New Pathway – Ukrainian News.
MPP Natalia Kusendova (Mississauga Centre), 30, is currently one of the youngest members of Ontario’s Legislature and the youngest female MPP. She is also known to the Ukrainian Canadian community as a former staffer with the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party who was in charge of relations with the Ukrainian community. She is also a practicing nurse and a very active individual overall.
NP-UN spoke to Kusendova to find more about the motivations that drive her many engagements and achievements, and about the most pressing issues that she is facing as an MPP.
Many people in their late twenties are only starting their careers. What drives some of them to seek public office?
I think, whether it’s young people or older politicians, they get involved in public service because they want to see change when they see something that’s not working in the society or in their community. The most important reason for young people to seek representation in government is that the government’s decisions will impact the younger people’s lives the most as they affect the society for decades going forward.
What were the specific things that you wanted to change?
I am a registered nurse by profession and I wanted to dedicate my life to the service of others. But very quickly, as a young nurse, I saw how broken our healthcare system was. When we travel across the world, as Canadians, we pride ourselves in our universal publicly funded healthcare system. But when we walk into an emergency room, we see stretchers lined up almost out into the parking lot, it looks sometimes like a third world country. As a new nurse I would get the dreaded hallway assignment and spend sometimes 14 hours on a shift. Imagine a very narrow hallway that has become a permanent place for bedridden patients. I would have to walk around the entire perimeter of the first floor to find a wheelchair to be able to transfer my patient to the washroom.
You still work as a nurse. Is there a connection between this work and your work as an MPP?
Absolutely. Over the first year in government we’ve made some significant changes but there’s still so much work to do. The healthcare system will not be fixed overnight. It took 15 years of mismanagement and poor decisions to get us to the position where we are now. Do I get frustrated on my shift work? Absolutely. Overall, I think healthcare professionals are excited about the healthcare transformation that’s coming. We’ve introduced Bill 74, the People’s Health Care Act, which is completely changing the way we deliver healthcare services. We are trying to build a health care system in Ontario that’s centered around the patient and is not fragmented as it used to be. There will be one or two health teams responsible for you as a patient 24/7, no matter where you are located, at home receiving home care, or in a hospital or in another facility. Before, once the person was discharged from the hospital, there were no assurances that that home health care nurse would know when they would be coming and whether they would provide the person with the right treatment because it was very fragmented. The other issue was that under the former system there are 14 LIHNs or local integrated health networks, which are those bureaucratic structures responsible for administering the funds from the Ministry of Health. For the same injury, one would be receiving five hours of home care post discharge but in a different LIHN, they would be receiving only two hours. At the same time, we cannot have a cookie cutter approach to the healthcare transformation and that’s why we are empowering the local health teams to come up with their own solutions how to transform the way health care is delivered. For example, we are working on a strategy to encourage more healthcare professionals to go up into the North. We are reducing bureaucracy: each of the 14 LIHNs had their own CEO, VP, VP communications and a whole array of administrative professionals. We’ve amalgamated all 14 into one and eliminated around 400 administrative positions. We want to make sure that the wait times are improved in Ontario when it comes to emergency rooms, but also access to physicians and specialists. We don’t have enough healthcare professionals and we are encouraging people to go into these professions and we need to work with the federal government on encouraging certain professions to immigrate and then help them with recognition of their qualifications.
Everyday people are getting conflicting information on whether there is a shortage or a surplus of medical professionals in Ontario. What is the real situation?
There are 1 million patients without a family doctor and we have a shortage of doctors in Ontario. Yes, it’s a very difficult process getting into medical school and then finding a residency. It is a highly competitive process and perhaps it should be. However, we do need to increase the number of residency positions, as well as nurses and PSWs. I think it will be also up to our ministry to look at that as well but it’s also a standard set by the federal government as well. At the same time, medical associations have a very strong lobby and as a government we have to work with them to ensure that they support the decisions that we make, so it’s a little bit of a balancing act.
Have you achieved any efficiencies so far from all the restructuring in the health care system?
