Universal dental care and pharmacare part of NDP pledge

By Roderick Benns

Three community groups — The Access to Permanent Housing Committee, the Kawartha Lakes Food Coalition and the Haliburton County FoodNet – posed questions on poverty, housing, and food insecurity to candidates in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock running for office in this provincial election. In this installment, we hear from NDP candidate, Zac Miller. 

What will your party do to increase and maintain access to affordable, safe housing, in addition to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Canada-Ontario Investment in Affordable Housing Agreement?

Miller: The NDP will sign onto the National Housing Strategy and over a 10 year commitment, build 65,000 new affordable housing units. We will build 30,000 supportive housing units with an immediate investment of $1.4 billion to build 12,000 within our first mandate. New Democrats will also fund the province’s one-third share of the costs of social housing repairs.

To protect renters, a NDP government will implement predictable and effective rent controls and end the unfair property tax on multi-residential units. These taxes are on average two times higher than single dwellings and is an unfair charge on both landlord and renter.

For new home buyers, we will reform Ontario’s new home warranty system by reforming the Tarion Warranty Corporation so that the home buyers are protected from shoddy construction.

What strategies will your party implement to make hydro affordable?

Miller: We believe that the privatization of Hydro should never have occurred. It was not in the public interest. We will return Hydro back into public control so that private profits are not added on to our bills. For immediate relief, New Democrats will end time of use billing, as this only adds extra stress on small businesses and senior who are unable to shift their consumption. We will be keeping the provincial HST off and ask the federal government to remove their five percent HST as well.

In order for rates to stay low, the electricity system has to be fixed as well. This includes ending the oversupply problem. Ontarians are stuck paying for electricity that they don’t use. By cancelling, renegotiating, or cancelling long-term private contracts, Ontarians won’t have to pay for electricity that they don’t use.

Does your party support income based solutions to address poverty such as a Basic Income Guarantee? Will your party support modernization & increased rates of social assistance as well as adequate wages that reflect a living wage to allow low-income earners to meet their basic needs?

Miller: The NDP are supporting the Guaranteed Basic Income pilot program. New Democrats also believe in updating the rules governing social assistance to a new flat rate structure that is simple and fair; rather than complicated and punitive. We will also be raising Ontario Works rates by 10 per cent, 7 per cent, and 5 per cent, and ODSP rates by 5 per cent. Social assistance rates have been cut by both Liberals and Conservatives for the past decade and it is time that we reverse that trend. By giving people an increase, it will make it easier for them to pay their bills and allow them to find a good paying job. And not be simply pushed into low-wage, precarious work.

The NDP will keep the $15 minimum wage that is to take effect next January because it is time that individuals receive a living wage. We will continue to strengthen our labour laws to allow for three weeks’ vacation after one year of employment and mandate that students and servers are paid the same minimum wage of $15. Because minimum means minimum.

How will your party ensure people have adequate incomes to meet their basic needs including covering the cost of nutritious food?

Miller: We have to start investing in good stable jobs. Jobs that are going to raise low and middle class earners. The low-wage, precarious working situation that Ontario finds itself in needs to be corrected. We have to reinvest in our manufacturing sector and invest in clean energy. As well as investing $57 million annually to open up opportunities for men and women to join the trades.

After creating a more stable job market, we have to look at the daily expenses of people. The NDP are going to make dental care and pharmacare universal for everyone regardless of age, income, or employment. Nobody should have to forgo taking their medication or suffer with oral pain because they are not able to afford it. We will be implementing affordable child care at $12-a-day and increasing the amount of not-for-profit childcare spaces by 202,000. This will allow for more children to gain access to safe and affordable care allowing parents to go back to work or school. The NDP have been calling for the reduction in auto insurance rates by 15%, a promise that the Liberal reneged on. When Ontario has the highest insurance rates and the lowest amount of reported claims, sometime has gone wrong. We will lower rates by 15% and end discriminatory practices by companies that target low-income individuals.

These measures will put more money back into the pockets of Ontarians allowing them to have access to afford nutritious food. 

What would you do to increase accessibility or reduce barriers to accessing these services?

Miller: While the demand has grown for more Community Health Centres, their budgets have been frozen by the current government. We will increase funding by $30 million for these centres and keep it tied to inflation every year. We will also dedicate $25 million to build and expand dental suites in these Community Health Centres like in Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County. This added funding would equate to 70 new dental suites created. Now is not the time to defund or freeze budgets when it comes to healthcare and treatment.

Will your party continue to support programs that cover prescription medication for people under 25, seniors, and people on social assistance?

Miller: We support this, but will go further. By the year 2020, an NDP government will create Ontario’s first universal pharmacare program. Nobody will be excluded, not based on age, on income, or on employment. This plan will cover, at the start, 125 most commonly used medication and will compliment Ontario’s existing drug programs so that nobody will lose coverage.

What will your party do to make oral health care accessible for those who can’t afford private dental insurance?

Miller: The NDP will ensure that everyone will have access to dental care benefits. It will begin by having minimum standard of coverage, like fillings, cleanings, X-rays, and minor restorative work and funded by contributions from both employer and worker. With this plan in place, every worker will have coverage for themselves and their family.

How will your party address the need for affordable child care for working parents and those wishing to continue their education?

Miller: The NDP will be introducing affordable child care starting at $12-a-day for household incomes that exceeds $40,000. Any household income under that will not have to pay for publicly licensed child care. With this new demand for child care, New Democrats will build 202,000 new not-for-profit child care spaces. This can be done by collaborating with school boards and community centres to build these affordable spaces. By making child care affordable, parents can go back to work or school and not have to worry about high priced child care.

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