ontinuing our provincial election coverage The Hoser is foregrounding responses from candidates running across the Greater Toronto Area. The following responses are from campaigns in the Don Valley North riding. If you'd like to support our election coverage, consider contributing to our GoFundMe.
Ostap Soroka - Green Party Candidate
The Hoser: The federal government divested from a responsibility to build public housing in the early 1990s, downloading the responsibility to provinces and municipalities. If your party forms government, how many units of public housing can you commit to building in your first term?
Ostap Soroka: The Green Party of Ontario has committed to building 100k units of public housing in our first term, plus a further 60k units with full wrap-around health and social care, plus 22k units on top of that designed and managed and reserved by and for Indigenous Ontarians.
The Hoser: Bill 124 has frozen public sector wage increases at 1 percent since 2019. Inflation has climbed upwards of six percent in 2022. Will your government keep Bill 124 as provincial law? If not, will you legislate any limitations to public sector workers’ collective bargaining rights?
Ostap Soroka: Under a Green government, Bill 124 will be immediately repealed. Furthermore, we will never under any circumstances limit or hinder collective bargaining (and, on a personal note, I am myself a strong union man of many decades and, given the Greens are the ONLY party not to use a whip, I would be literally the only MPP the riding of Don Valley North could have that would be independent enough to fight for union respect and power even if the party did not, though of course the party is pro-union itself). On top of that, we will increase the minimum wage and peg it to a living wage, so each person in Ontario could meet their basic financial needs with a single job, according to cost-of-living in their area. More specifically, we will also immediately repeal the problematic sections of Bill 106 and allow all healthcare workers to bargain collectively for fair wages, and establish the minimum hourly wage for registered practical nurses at $35 and personal support workers at $25.
The Hoser: Communities and advocates concerned with police violence have for years been demanding a defunding of police services, rerouting that money to public social services. Is this a policy your government would pursue? If so, how much money would you reallocate from current provincial policing budgets?
Ostap Soroka: Previous governments downloaded many social costs onto municipalities. With municipalities covering these costs, there is less money for other vital services such as transit, libraries, community centres, parks and municipal building retrofits. We believe the Ontario government needs to be a partner in helping fund these important services. One of the clearest cases is that of police being used to answer calls of social and mental distress. This does not work and has been shown clearly to all too often make things worse. We will make whatever investments are needed to increase mental health spending to 10% of Ontario’s healthcare budget. We will bring mental health and addiction care under OHIP by offering services provided by psychotherapists, psychologists, social workers, and other regulated professionals. We will provide an immediate base budget increase of 8% to the community mental health sector to increase access to publicly funded care, expand access to publicly funded mental health and addiction treatment beds to reduce or eliminate the need for expensive private care, fully integrate mental health and addictions services into expanded Family Health Teams and walk-in clinics to improve early intervention, include mental health and substance use as part of regular check-ups, and create a much more easily accessible system with round-the-clock access. All this will drastically reduce the need for emergency calls that up to now are misdirected to police. People still will find themselves in distress, however, and will reach out for help. Under the Greens, though, such calls will not be routed to police response but to a new emergency social and mental response unit. Personally, as your MPP, I will vociferously advocate for the cutting of police budgets on the basis of this lessening of responsibility. There is no reason the police should be involved in these cases and no reason they need money that they will only reroute to weaponry and bonuses. These are only a few of the elements of our plan to address such needs. Please see our Platform, pages 6-8, for more information about increased supports to those with social, mental, and addiction care needs, as well as those with complex care and support needs; and pages 22-24 for our plans to address the concerns too long ignored by equity deserving groups in Ontario, specific to this discussion being our plans to eradicate systemic racism by fully funding the Anti-Racism Directorate, reversing the recent Ford cuts, requiring anti-racism and anti-oppression training for all public sector employees and legislators. requiring the Ontario Public Service to commit to eliminate racism and discrimination, conduct random external audits, data collection and reporting, and establish a safe harassment and discrimination reporting system for staff, passing the Our London Family Act to change the way we address Islamophobia in Ontario, ensuring Indigenous communities are served by Indigenous-led child welfare providers to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in provincial care, addressing the overrepresentation of Black children in provincial care by the development of frameworks to provide culturally appropriate services to Black children, youth and families, identifying and addressing existing standards and structures that continue to harm Black families, providing annual reports on the number and proportion of Black and Indigenous children who are in care, and establishing an independent office to investigate claims of unfair treatment by caseworkers called in to assess a child’s circumstances.