Any efficiencies that we achieved in the system are being reinvested right back into it, because we are really behind in terms of investment. As an example, previous government has not invested into long term care in any meaningful way in 15 years, a very short sighted thing to do from the perspective of our population demographics. Our government has committed to opening up to 15,000 long term care beds in the first five years, in the first year alone we’ve already invested into some 7,000 beds. We are also investing into the mental health strategy because mental health supports are so fragmented across Ontario and the patients in the system are confused because there is no one strategy or place they can go to. In the first year, we invested $174 million into building capacity in the mental health system and our overall commitment is $1.9 billion over the next 10 years. By investing in long term care and mental health we are trying to offload those emergency rooms because these patients can be taken care of more appropriately in the community and other settings to be treated by appropriate professionals.
There is a lot of talk about cuts to health care in Ontario. Are these fears justified?
Not everyone agrees with the direction our government is going but our mandate was to bring fiscal responsibility back to Ontario. Right now, Ontario’s debt is over $315 billion and every hour we pay $1.4 million in interest. Servicing our debt is the fourth largest spending item in our budget, we should have a ministry of debt because we spend $12 billion every year on just paying off the interest. We did a live online audit of every single ministry and within the first six months we were able to find $3 billion of savings and reduced our deficit to $12 billion. We’ve only been in power for one year and the effects of our policy will be felt in the future years. In healthcare, we’ve actually invested $1.3 billion more than the previous government. So when someone is telling you there are cuts in health care I tell them that we are actually investing $13 billion more over the next 10 years in our hospitals. In certain healthcare areas there will be some small cuts and it’s more of an efficiency because we’re looking at better and more efficient ways of delivering services. I think one of the most contentious issues in the media was about the public health, because we are restructuring the way public health units are running across Ontario. In the past, there were 35 public health units across Ontario tied to the municipalities. We found that some of the smaller units had problems retaining human resources. By creating ten public health units we are trying to drive efficiency and create bigger organizations to better support bigger areas. However, our minister has recently announced that we will be engaging in a consultation process on how to restructure these public health units.
So, there is a difference between what you are saying about this government’s policies and what one could hear and see elsewhere on this subject. What will the Ontarians think about this in the end?
There is a bit of a disconnect happening in Ontario when it comes to the government’s messaging and what people are hearing. But I think the people will start feeling the effects of our policies through their pocketbooks and through services that they’re relying on from the government. Right now is too early in the game and I think that if we have this conversation two years from now, people will start to feel the effects of the policies.
What are your hobbies?
I do enjoy salsa dancing, I took a little bit of time this summer to go visit my father in France and my grandmother in Poland. However I don’t have much time for it these days, I pretty much work seven days a week. Weekends, I go to events, they take a lot of the time but I do enjoy that, Mississauga Centre is one of the most multicultural ridings in all of Ontario, every single weekend there’s a festival. Because I’m young and energetic and a little bit ambitious, I take on a lot of different projects. Healthcare is one of them but I also worked on human trafficking, some Indigenous affairs, mental health. I never say no when a minister approaches me and says, can you help with this. My staff might not be always happy with this because we’re always busy with different projects. My private member’s bill was on mandatory Naloxone training for police officers to prevent opioid overdoses. I want to make sure that there is some legacy that I’m leaving in four years.
What are your relationships with the Ukrainian community?
I’m always very interested in what’s happening in the Ukrainian community. Ukraine is so close to home as well because I was born in Poland, my grandmother lives very close to the Ukrainian border. I understand Ukraine’s historical struggles very well because both countries in many ways historically have been touched by similar challenges. I know that the memorial was erected in Toronto for the victims of the Holodomor, and I’m very well aware of the Holodomor mobile classroom, which I think was a great initiative. I believe we should look at your community and maybe replicate some of those brilliant ideas and efforts and include in the curriculum for our Canadian students to learn about other tragedies that happened in history. For example, the Polish community could talk about including Cresy Sibirski in the curriculum. I’m trying to encourage leaders in the Polish community to really look and learn from the Ukrainian community how to better organize and have more of a political imprint in the Canadian society.