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Confront challenges with 'fair' solutions: Wynne

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks during the Ontario Economic Summit on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
(Bob Tymczyszyn/Postmedia News)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks during the Ontario Economic Summit on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 in Niagara-on-the-Lake. (Bob Tymczyszyn/Postmedia News)

Having a fair society with opportunity for everyone is possible in Ontario, says Premier Kathleen Wynne.

But there are no "easy answers" to the challenges Ontarians are facing, she said.

“There are dark sides to the progress that we are making,” Wynne told delegates during the Ontario Economic Summit in Niagara-on-the-Lake Friday.

“But we can't put our heads in the sand, we can't throw up our hands and say, 'you know what, it's just all too hard, I'm going to look backwards and find a place in the past that felt better, or seems like it was better.' We have to move forward, we have to look at all the challenges that we're confronting, and look at who's being affected by those challenges, and do our damnedest not to leave people behind.”

She said even though Ontario is leading the economic growth in Canada, seeing its lowest unemployment rate in 17 years, with high corporate profits, “the numbers don't tell the whole story.”

“There are real concerns about how people are feeling the economy, and who's feeling the impacts in a positive way, and who's not feeling those positive impacts and why,” said Wynne.

“What's happening is people are falling behind. There are people who feel that they're working just as hard, or they may be working harder, and they're not getting ahead, and they're maybe not even staying even to where they were five, six years ago.”

That's why, she said, her government introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2019.

Wynne told a story about an eastern Ontario man named Stan, who reached out to her office.

She said Stan's wife, who is losing her job at Sears that she has had for 15 years, was earning $12.40 an hour. Stan does temporary construction work.

When he found out the government was considering raising the minimum wage, Wynne said Stan told her “it would make a huge difference” to his family.

“He wanted me to know that raising the minimum wage was going to mean that his wife could get a minimum-wage job, she'd be earning more than she was at Sears ... and that they might be able to put a little bit aside,” she said.

“When I talk about the urgency around fairness in this province, and opportunity for everyone, it's people like Stan that I'm talking about. It's people who are on that edge between poverty and security, and that means they're on the edge between insecurity and dignity. It is only fair that we find ways to make sure that people like Stan ... and his wife (who) work hard ... have an opportunity to pay their rent, to feed themselves, maybe go to a movie once in a while - not to live a lavish lifestyle, but to be able to look after themselves.”

Wynne said her government's OHIP+ plan is a response to the fact millions of people in Ontario who go to the doctor and get a prescription don't get that prescription filled because they can't afford to buy the medications for their kids.

“We recognize that pharma care is a gap in our medicare system, and so we're making the largest expansion of medicare in a generation, so that starting in January, kids from zero until their 25th birthday will be able to get free prescription medication,” she said.

“We would love to have a partnership across the country and with the federal government where we have a full pharma-care plan, but we're making a start here, and we need a federal partner if we are going to go further.”

Meanwhile, Wynne said there are more than 210,000 young people who are receiving free tuition thanks to a new provincial financial aid program that covers fees for low-income families.

She said kids from high-income families attend post-secondary institutions four times the rate of kids from low and middle-income families.

“It's not fair that kids based on who their parents are have more access to post-secondary education, but it's also not in our best interest as a province, and as an economy, to lose out on those kids who don't go to college or university because they feel that they can't afford it, or they are worried about the debt that they will have to carry.” 

rspiteri@postmedia.com

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