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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Opinion: A health care boost but so much more to do
Wayne Gates Richard Harley/File

Wayne Gates
Special to The Lake Report

As the MPP for Niagara-on-the-Lake, our office is working hard to support our local economy, protect cultural heritage and expand access to high-quality, efficient, publicly funded and publicly delivered health care services for the people of this town. 

Last year, my office was contacted by several constituents, as well as members of town council, such as Coun. Sandra O’Connor, with an urgent and concerning issue — the lack of front-line nurse practitioner services.

We know that up to 8,000 residents don’t have a family doctor and we also know it has been nearly a decade since the NOTL hospital was closed.

Finally, we know that about one-third of NOTL’s population is over the age of 65, and that seniors have much more complex health care needs.

Preventive primary care services, including that of a nurse practitioner clinic, can ensure seniors and residents are getting the care they need, saving money in the long run and reducing the burden on our hospital system.

My office worked closely with Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa and town council — writing joint letters to the health minister and the Premier, raising the issue at Queen’s Park, and keeping it at the forefront of the agenda in Question Period.

And starting April 22, we will have a new full-time nurse practitioner in NOTL. 

I thank the mayor, Coun. O’Connor and town staff for their hard work on this, and for working closely and collaboratively with my office to get it done. It is a perfect example of what we can do when we work together.

Now, we must keep up the good work — whether it means expanding access to front-line public services or supporting our important NOTL industries and employers. 

The new Ontario budget includes a $9.8 billion deficit and real-dollar cuts to many public services.

We got some wins in the budget — including the elimination of the 6.1 per cent basic tax on Ontario wines, which is a major win for the wine industry, helping to create more economic growth and support good local jobs. 

This reform was supported by various organizations including the Ontario Craft Wineries, the Tourism Partnership of Niagara and Wine Growers Ontario, as well as many small and medium-sized wineries. This is legislation I introduced several times, including as recently as this last fall and I am glad to see it included in this latest budget. 

But, quite frankly, this budget does not do enough to invest in the health care, infrastructure or education needs of our communities, or to make the right moves to spur growth in Niagara.

The Conservatives like to pretend they are the best fiscal managers of this province — but they are running  the largest deficit in history while also refusing to make the right investments to support people and families struggling with a historic affordability crisis. 

The Ford government is still refusing to commit to all-day, year-round GO train service in Niagara. This is such a common sense solution.

It would boost growth, particularly in the tourism and winery sectors, create and protect good local jobs, save commuters time and money, bring more revenue into our municipalities, and help to protect the environment. 

This government also only used the word “agriculture” once in the entire budget — just to say, “we care about agriculture.”

Farmers, growers and workers in agriculture deserve a government that, at minimum, is going to address the concerns they are facing, and work to protect our farmlands and environmentally significant areas like the Escarpment and the Greenbelt.

We know we are losing 319 acres of prime farmland every day in Ontario. 

This government also continues to underfund our public health care system. We saw record emergency room and urgent car centre closures last year, we have the lowest number of hospital beds in the country, wait times are growing and we have a government that spent the last several years and millions of dollars fighting nurses in court with Bill 24. 

We need a government that will invest in public care, make the right investments to recruit and retain health care workers, and provide immediate support for community health programs, long-term care and home care.

We also need a government that will address the staffing shortages in public schools, reverse the cuts Ford has made to our public school system, and work to address the crisis in childcare and daycare facing our province. 

By working together, we can continue to get good things done for NOTL, for Niagara, and for the province as a whole. 

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