Andrea Horwath's Speech to Provincial Council March 5, 2016

Good morning everyone! How are you all?

Bonjour à toutes et à tous ! Je vous remercie de votre présence aujourd’hui.

It’s great to see you!

Wow, we have a busy weekend.  A full agenda, important debate and discussions, and an International Women’s Day March.

And let me begin my remarks by recognizing every woman in this room and every woman that came before us, who worked so hard and so long to bring greater gender equality to our province, our country and our world.

We can be proud of battles won, but I don’t need to tell anyone here that there is so much more to do.  Let us take the opportunity on March 8th to recommit ourselves with pride to that feminist agenda of equality, peace and justice for all. 

When you come right down to it that’s why we are all here today.  What brings us together as New Democrats is our deep commitment to a province and a country where no one is left behind, where inequality is one day eliminated and where the damage that is being done to this beautiful planet is ended and indeed reversed.

I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am to stand everyday with the other 19 members of our caucus, the very first Caucus in Ontario to have a majority of women MPPs, and to take up that challenge each and every day on the floor of the Legislature and in every corner of this province.

How many of our MPPs are here this morning? Can I get our MPPs to stand?!

***[Introduce MPPs in attendance]*** 

Friends, you will know that Kathleen Wynne and the Liberal government recently released their 2016 – 2017 budget.

Heading into this budget, I like many Ontarians was hopeful … Hopeful that the Premier was truly listening to the people of this province. Not just talking about listening and consulting but really listening

Because over the past couple of years, most Ontarians have seen a Premier and a government that looks out-of-step and out-of-touch with the real struggles, the real challenges, and the real hopes of families across this province.

Increasingly, people are talking about their disappointment in Kathleen Wynne. 

Increasingly, people are asking what happened to the change she promised. 

And increasingly, people are questioning her priorities.

They see a Premier who, at every turn, seems more and more preoccupied with the wellbeing and success of the Liberal Party than she is with the wellbeing and success of Ontario families, children and seniors.

And for anyone who doesn’t yet believe this Premier is out-of-touch and not listening, you need only look at the Premier’s decision to ignore more than 80 percent of Ontarians,  listen to a small group of Liberal cabinet ministers and private investors and start selling off Hydro One.

The Liberals chose to put private profits ahead of the priorities of people. And Ontarians are seeing that.

I heard about hydro on every other doorstep in Whitby – Oshawa.

And, by the way, our great candidate Niki Lundquist, the entire campaign team, and everyone who volunteered and donated to help us run a strong by-election campaign.

You all deserve our gratitude and a great big round of applause! Thank-you for your work and your dedication.

I was hopeful that this budget would mark a big shift. And focus on the basics that a government just can’t afford to get wrong. 

The basics like good jobs for young people, who frankly deserve a better start in life than an unpaid internship.

And for countless moms and dads, who are working hard, but are still stuck in low-paying, part-time jobs, with no benefits and no security. Jobs that leave their families on the edge of poverty.

And I have to tell you the Liberals have a new word for this. Not a word of a lie. In the House, on Thursday, the Associate Finance Minister referred to… low paying, insecure, precarious jobs as “contemporary mobile employment”.

Contemporary mobile employment … only the Liberals can make getting screwed over sound modern and exciting.

Seriously, a government should get the basics right.

Like good schools. To ensure that every classroom has the right supports for students.

That’s something parents should be able to trust their government to do.

The basics… like strengthening our public health care, so it’s there when our loved ones need it.

I was optimistic that the Premier would take a hard look around Ontario today. And realize that it’s time for her government to focus on what matters most to people.

Because we have so many strengths in this province. We have so much potential to build the future that we want to share.

And yet.

That’s not where this government is taking us. 

The truth is, that for most people, life is getting harder. 

Families are struggling.

Seniors are still waiting hundreds of days for home care. And years on end for the long-term care they need. It breaks your heart.

Students, who need extra support, are seeing less of it in the classroom.

Les gens du Nord ne peuvent toujours pas compter sur ce gouvernement pour assurer la sécurité des routes dans la saison hivernale. 

In fact, the failure of the brand-new Nipigon Bridge, shows that Northern infrastructure problems are getting worse, not better.

And all of us can see, in our own communities, in our own backyards, that the real needs of people just aren’t being met.

Child poverty is growing again here in the City of Toronto. That’s not what was supposed to happen. The gap between the rich and poor continues to widen.

The wait list for affordable housing in Windsor reached a record high just last week.

And First Nations were forced to declare a State of Emergency in February, because the health needs of Indigenous Peoples are still not being met by the provincial and federal governments.

Shameful doesn’t begin to describe it.

Just calling it wrong doesn’t even begin to actually make things right.

But the truth is that growing inequality, persistent discrimination, and systemic racism continue to shape the lives of far too many people in this province.

