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NDP makes affordability, health care central pillars in Northern Ontario platform

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath visited Sudbury today alongside Northern Ontario candidates to release their regional platform 

Pledging to make life more affordable in the North, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath visited Sudbury today alongside a handful of candidates to announce their Northern Ontario platform. 

“Life needs to be more affordable in the North, we need to fix the things that are broken,” she said.

“Let’s face it, look at the price of gas right now,” she said, adding that with such long winters in the north, the cost of staying warm also factors in. “It’s much more expensive to live in the North, so anything we can do to make life more affordable for Northerners, we will be doing that.”

On the affordability front, the Ontario NDP would regulate gasoline prices, build 6,000 units of affordable housing in Northern Ontario and 3,600 units of supportive housing, move forward with a $10-a-day child care system and keep electrical prices low by delivering power at cost.

In a platform point that bridges the affordability pillar with health care, the Ontario NDP would also improve the Northern Health Travel Grant, which Nickel Belt candidate France Gélinas has been advocating for years toward.

Sudbury Liberal party candidate David Farrow has also included this in his platform

“Not a week goes by that I don’t have someone in my office with a horrible, horrible story of how the Northern Health Travel Grant fails them,” Gélinas told gathered media following today’s platform announcement, adding that reimbursements for things such as hotels and travel take far too long for people to receive due to the department straining under the weight of cuts.

“The workload has gone up because more people have to go out of town for treatment … and there are less people to process the clams,” she said, pledging to improve matters “within the first year.”

The party’s goal is to ensure northerners never have to wait longer than 14 days to be paid back for health-related travel expenses.

“The whole system fails people every single day, and when you fail someone in need of medical treatment you put their health and their health recovery at risk,” Gélinas said, adding that these shortcomings also apply to medical staff, which ties into the party’s platform point to add 300 doctors to Northern Ontario, including 100 specialists and 40 mental-health practitioners.

This is something the Ontario Medical Association advocated for last year, when key representatives toured the 214 memorials set up at the Crosses for Change downtown, which represents those who have died by overdose since the pandemic began. 

In Greater Sudbury alone, Ontario Medical Association president Adam Kassam said at the time that an additional 40 psychiatrists, 100 family doctors and 130 specialists were needed.

At latest count, there were 238 crosses on display at the memorial, which Sudbury candidate Jamie West said points to an ongoing need for services. 

The City of Greater Sudbury has moved forward with the construction of a temporary supervised consumption site and has plans of constructing a transitional housing complex despite a lack of commitment from the province regarding the funding of these facilities’ medical staff. 

“The pressure is on council to take care of our citizens, do what’s right, but it’s difficult because the province is forcing an additional burden directly on the citizens of our city,” Mayor Brian Bigger said during budget deliberations late last year.

“You need to invest the money,” West told following today’s media conference, adding that this is why he made an early plea in 2019 for the province to declare an emergency, which Horwath said her party would move forward with if elected.

“When you say it’s a medical emergency, that means you have to put money into the program,” he said. “That’s money that should be coming from the province, with assistance from the municipality as well.”

The NDP would invest in treatment, including detox and rehab beds.

In addition to funding, West pointed out that Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, who said in 2018 that he was “dead against” supervised consumption sites and delayed Greater Sudbury’s adoption of a facility by putting up roadblocks such as limiting the number of sites that were allowed in the province. 

During her remarks, Horwath said it’s “absolutely tragic what’s happening here in Sudbury and northern communities,” and that Ford and his government “spent four years pretending there was no problem” by capping the number of supervised consumption sites and reducing mental health and addictions funding.

“As a result, people have lost their lives, communities have suffered, families have become heartbroken and we’ve seen far too much tragedy as a result.”

The NDP would fund the services people need, she said, pledging, “We’re going to fix it.”

Last month, the Ontario NDP also pledged to introduce universal mental health care to the province if elected, including therapy and counselling all covered by OHIP. 

Other points included in the party’s platform for Northern Ontario include:

  • Northern communities will get more training and job opportunities in the trades, mining, and in the film and television sector. Ontario will open community-run employment and training centres.
  • More trains and streetcars would be built in Northern Ontario.
  • High-speed internet will be available province-wide by 2025.
  • The Northlander will be fully restored, and will connect with the Polar Express in Cochrane.

Ford recently pledged a similar such campaign promise for the Northlander during a campaign stop in Timmins. 

During her remarks, Horwath also pledged to bring back midwifery programming, such as those cut at Laurentian University, 

“There's just no doubt that midwifery is a way to provide prenatal care and birthing for women and people around our province, and it’s not only a service that women want and that communities want to have more access to, but it’s a service where we have to respect the providers.”

As for the struggling Laurentian University, she said, “What happened here was shameful, there’s just no way that that university should have been allowed to fall into the chaos that it did.”

If elected, she said the NDP would work with locals to ensure the university is able to get back “on solid ground to provide the courses and the quality of education that people deserve.”

From Sudbury, Horwath and her team are headed to a leadership debate in North Bay featuring the four leading provincial parties scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

In response to today’s Northern Ontario platform announcement, a representative from the Ontario Progressive Conservatives sent an email to noting that the NDP voted against making the Northern Ontario School of Medicine a standalone institution and that the PC government added 71 new medical school spots at the school.

They also criticized the platform for failing to mention Highway 101, which the PCs recently included in their platform and would include a $74-million investment to rebuild it through Timmins.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for