After hosting a town hall meeting, New Democrat Party MPP Jennifer French had no trouble recognizing the “strong voices are in Oshawa.”
French hosted the meeting at the South Oshawa Community Centre Feb. 15, where she listened and addressed the concerns of many residents.
Many topics were discussed including education, poverty, health care, social assistance, public transit, the minimum wage cuts, Ontario’s debt and animal welfare.
She explained that she wanted to speak to Oshawa riding residents before heading back to Queen’s Park to deal with broader provincial issues.
“I get to be loud in the legislature, but the power of those words are when they’re real people stories and they’re actually not my words,” said French.
She says her local office, 78 Centre St., can help connect Oshawa residents to other ministries and social services.
French, a former public school teacher, said she picked south Oshawa for the town hall because it is familiar territory.
“We picked this area because this is an area where I have personal connections. My students from Glen Street (Public School) and their families and neighbours – I wanted to come back and connect,” said French.
She took three questions or comments at a time and then responded. Oshawa Mayor John Henry was also in attendance.
There were many concerns over education in Oshawa, both on the high school and the post-secondary front.
One resident, a student from G.L. Roberts high school, said she feels schools in south Oshawa do not receive equal educational opportunities, adding students from her school were limited in their additional course offerings.
“I think this as fundamentally unfair…that the fundraising potential in a community should not determine the resources provided at a school,” said French.
There were concerns over the amount of debt modern students are facing at post-secondary institutions.
“When I look at the cost [of my post-secondary education], the all-in cost to feed myself and live in there and take courses and buy my books, was like nothing compared to now,” said French.
Many residents raised concerns over social assistance.
French commented on how the confirmed living wage in Oshawa is $17 per hour, or $136 a day.
According to one resident, someone on social assistance will bring in a average of $27 a day.
“The numbers tell a real story there,” said French.
One resident, a landlord, was concerned about how it doesn’t seem like social assistance has been keeping up with rise in prices over the years.
French says the first step to fixing the low-income problems in Oshawa is creating more affordable housing.
“What needs to be done is to have a system that actually is fair, that is not going keep folks stuck in a cycle of poverty and it actually gives them a chance to build out of that,” said French.
The topic of health care was met with frustration among residents after many stories were shared about lack of health coverage or funding.
One woman shared a story about how she had to pay more than $3,500 for hearing aids because assistive devices benefits only cover $1,000 every four years.
One resident asked why dental is not covered under OHIP, given teeth are so important to overall health.
Another resident wanted to know why certain diabetic supplies were not covered even though they are necessary.
“When you start looking at the human body and you say ‘OK, this is OHIP and this is whole body wellness and whole body health – wait but not your mouth, and by the way, not your feet. That’s not ‘healthcare’, that’s ‘kind of-healthcare’,” said French.
The impact of Ontario’s recent minimum wage hike to $14 per hour was also an issue.
French described the reaction of businesses cutting full-time jobs, paid breaks and benefits as “overkill” and companies are “doing damage to their employees.”
She said although businesses were left out of the decision-making process by the government, but the hourly wage hike was necessary.
French encourages residents of Oshawa to get involved and continue telling her office their concerns.
“Some of you have already been sending emails, angry or otherwise, keep doing that. We’ll be glad to have those letters, stories, concerns,” said French.