By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
Today is Election Day, your last chance to submit your input on who will form the next provincial government. If you have not already voted, if you remain undecided, then perhaps some additional information on the party platforms provided by five African Canadian MPP candidates representing all the major parties will help you on your way to the polling station.
A few weeks ago a community election forum organized by the Black Health Alliance, Operation Vote Canada, First Fridays and the Jamaican Canadian Association was held to provide an opportunity for community members to interact directly with MPP candidates and to become better informed on the provincial party platforms.
Margarett Best, the Liberal incumbent in the Scarborough-Guildwood riding, Carol Williams the Conservative candidate in Scarborough Centre, Kathleen Mathurin the NDP candidate for Scarborough Centre, Judith Van Veldhuysen, the Green Party candidate for St. Paul’s and George Singh, the Green Party candidate for Scarborough Rouge-River fielded prepared questions and questions from the floor on health care, education and employment.
I had the opportunity to ask the candidates a couple of health related questions, one of which was:
Will you and your party commit to a comprehensive salt-reduction strategy that includes specific targets for the food industry to reduce sodium content and a public education campaign to inform Ontarians, especially those at greatest risk, of the health impact of sodium (salt) in their diet and tools to help with salt-reduction?
Generally, all the candidates supported this initiative. A couple made personal reference to the impact high blood pressure and stroke has had on the lives of people close to them.
Best said her party believes that “prevention is better than cure” and reminded the audience it was the Liberal Party which created the Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport of which she has been the minister since 2007. She said it was the job of this ministry to support initiatives that promote healthy lifestyles and build healthy communities. She also emphasized how happy she was to be a part of the grand opening of TAIBU Community Health Centre, a comprehensive primary health care facility in Malvern which has a mandate to provide specialized health and social services to the Black community.
Williams said she would commit to the salt reduction strategy, emphasizing the importance of the public education component. Mathurin said she would also support the initiative and mentioned that the NDP has a nutrition education strategy for schools.
Singh agreed with Williams that public education is the key and said he would endorse industry labeling of high-salt content foods for easy identification. Van Veldhuysen added that her party is committing $2 million towards school nutrition programs and emphasized the Green Party’s focus on access to healthy foods and support of locally produced foods.
This was a timely question because, starting in September, elementary and high schools have had to revise their menus ensuring that healthier options make up the majority of food choices in their vending machines, cafeterias and bake sales.
Kirk Mark, president of the Canadian Association of Black Educators asked this education question:
Are new graduating teachers equipped to handle the challenges of today’s urban classroom? If not, what should be done to ensure we produce better teachers to help produce better students?
Best commented on the Liberal plan to extend teacher training programs from one year to two and said this additional year could be spent to develop skills in cultural competency and provide more time for in-classroom training. Williams agreed that an additional year would be beneficial provided it is used to allow teachers to develop skills in behaviour and anti-discriminatory training, and improve their “tech skills”.
Mathurin wondered if we are asking too much of our teachers, asking them to be psychologists, parents and social workers. She said that new graduates need more classroom training and teachers and schools on the whole need more resources to deal with the various challenges in today’s classroom.
Both Green Party candidates, Singh and Van Veldhuysen, said some graduates are prepared and some are not; what their party supports is teacher mentorship programs.
On the topic of employment, Delores Lawrence, founder and owner of Nursing & Homemakers Inc. asked:
How will your party improve employment opportunities for youth in Ontario?
Mathurin said it is important to encourage good paying permanent jobs across the board. For youth employment, the NDP is promoting tax incentives or job training supports for employers who hire new graduates, she said.
Williams said her party will increase the number of apprenticeship programs and provide jobs for everyone, not just the youth. She added that the “green job” policy is a fantasy, and that for every green job created there are more that are lost.
Best responded that under a Liberal government, Ontario now has over 200,000 apprenticeship positions in Ontario and in her riding alone there are two new companies making solar panels which have created over 100 new “green” jobs, a direct benefit of the Green Energy Act.
Singh reiterated his party’s commitment to apprenticeship programs and small business loans for entrepreneurs. And Van Veldhuysen referred to her party’s plan to provide $3 million over three years in tax cuts to companies that employ youth and a tuition freeze for the 2012-2013 school year.
These were a few of the questions and responses at the forum. Over the last several weeks there has been ample opportunity for each of us to become informed and engaged in the political process and to find out where the different parties stand on issues such as health, education, employment, taxes and energy, for example.
As I stated a few weeks ago, there are very few things in life that are not affected by political decisions or that are immune to political influence. Furthermore, the health, social, political and economic challenges facing our community are too significant for us to simply stand on the sidelines. Today we vote, tomorrow we sit down with the government of Ontario and build a province that is healthy and strong.
Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. He can be reached at 416-447-7600 or firstname.lastname@example.org