 5:30 pm.

In the words of Sister Pauline Lally, "Your peaceful presence at this demonstration will help urge governments to consider the causes of poverty and unemployment, for more things are wrought by non-violent solidarity than the world dreams of."

Governments, stop attacking the weak, the vulnerable, the unemployed, the old and the young in our society, and instead build a society of harmony, goodwill and compassion, especially to the less fortunate in our society.

December 7, 1998

Ontario Hansard - 07-December1998

Mr Gerretsen: I listened very closely to the member for Chatham-Kent. The first point I'd like to make is that when he said he thought it would be easier to work for the people of Ontario to try to get some changes to our system, and all those kinds of comments, the thought that kept going through my mind was, "Yes, let's make sure we make things better for the people of Ontario, but let's make sure we do it for all of the people of Ontario."
The thing I'm bothered by is this attitude of this government that somehow things are better when things really aren't better. Let me give you an example. Right in today's paper we read of the Progress of Canada's Children report, which is put together annually. It states that our kids' lives are worsening. The state of their "well-being is declining on more than half of nine indicators - from health to economic security.

"Poor children are getting poorer and they're suffering more."

That is not a partisan issue. That is something we should all do something about, irrespective of party. We should be working on that because that, to my way of thinking, is totally and completely unacceptable in a country and province that have as much to offer as Canada and Ontario.

Most of the people I talk to out there get the distinct impression that this government wants certain people in our society under certain circumstances to do better, but the gap, as we've talked about earlier already today, between the rich and the poor is widening all the time. I would think that is unacceptable, regardless of whether you're a Tory, a New Democrat, a Liberal or an independent thinker out there; it doesn't matter. This is an unacceptable circumstance and condition we find ourselves in.

There's another report in the same paper which refers to the fact that here in the city of Toronto 37% of our children, 400,000 children, live in poverty. That surely is unacceptable.

When they see the actions this government has taken over the last three years, most people I've talked to have come to the conclusion that a lot of the government's activities have been basically to attack these situations; not to attack them in the sense of trying to resolve them, but attacking in the sense of certainly not making it better for the people who live in poverty and the children who are poor in our society.

Today I picked up a little publication, a pamphlet that's put together by the Interfaith Witness for Social Justice and Compassion here at Queen's Park. Apparently, since October 1995 this organization has maintained a weekly vigil here at Queen's Park from 12 noon to 1:30 to protest the injustices of the Harris government.

We've had a similar group that has been operating in my community of Kingston, where for half an hour every Friday since August of 1995 this group, headed by the Sisters of Providence in Kingston, has been holding silent vigils to protest the cuts in social assistance and the cuts in services to the poor in our society.

What drew my attention to this particular pamphlet was a limerick which was inspired by the Harris government. I would like to take this opportunity to read it to you and to the people of Ontario. I think it's very well done, and it really tells a story in a different sort of way. It says:

We vigil every week at Queen's Park

In all weather - not really a lark.

So what's good use of leisure

Is quite hard to measure.

We hope we are making a mark.

There's a guy at Queen's Park called Harris

His program is beginning to scare us.

If he thinks it a cure

To take from the poor

Then, from common "nonsense," please spare us.

Downsizing is negative construction

Ideology of growth by reduction

But short-term thinking

Is a kind of hoodwinking

And the slippery slope to destruction.

The Tories are as mean as they come

For now each has a political plum.

But come next election

We'll make a selection

So they'll be the welfare bum!

A second term is Harris's goal.

For that he'll need a good poll.

So his sudden passion

For hep C compassion,

Is a kind of damage control.

Now nothing can be more obscene

Than Mike on the TV screen

But perhaps we'll get closure

From overexposure

And he'll soon just be a has-been.

We vigilers are birds of a feather

We witness in all kinds of weather.

In rain, hail or snow

We want you to know

Getting justice means working together.

If my friend the member for Chatham-Kent and the backbenchers in the government are really interested in working for all of the people of Ontario, I would just like to remind them about those kids, the 37% of our kids who live in poverty; or about the fact that the disparity between the rich and the poor is ever-growing in this province. That is certainly something they have done absolutely nothing about.

The other point I wanted to very briefly raise today - and I see that the minister is back in the House, and we welcome her; I've got a lot of regard for the Minister of Citizenship and Culture - deals with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that has just been introduced. I know that groups out there have been complaining about the act. We have been complaining about the fact that the act really doesn't do anything.

I would like to read a very short paragraph in a letter I received that was an open letter to Mike Harris. I know all members of the Legislature received a copy of this letter as well. It's written by the president of the Ontario March of Dimes. I think all of us in the Legislature know of the tremendous hard work that the March of Dimes has done over the years for our disabled community. I know they operate in just about every community in Ontario. We can all be extremely proud of the work they've done. Let's just hear for a moment what they have to say about the current Ontarians with Disabilities Act as introduced by the minister. I'm reading from that part of the letter which deals with the ODA. It states:


"As you know, during the last election, you" - meaning Mike Harris - "made a promise that your government would introduce an Ontarians with Disabilities Act during its first term. The three-page act your government introduced does nothing to address the vast range of barriers that confront persons with disabilities. The act does not require government to remove or prevent a single barrier. There is no requirement for consultation, there is no duty to comply. It does not bestow any increased rights, and it most certainly has nothing to do with the resolution passed unanimously in the Legislature on October 29, which called for a strong, meaningful and effective ODA.