In remote Northern communities. And right here, in the heart of our cities.

Years ago, when I worked at the community legal clinic in Hamilton, I saw people coming through our doors every day, who needed help to keep a roof over their head, or take on their employer, who refused to help after they were injured on the job.

People dealing with environmental concerns, and with so many other issues where they needed a hand – and needed someone to care.

And more often than not, the problems that folks were facing were just one part of the poverty, the racism, and the discrimination that they had to deal with on a day-to-day basis, as they tried to live their lives.

Twenty years later, I still hear too many of the exact same stories.

Like the stories I heard from U of T students, over the past few months, who told me about streaming in school. Streaming in school because of skin colour, in this day and age.

And stories like the one that Rahim Thomas, at a youth group called FYI in the riding of York South-Weston, told me. His own story of being questioned by police for doing nothing but sitting on a park bench, while the white man on the next bench was never approached.

Those are the stories we hear in Ontario today.

And I want to thank all of you, and especially our ONDY members, who’ve been working so hard to compel the government to re-open the Anti-Racism Secretariat. 

Together, with leaders and activists in the African- and Caribbean-Canadian communities, and the Muslim community, and so many other racialized communities, we forced the government to take action.

And we’re not going to stop!

Now, we’re going to keep working with people across this province to tackle racism and discrimination in every form it takes! 

We are New Democrats. And we see that there are too many people who are not sharing in the opportunities that this province holds.

Too many people who do not see the growth and prosperity that the Premier likes to boast about.

Too many people, and too many communities, that are being left behind.

It does not need to be that way!

Les choses n’ont pas à rester comme ça. Nous pouvons faire beaucoup mieux !

I hoped that the Premier would see that. And use this budget as the perfect opportunity to start to fix it.

Because we find ourselves at a point, in this province, where we face critical questions.

Are we really going to give up on trying to make life a little easier for people?

Are we really going to accept that the government and the Premier should only work for some people – and not for all Ontarians? 

And are we really going to stand by and watch as inequality grows, the gaps get wider, and more and more people fall through the cracks?

Are we going to let that happen in Ontario?


Will we put the government to work to tackle inequality and inequity?

Will we focus on lifting people up, not cutting down the supports that communities need?

And will we refuse to let two Ontarios grow any further apart?

That is the choice in front of all Ontarians. It is stark. It is real. And it is being played out in the lives of millions of people every day.

And that’s why our work, as New Democrats, is so important today – and over the next two years.

It is up to us to invite people to join together to share our aspirations for this province – and for the future we can build together.

Because when you read through the budget, you can’t help but see what’s missing from the Liberal vision.

There is no plan, in this budget, to repair the damage in our health care system.

For the seventh straight year, hospital funding will not keep up with the rate of inflation. And frontline nurses, like the nurses I sat with and talked to in London this week, know that hospitals will be forced to make even deeper cuts to patient care.

When it comes to post-secondary education, the Liberals did announce that they are reforming the way student assistance is delivered to students.

That’s a good thing.

New Democrats know that students have been calling for these changes for years.

We all know that having the highest tuition fees in the entire country has stood in the way of too many Ontario students.

So, expanding access to university and college is, of course, something that New Democrats support.

But we still have questions about how this is going to roll out.

You know, the Liberals have been trying to say these changes amount to free tuition.

But, we have to be clear. There’s no new money dedicated to making post-secondary education more accessible or affordable in this budget.

And no confirmation of a tuition cap when the new program comes into play.

There’s still an expectation that the lowest-income families will be able to contribute large amounts of money to their kids’ post-secondary education.

And there’s no plan to help graduates who can’t get a handle on their student debt. And still can’t find a good job.

As New Democrats, we want to make this better.

We want to ensure that these fuzzy details are sorted out in a way that helps students.

So, New Democrats will be working hard to make sure that students actually see better access to university and college.

But most importantly, we have to remember that education doesn’t magically start in the first year of university.

It starts in our public schools, from day one.

In fact, it starts with affordable, licensed, public child care – the kind of child care that too many families can’t find and certainly can’t afford!

In this budget, there is no help for parents who need child care. And no plan to reverse the cuts to schools that, last year alone, saw 430 million dollars taken out of our classrooms. 

In fact, what we do see in this budget, are plans that take us in the wrong direction. And leave too many people worse off.

The government admits that they will fall 60,000 jobs short on their job-creation target.

Next thing you know, the Liberals will pull the same trick they pulled with poverty and homelessness – and just stop setting targets and timelines altogether!

On climate change, we’re still waiting for meaningful action.

Of course, we support cap-and-trade. New Democrats have been calling for it for years.

But for cap-and-trade to actually work for all Ontarians, it needs to follow three principles: It needs to be fair, transparent, and effective.

Fair. So that struggling families and Northerners don’t have to foot the whole bill – while the biggest polluters and emitters get a free pass. 

