We can’t go into a pandemic unprepared ever again

By MPP Toby Barrett

As we know too well, the pandemic touched every one of us.

The past two years have been unlike anything any of us have seen or ever experienced. Far too many people have lost their jobs, businesses, and their loved ones tragically. One day we were reading about the first positive cases in Canada, and the next day our health care system was on the brink.

In the course of two weeks, patients in need outnumbered the hospital spaces available to care for them. Crowded hallways greeted incoming patients, leaving families in shock and disorientation. Our front-line workers put themselves at risk, as no supply of personal protective equipment was available.

Despite virus outbreaks in Ontario and worldwide during the previous government’s leadership, such as SARS, Ontario still lacked the resources and preparedness to respond adequately.

In 2014, I introduced a Private Member’s Bill to put in place a framework and comprehensive plan to deal with any upcoming, new, and emerging contagious diseases. Although passed by the previous government, the bill was gutted to include only Lyme Disease.

Our job creators, who had sacrificed so much, were forced to close their doors for months on end. Anxiety, angst, and unease weighed on everyone as the crisis prevailed across Ontario.

Recently, we introduced the Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act because while we have made significant progress, there is so much more to do.

This legislation is built on three pillars: expanding Ontario’s health workforce, shoring up domestic production of critical supplies, and creating more hospital beds.

Ontario’s health care system boasts exceptionally skilled, committed, and well-trained professionals. Still, for decades, Ontario failed to invest in the staffing necessary to make our health care system work as best as possible.

The second pillar of the Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act is shoring up domestic production of critical supplies. Reinvigorating the province’s life sciences industry is crucial to increasing domestic production. This work begins with having expertise we can leverage right here in Ontario.

At the start of the pandemic, Ontario did not have any made-in-Ontario personal protective equipment, and the stockpiles were empty. Policies of the past 15 years hollowed out our production capabilities, weakened our manufacturing sector, and left us dependent on foreign supply.

One of the essential pillars of this legislation is building more hospitals and hospital beds. Over the past 15 years, we saw the previous government leave the health care sector on life support. Our government is committed to retaining the 3,100 beds put online in the past two years and continuing to build hospital infrastructure to meet the demand of a growing population. That means 3,000 new beds over the next 10 years, 50 major capital projects, and investments of over $22 billion to boost health care.

Changes to legislation also include providing the province with the tools we need to constantly and aggressively monitor for new viruses and threats from around the globe, enhancing the support and guidance our government provides to the communities and protecting and safeguarding Ontarians in the event of any future emergency.

We can’t afford to go into another pandemic, or any future emergency, unprepared in this province.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk