Jobs, Healthcare and Education: Priorities in Ontario

It has been almost three months after Yvan Baker won the Etobicoke Centre riding for the Ontario Liberal Party. On August 14, 2014 the New Pathway discussed provincial issues including the support that the Ontario Parliament is giving Ukraine with the newly elected MPP.
During the discussion, MPP Baker reiterated that his top priorities are still healthcare, education and more jobs and economic growth for the province. There are particular reasons why these three issues are important: MPP Baker admits that his riding has one of the highest percentages of seniors in any riding in the country. Healthcare is therefore paramount to him as a large percentage of seniors increasingly demand improved home care.
He explains further on the importance of home care: “one of the ways in which our provincial government wants to make the funding of healthcare more sustainable and provide a better health care is through home care. What we want is, instead of people spending time in hospitals or long-term health care homes, to be in their own home and cared for in their home. Right now, generally people are pleased about home care but they want more and we are going through a transition period…This will save us all money and make our health care system a lot stronger across the board.”
However, in order to provide this accessible home care there needs to be more nurses available. The New Pathway noted this and MPP Baker explained that along with the betterment of the healthcare system, another priority of his is the strengthening of the education system to provide more nurses and other professionals.
MPP Baker said that even though many “objective studies have suggested there has been progress in the education system of Ontario, there is a lot more to do. There needs to be more done in the maths, critical thinking and problem solving – these are just some of the areas we need to get stronger. If you benchmark our students against those around the world, we do quite well in many areas but we need to do better in math. And math will be critical to a lot of young people when they graduate.”
He further explained that he was passionate about education because he knows “the impact of it and because I teach at York University so I see the post-secondary element close up. One of the elements of post-secondary education we have to work on is how do we make sure that what we’re teaching is directly matched to the job market? In some case we are teaching the right thing and students are moving on and having great success. But in other cases we’re putting a lot of our students through a higher education system that isn’t necessarily preparing them as well as it could be, in my personal view.”
However, none of this can happen without a balanced budget. Because of MPP Baker’s background as a business consultant he was asked to serve as Parliamentary Assistant to Hon. Deb Matthews, who is the Deputy Premier and the President of the Treasury Board. According to Baker, the Treasury Board is currently working on the spending plans and labour negotiations which will be pivotal for the future of the province’s budget.
At the same time, the financial difficulties, caused by the previous Liberal government under Premier Dalton McGuinty, are weighing on these plans. MPP Baker says that “…10-11 years ago, when the Liberal government was elected provincially, we were in an economic boom. Economic growth was strong but in 2008 we hit a financial crisis and this had a severe impact on our manufacturing sector. Ontario made a strategic decision, like the US government did, to protect that sector. If those companies moved jobs overseas or laid off the workers completely, that would have had a tremendous economic impact not only on those individuals but also on the rest of us who benefit from their work as well That’s why we provided loans, support to workers who were affected and there are costs associated with that.”
MPP Baker further explained that during the recession years, “tax revenues went down so the government received a lot less but also we had to spend a lot more to help those people. Even in difficult economic times you have to spend on healthcare, education, social services and invest in roads. It was something beyond our control but if you look back it was something the former government handled really well.”
One example he gave was the spending of the Ministry of Health under Deb Matthews: she “actually brought down the spending curve and growth down of healthcare in very creative ways which wouldn’t necessarily affect the quality of care. I would argue that many good things have been done that haven’t been noticed behind the scenes to manage costs.” But he admits that “there is a lot more work to be done. Everyone agrees that we have to balance the budget….our commitment to balance the budget is unwavering. It means that there will be challenging decisions ahead but that’s what has to be done. The reason to balance the budget isn’t just to say that we did it but to make sure we get ourselves into a financial position where we can continue to invest in the services that are important: healthcare, infrastructure and education.”
MPP Baker was critical about infrastructure and transportation which is an important topic for anyone living in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas. He believes that “over the decades, all governments of all stripes, in my personal view have underinvested in infrastructure. In transportation, the issues are heavy gridlock and public transit difficulties. All of these things are a reflection of underinvestment over the decades. All levels of government are responsible for this.”
There has been some progress: “the link between Union Station and the airport which will be complete in early next year…Also, the Eglinton Crossown that that will run through my riding and further out…Over the next 10 years we’ve committed $30 billion for infrastructure. $15 billion is just for transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area and the other $14 billion for the areas outside.”
He also fully admits that “one of the challenges we have in Etobicoke is that you can get there but you need to get around Etobicoke and more stops will help with that.” The plan of Toronto mayoral hopeful John Tory would help Etobicoke in this but MPP Baker insists that although it’s “a good first step, I would like to see more stops within this system in Etobicoke.”
As many readers remember, before the provincial elections, the issue of lowering car insurance rates was discussed in Queen’s Park. The New Pathway asked MPP Baker about this, as there has not been much change in insurance rates for many people. He insisted that the government has worked with the insurance companies and that the 15% reduction in car insurance rates should be fully implemented over the next two years. If it is not however, Mr. Baker insists that it’s the job of every MPP to make sure that this plan is realized.
Related to the Ukrainian crisis and Russian food sanctions, Mr. Baker said that the Ontario government has “a range of programs for farmers. We have reached out to the pork industry so that we can have an assessment of what the impact will be. We will protect our farmers but they have been resilient before in times of problems. It is, however, a very small part of Ontario’s pork export…in 2013 the pork exports to Russia represented a fraction of a percentage point of our exports.”
In terms of MPP Baker’s role as a representative of the Ukrainian-Canadian community, he has had numerous opportunities to promote the Ukrainian issues in Queen’s Park. He states that “step one is to draw attention to the issue and advocate for action. But we also need to look for ways for the province to work with the Ukrainian community.”
Along with words of encouragement and support from Premier Wynn during the February shootings on the Maidan, the Ontario government has committed $100 thousand in humanitarian aid to those injured on the Maidan. As Mr. Baker notes, this was “all pretty unprecedented for a provincial government…these are important steps and I will urge the government to do more.”
MPP Baker has not had enough time to prove that he will keep his promises and priorities to his constituents. The New Pathway does however know that he will keep his ethnic background in the forefront as the crisis in Ukraine continues.