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How do we make this lockdown our last?

I put on a brave face this past holiday weekend as the third wave of the pandemic came rolling in hard. Here in Don Valley North, we were rocked by a school closure and saw entire grade cohorts sent to COVID-19 testing centres. The intensive care unit at North York General continued to fill up, as did those in hospitals across the province. At the office, our phones rang off the hook with calls from people frustrated by vaccine guidelines, financial pressures, outrageous car racing, and other issues. This latest wave of infection comes as all of us are running on empty. I also spent this past weekend baking to cheer up one very sad kid. Last year, on April 2, 2020, my youngest grandson Tyson was the first in our family to celebrate a pandemic birthday. “Don’t worry,” I assured him, “You will be ten next year and that’s a way better time for a big party.” This weekend, Tyson didn’t complain. Even at ten, he seemed to know that our family has been lucky to get through this alive and well.

I got a little more vocal on social media over the Easter weekend as well. I have often bitten my tongue throughout the pandemic. I know it’s hard to lead in a crisis. More recently, however, I’ve made my disappointment with Provincial leadership clear. Provincial orders have felt contradictory to medical advice since the end of 2020, when our Premier kept the Province open long after doctors warned that a full lockdown was needed to curb the second wave. It’s hard not to imagine that we might be in a better position today if that medical advice had been followed. It seemed the Premier was continuing to ignore medical advice last week when he imposed an “emergency brake” that did little more in Toronto than close outdoor dining, a privilege we’d only been granted two weeks prior. Schools and businesses remained open as case numbers soared. I wasn’t the only one who spoke up a little louder after that announcement. Many in the community were scared that Ontario was losing control of the pandemic. Last Monday, Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s Medical Officer of Health, overrode the Provincial government and closed schools in Peel region. By Tuesday, our Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen De Villa followed suit and closed Toronto schools. We finally saw evidence on Wednesday that the Premier might be listening to our doctors, on some things at least. The Province imposed another stay-at-home order, effective today. Non-essential businesses are now closed to in-store shopping, with big box stores finally required to only sell essential grocery and pharmacy items. Capacity in stores will go back to being carefully counted. Hopefully this will lead us back to sending only one family member to the store at a time.

The Province has also stopped evictions from being enforced until the end of the stay-at-home order. Toronto is doing what it can with the modestly funded Toronto Rent Bank and payments are not being required on its rent loans during this time.

Perhaps the most important part of Wednesday’s announcement was the expansion of the vaccination program to essential workers and “hot spot” neighbourhoods across the Province. I’ve outlined the full details in my vaccine update section below. As the Toronto Star reported, “Premier Doug Ford says he expects 40 per cent of adults in Ontario to be vaccinated by the end of a stay-at-home order… which is effective until May 7.” These measures are certainly needed to stop our cases numbers from climbing even higher, but I’m worried that they’re not enough. My team and I have seen the toll this pandemic has taken on our community, especially our families that have lost loved ones and are struggling to make ends meet. If we want this latest lockdown to be effective, and hopefully be our last, we need more action from higher levels of government. We need a full moratorium on evictions until this pandemic is over. Tens of thousands of homes in Toronto are in rent arrears. The Provincial and Federal Governments have to start working now to design housing safeguards that give individuals and families time to get back on their feet. We do the economy no favours if we stand by and watch more people be plunged into homelessness. More than anything, if we want to beat the third wave, we need to implement measures that will target the virus where it’s most active. We need the Premier to understand his role in mandating paid sick leave. He seems to think that the Federal Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) is all that’s required. This program is helpful, but it does not replace a paycheque and will not stop struggling workers from going to work sick. A benefit that provides only $500 per week, less than what can be earned working full-time at minimum wage, does not provide enough income to allow people to stay home. The Provincial government needs to implement proper paid sick leave, the kind many of us received from our employers back in the sixties and seventies. Many people are going back to work despite direct exposure from an ill family member because their family is counting on that paycheck. Doctors are telling us as loudly as they can that this is how the virus is spreading: along the frontlines and in lower wage sectors of employment. Paid sick leave is what’s needed to give workers the confidence and financial support to stay home when they’re sick. I’ve been advocating for paid sick leave since this pandemic started, and I need you to do the same. Talk this up in your own virtual social circles, and help us get our communities talking about this until it cannot be ignored by our Provincial Government any longer.

I know this latest stay-at-home order is hard to bear, and I share in many of your frustrations. We need to advocate for better action from our governments, and we need to hunker down as tightly as we did in April 2020. These next few weeks are crucial, and will tell us whether or not we are winning the war against the fast-spreading COVID variants. We can also start making our own vaccination plans to help the Premier reach the goal of getting 40% of Ontario’s adult population vaccinated by May 7. We expect that the details about vaccines for essential workers and those living in our high priority postal codes in Don Valley North, M2J and M2M, will be revealed in the next day or two. As soon as we receive this information, we will be shouting it out from the rooftops. My staff team and I want to support you in whatever way we can as you make your vaccination decisions, and I encourage you to call or email my office with any of your questions or concerns. We’ve also been promoting our upcoming Vaccine Town Hall (details below), which will give you a chance to hear from Dr. de Villa, NYGH CEO Karyn Popovich, and one of North York’s most beloved family doctors, Dr. David Eisen, head of NYGH Family Medicine. If you are still waiting to vaccinate and have questions of any kind, this is a medical superstar team that can really help. So how do we do our best to make this lockdown our last? We follow public health guidelines, stay at home, and help our family and friends get vaccinated. We also demand more from our Provincial government. We make sure that renters are protected from eviction, small businesses are supported, and that every worker has access to paid sick leave. I promise you that I’ll continue to fight for these measures and support our community so that we can finally get through this pandemic together.


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