BY ELIZABETH MENDES AND JILL PROMOLI
These past 13 months with COVID-19 have been hard for everyone, but they’ve been hard for each of us in different ways. Even in Ontario, not every corner of our province has experienced this the same way, and here in Peel throughout the pandemic we’ve consistently lived with the worst of it. While fingers were pointed at our region with suggestions that ‘yahoos’ were to blame, 300,000 essential workers in Peel’s industrial sector continued to go to work, making sure Ontario’s shelves were stocked and orders fulfilled, and our healthcare workers stayed on the front lines caring.
Peel entered the Province’s grey lockdown on Nov. 23 and has never exited. Many businesses have been closed for 300-plus days, and despite repeated promises of more, robust measures to protect our lives and livelihoods, the provincial government has failed to provide any real, meaningful help to address the high case numbers in Peel. When the province began introducing vaccines in pharmacies, Peel was left out, with doses instead going to Toronto, Kingston, and Windsor-Essex. The outbreak at Brampton’s Amazon facility further exposed the discrepancy in vaccine allocation.
While Peel has 10.5 per cent of Ontario’s population and has experienced 20 per cent of the province’s cases, Doug Ford’s government had only distributed 6.7 per cent of the vaccines they have received to our region; not a fair share based on our population, or on our outsized need as Peel’s essential workers have continued to provide for Ontario. After a great deal of advocacy from our municipal representatives, doctors, and community leaders, we’ve now seen our share go up to 9 per cent.
We’re getting closer to an equal share based on population, but not an equitable share based on the very serious situation we’ve faced all year. Recently, the Premier announced that any individual aged 18-49 living in high-risk postal codes would be eligible for the vaccine. However, of the 25 high risk postal codes identified in Peel, currently only residents living in two have been eligible to get a vaccine to date, and those residents need to travel to Etobicoke to receive them.
We’ve seen no meaningful effort to provide vaccinations for Peel’s essential workers who have continued to work in person every day while other regions have begun vaccinating people as young as 35 in targeted postal codes. Every vaccination is good news, but we wonder at what point the government will take steps to protect the hundreds of thousands of essential workers in Peel who we’re asking to continue working in close proximity at high personal risk for the benefit of the rest of the province.
Our ICUs are over capacity, surgeries have been cancelled and patients have been diverted to other parts of the province. The sound of ORNGE helicopters has become routine for residents living near our hospitals, as ventilated patients are moved all over Ontario.
Peel is on fire and Doug Ford and his government are leaving us to burn. And despite months of the government’s own experts telling them clearly what needs to be done to find control, we still don’t have a commitment to additional public health measures such as paid sick days. Instead, we received an announcement that closed playgrounds and gave police overarching powers and did nothing else to control the transmission.
These announcements were quickly, partially walked back, and the province continues to choose not to enable people to stay home when sick as we continue to struggle with workplace outbreaks. The reality is we can’t police our way out of COVID- 19. We need a program that allows a worker to stay home if they are sick and doesn’t disrupt their wages. No one should have to decide between being able to buy groceries or staying home when sick during a pandemic, especially as we have yet to see a public plan for essential workers and residents in high-risk postal codes in Peel to receive their vaccinations.
We urge you to contact your Member of Provincial Parliament and let them know that Peel needs paid sick days in Ontario and priority vaccinations for our essential workers and community. Your MPP has an obligation to take your call, to listen, and to advocate on your behalf.
Nine of 12 MPPs in Peel are Conservatives, and we are not seeing the needs of our region reflected in the government’s priorities during this devastating time. You deserve better. We all do. Public health is about all of us. It only works when we make sure we’re considering everyone. Illness in workplaces is illness in our communities. We need to protect essential workers because they’re people, they’re our neighbours, our parents and our children.
It’s time for Doug Ford and his government to take the health and lives of Peel workers and residents seriously, too. ——
Elizabeth Mendes is the Ontario Liberal Candidate for Mississauga- Lakeshore, and Jill Promoli is the Ontario Liberal Candidate for Mississauga Streetsville.
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