Transparent. To make certain that every dollar collected is used to reduce emissions and doesn’t become the next slush fund for Liberals. 

And, most importantly, it needs to be effective. It needs to work. This can’t simply be more talk of targets that the government has no intention of meeting.

That’s what we need to see.

Dans la lutte contre le changement climatique, nous avons besoin d'un plan d'action qui soit juste, transparent, et efficace.

But that’s not what’s in this budget.

The budget was another missed opportunity to do the right thing.

And on top of all that…

… on top of ignoring the basics and missing real opportunities…

… buried deep in this budget, we see that the Liberals will force most Ontario seniors to pay nearly twice as much for their prescription drugs, starting this summer.

The Premier calls them affluent seniors. Seniors earning 19,500 dollars a year, she calls them affluent.

If ever there was evidence that this Premier and this Liberal government are out of touch with reality, this is it!

Ever since I read that in the budget, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means for Grace, a senior I met at one of our community meetings on Hydro One.

Grace lives in a co-op, here in Toronto. I think she told me she lives on a fixed income of just over 25,000 dollars a year.

She isn’t rich, by any means.

And when we met, she was worried about her hydro bill.

But now, the Liberals want to add to her worries and force seniors like her to grapple with higher drug costs, too.

If she is anything like the average senior, Grace will need at least 8 different medications this year. She’ll have to fill some of those prescriptions every few weeks. 

And now, starting this summer, the cost of her annual deductible will jump by 70 percent – and she will pay more each and every time she fills a prescription. 

I’ve always believed that the most important thing a Leader can do is to put herself in someone else’s shoes.

That’s what I try to do.

I try to think of what higher drug costs will really mean in the lives of Ontario seniors.

And I know it means seniors will miss meals to pinch pennies.

They’ll turn off the heat when they need it most.

And they’ll skip the very medications that keep them healthy and out of hospital. 

Worst of all, forcing most seniors to pay more for drugs undermines the principle at the very heart of public health care.

The principle of universal access to care. Regardless of who you are. Regardless of your income. Regardless of your age!

That’s the principle that seniors built public health care on!

That’s the principle that New Democrats stand up for!

And that’s the principle we should be building pharmacare on, not clawing back drug coverage for the people who need it most!

Seniors, like Grace, simply cannot afford for anyone to take advantage of them. Especially not their own government.

The Premier could have made better choices.

But, once again, the Liberals chose not to…

… on jobs.

… on fighting climate change in a way that actually works.

… and on protecting the basics, like health care and our kids’ schools.

And now, more than ever, we can see two distinct visions for the future of this province. 

There is one view – the Premier’s view – that is far removed from the challenges of struggling families, young parents, and seniors. It’s out-of-touch with the people of Ontario.

And then, there is our view. The view that you and I share.

We believe, as New Democrats, that we have the potential to create a more fair, more equal, and more prosperous future for all Ontarians.

Where we tackle inequality.

And where we close the growing gaps.

That’s why we have such important work to do. In our own ridings. In our neighbours’ ridings. Here in Toronto – and in every corner of Ontario.

...dans les endroits où nous avons des racines profondes. Et dans les communautés qui n’ont jamais voté NPD auparavant.

We need to show up – and show the people of Ontario that we are on their side. We are working for them. 

In fact, when it comes to seniors’ drug costs, we all have the next three weeks to talk to as many seniors as we can – and to let them know what the Liberals are doing.

The Premier says she’s “consulting” until the end of March. Because, apparently, the Liberals need to “consult” just to figure out that a senior earning 19,500 dollars a year is not a rich senior!

We have leaflets here today that you can take canvassing.

We have a petition you can take door-to-door. Or ask your local pharmacist if they’ll take a few copies.

And I hope you’ll all visit seniors organizations in your ridings and let them know that New Democrats are standing up, with them, against higher drug costs.

That’s certainly what I’ll be doing. And that’s what our MPPs will be doing, too.

The next election is just over two years away.

And it’s up to us to offer smart, practical solutions – and to offer real hope.

Not just the hope of a budget that should have been different… 

… but the hope of a new government…

… a smarter, more caring, and more responsible government…

… an NDP government in 2018 that actually works for the people of Ontario!

Because there is no good reason to stand by and watch as two Ontarios grow further apart…

… There is no need to make life harder for families, when we should be giving people a fair break…

… No way to justify the growing gaps in our communities, when the government should be tackling inequality and discrimination in every form they take…

And there is simply no excuse for refusing to act when we know that Ontario can do so much better.

We can build a future where no one is left behind.

So, let’s focus on what we need to do.

Let’s roll up our sleeves.

And, together, let’s do the work…

… today…

… tomorrow…

… this month…

… and this year…

… to make it happen!

Thank-you very much! Merci beaucoup !