"To refer to the proposed legislation as an Ontarians with Disabilities Act is misleading and unacceptable."

I'm reading from the letter. These are not my words; these are the words of Duncan Read, president of the Ontario March of Dimes. He continues:

"While there may be cost implications to implement a comprehensive ODA which conflict with the goals of the Common Sense Revolution, we had hoped that your government would recognize the economic benefits of full societal participation of persons with disabilities and make a genuine effort to remove physical barriers.

"Introducing legislation with the name Ontarians with Disabilities Act, but which lacks substance negates the goodwill of your government. There are 1.5 million Ontarians (close to a million voters), who will benefit by the effective removal of barriers, and a whole province that will benefit from an increasingly independent and productive population.

"We urge you to fulfill your promise and eagerly await the introduction of legislation worthy of the name Ontarians with Disabilities Act."

There is no way that anybody could say it better than the president of the Ontario March of Dimes, and it's not too late. It's not too late for the minister to go back to the cabinet table and say to Mike Harris and her fellow colleagues in cabinet: "The act that we have introduced simply isn't adequate. Let us do something meaningful. Let us live up to our promises. Let us introduce a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act." I'm absolutely positive, from the people I've heard in my community, that there isn't anybody who has been awaiting this act who feels that the act as currently introduced is anywhere near adequate. Minister, please do the right thing. Introduce a meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as called for by Mr Read in his letter to your Premier on November 26.

The other thing I want to talk about very briefly in the few minutes I have left is the state of our Ontario health care system. I know many of us are going around seeing lots of people, maybe doing a little bit of pre-election canvassing to see what the mood of the people is out there. I have done so extensively over the last couple of months, and I can tell you that there is no issue about which Ontarians feel stronger than a good-quality health care system. I know that people in my area are confused with the system as it currently operates in my community of Kingston, feel that there have been major changes and that there is a deterioration of health care services.

As you know, we in Kingston have a medical health sciences complex and we have a medical school at Queen's University. It's the smallest of the five that operate in the Kingston area, and as a result of the Harris destruction or restructuring commission, one of our hospitals is being closed. The Hotel Dieu is being closed, a hospital that has operated in the Kingston community for 153 years. A petition was taken up to ensure that the Hotel Dieu would stay open, and it was signed by 66,000 individuals, which is quite impressive in a total community catchment area of probably some 150,000 people, but the way it is right now, depending upon what happens in the court action, it looks as if the government may actually get its wish and close the hospital.

When you sort out what has happened with all the finances relating to the hospital system, you pretty quickly come to the conclusion that a minimum of $25 million per year has been taken out of the hospital health care system in the Kingston area as a result of all this restructuring. Their total budget has gone from about $250 million to less than $225 million as a result of all the restructuring. This was always sold to the people of my area on the basis of, "Don't worry, we are going into a system of community health care which is different than the hospital-focused care we have had."

It's very ironic. In exactly the same week that the Hotel Dieu Hospital was given its final sentence of having to close as a health care facility, what was the other thing that happened of major consequence to my community? I'll tell you. Some 2,000 patients in the Kingston area were cut off from their home care services. The local CCAC, community care access centre, felt that because it didn't have the money, it had to cut off 2,000 individuals, people who had been receiving home care and could no longer receive home care, because it didn't have enough money.

As it turned out, none of the $25 million in health care costs that has been permanently taken out of my community has gone into community care. I have heard of some - not only heard of some but seen some very frightening situations. I was in a home the other day where a 74-year-old, not in very good health, said: "Mr Gerretsen, we don't know what to do. Our home care has been significantly reduced," I believe from two hours per day to one hour per week. I said: "I feel very sorry for you. Maybe there's something that can be done about it." Then the lady went on to say, "It's not for me; it's for my 99-year-old mother." She invited me inside the house, and there was a 99-year-old individual lying on a couch, not able to move, who had received nursing care for two hours per day and who, as a result of the budgetary cuts in the Kingston area, can no longer get that care.

I checked into it, and the executive director and the various other people at the CCAC said, "I'm sorry, we just can't do anything more than the one or two hours at most per week that we can now give this individual, because of budgetary cuts." The irony is this: As a result of this kind of home care cut, either one of two things will happen. I pray to God it won't happen, but it may very well happen. Either the lady is no longer going to be with us very soon, because as a 99-year old she needs care, or she is going to end up in a home or in a hospital at probably about 20 or 30 times the amount that it would cost to send a nurse in there for two hours a day. You tell me. I'd love to hear the minister's comments on this, because if she has an answer, then let's set all partisan differences aside and deal with this kind of situation.

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