Most directly, we will address discrimination in our justice system by banning the practice of carding and deleting existing data that has been collected from carding in the past, reforming the Special Investigation Unit to ensure transparency and justice for racialised individuals who are victims of violence and discrimination at the hands of law enforcement, acknowledging and committing to addressing the disproportionately violent and discriminatory law enforcement experienced by Indigenous, Black and racialised people, decriminalising drug use, expanding safe consumption sites, and shifting funding from the justice system to healthcare, develop a 3-digit dedicated crisis response line and health-focused crisis response teams to respond to mental health and substance related calls, ensuring that court mental health workers are available in all regions of Ontario to divert more individuals living with a mental health issue and/or substance use con cern out of the justice system and into mental health and addictions services and supports, restoring adequate funding to Legal Aid by boosting their base budget and develop a long-term, structurally stable funding plan, immediately appointing more full-time, qualified, and competent adjudicators to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to ensure timely and effective case hearings, and immediately removing all Resource Officers from Ontario schools.
The Hoser: Considering that COVID is airborne and cases are once again quite high, will your government make any investments in retrofits or building new hospitals, schools, public transit vehicles, or any other large-scale investments related to public health, indoor crowding and ventilation?
Ostap Soroka: Covid is a reality and it has not gone away. We have to face that squarely and clearly but also with compassion for the vulnerable and for all workers, especially those who cannot work from home, like those who work in critical fields or those in precarious work who can't afford to lose hours. We will set aggressive GHG targets for provincial government operations, and expand pollution reduction programs to include hospitals, schools, universities, and other public institutions; address the repair backlog for Ontario public schools; allocate funds to ensure schools are able to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); provide funding for schools to make energy efficiency and ventilation improvements; make funding available so that schools can buy zero-emission electric school buses to replace retired diesel buses; enhance the ability of Public Health Ontario to carry out its mandate by ensuring robust public health science and laboratory support; invest in new and expanded hospitals as needed to meet demand in high growth areas; and ensure the updated funding formula takes into account the unique needs of remote and rural schools.
The Hoser: As of 2021, the living wage in Toronto was over $22 an hour. In all major cities and towns in the province, the $15/hr minimum wage is below a living wage. Inflation is now upwards of six percent, and scheduled wage increases and cost of living adjustments are not keeping up. Is your government committed to getting minimum wage levels to a living wage? If not, why?
Ostap Soroka: The Green Party of Ontario will increase the floor of the minimum wage each year by $1, starting at $16 in 2022, with a top-up in cities where the cost of living is higher, as well as increase the number of provincially-legislated paid sick days from three to ten and provide small businesses financial support to fund the program, while also banning employers from requiring a sick note from a medical practitioner when an employee is ill. We will also implement a “Gig Workers’ Bill of Rights" (page 26) to ensure such workers never fall below the minimum through loopholes. As mentioned above, we will repeal Bill 124; pay PSWs, nurses and ECEs a fair wage pegged to cost-of-living and inflation, as well as hire 33,000 nurses; double the rates for ODSP and OW rates and reduce aggressive clawbacks; eliminate unnecessary red tape, reporting requirements, and other barriers typically faced by those needing financial supports while maintaining all existing supplementary supports that are available with current income assistance programs. Furthermore, we will ensure consistent and fair labour standards and working conditions for all faculty, including contract faculty. Most importantly, we will remove all wage constraints and ensure all people are paid equal wages for equal work.