Campaign highlights, goals and the future
Jessica bell is Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) at University-Rosedale Riding School. A member of the Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP), she is the current critic for housing, tenant rights and urban planning. Before working at Queen’s Park, Bell founded TTCriders, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving Toronto Transit, and served as Executive Director.
The beach: What were some of the highlights of your campaign?
Jessica Bell: “The highlights of the campaign were similar to the highlights of the job. We have an educated and diverse constituency that cares about issues that are also close to my heart, including housing, affordability, climate protection, and our health and education systems. It’s a highlight when you see your values really resonating with people in the equestrian industry.”
Did you have difficulties this year compared to your last election?
“It was a different choice than last time. We had a tailwind in the last election because the liberal vote collapsed in 2018. People just needed a change. All parties faced headwinds in this election because the number of conservative votes in the province was quite high. There were many swing voters at University-Rosedale who couldn’t decide whether to vote NDP, Liberal or even Green because their main objective was to make sure Doug Ford was not re-elected Premier.”
What are your main priorities for the next four years?
“In the last term, my priorities have been a fair economy, affordable housing and a real response to the climate crisis. Accessible healthcare and a quality education system are also priorities. We have about 33 riding schools and every week I get calls from parents worried that their children are not getting the support they need. I still see these five themes as the core themes that resonate most strongly in my riding. They keep coming up when I check with residents and ask them what they’re worried about, so I intend to work on them.”
You named affordable housing as a priority. What steps should the province take towards affordable housing?
“Many seniors and students in our equestrian sport earn just above minimum wage and only work part-time. You won’t find an apartment for rent in this city for wages like that. It forces people to commute long distances. It forces people to share a bedroom with two or three people because they literally can’t make anything else work. We are pushing for a comprehensive four-point plan to make housing affordable again. These include curbing investor speculation, building new homes to meet demand, providing supportive housing and real rent control.”
What are some of the main obstacles to achieving these goals?
“The obstacles we face have primarily to do with the Doug Ford administration, as well as big investors and big business lessors who want to maintain profits by keeping rents high. Unfortunately, that’s the main reason we see so much inequality in Ontario. People on low and middle incomes are having to pay more and more money for rent, and that money is going to people who are already doing very well.”
Why do you think the conservative government is so resistant to these changes?
“The homelessness crisis exists across Ontario, but it is most prevalent in urban areas held primarily by NDP-MPPs. We see it more in our rides than conservative MPPs in more rural or suburban ridings. When we go to our local park or walk down the street, we see people in crisis living on the streets.
“The other part is that the Ontario government mistakenly believes that we can solve our housing crisis by just building lots of houses. It will take at least ten years for our housing supply to meet demand. Homeless people can’t wait that long. There are also many people who can never afford a house, even if it is built by a non-profit developer and rented at cost. That’s why we need government investment in assisted living, as well as supports like social workers, mental health counselors, and employment counselors who can help people find a job that works for them. That is why the government’s argument falls short.”
What do you think of the Ontario government’s policy towards post-secondary students and institutions such as Student Choice Initiative?
“The Doug Ford administration was not a friend of the students. We organized with the student community to ensure the so-called Student Choice Initiative was successfully defeated and I commend the student community for winning this battle in court. I worked with community radio stations like CI UT affected by the Student Choice Initiative, as well as The beach was. If I can think of one example of the suppression of free speech, it is removing the students’ right to organize and represent themselves democratically and to fund newspapers and radio stations so that they can communicate with each other.
“We have made our position very clear, which is that universities and colleges should be given more funding. When universities and colleges are forced to generate their own revenue, they have turned to international students to help fund the shortfall. In particular, programs that teach people to gain a foothold in needy areas such as Personal Support Workers and Healthcare Workers should be provided with additional financial support to make this an attractive option for students. Any provincial support students receive through OSAP [Ontario Student Assistance Program] be switched from loans to grants so that the option to go to college and university becomes an option for anyone who has the grades to attend.”
Do you have any concerns about the progress of the Ontario government’s budget?
“I do. The budget is very status quo. It doesn’t increase funding for education and health care, even though we’re in a health crisis. There are many emergency rooms that have now closed due to staff shortages. It’s really worrying that they aren’t anymore have done to address the issues we face in education and healthcare.
“The other issue that has come up is that the government has agreed to increase payments to people under the Ontario Disability Support Program by five percent and then look at adjusting it for inflation. This falls far short of what is necessary. If you are in Ontario Disability Support as an individual, you can receive a maximum of $1,200 per month. This change would only increase that by $58 per month. That’s small change. We call for doubling welfare payments and indexing them to inflation to lift people out of poverty. It is morally justifiable and also makes good economic sense, because poverty is extremely costly for everyone.”