By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
On Monday September 26, five African Canadian MPP candidates representing all the major parties participated in an informative and lively community election forum organized by the Black Health Alliance and other community organizations including Operation Vote Canada and the Jamaican Canadian Association.
Margarett Best, the incumbent Liberal candidate 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.
As the president of the Black Health Alliance I had the opportunity to ask the candidates a couple of health related questions (one of which came from the five recommended questions I spoke of in last week’s article).
Will your party commit to the collection and analysis of health data that includes information on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other identified factors to improve our health care system’s capacity to identify, track and eliminate health disparities?
Generally all the candidates recognized the importance of collecting the data but a few concerns were raised. Mathurin (NDP) agreed that the collection of this information is important but was concerned about the possibility of labeling and suggested that we should be focusing on the social determinants of health such as housing, low income, jobs and wages. Williams (PC) stated she would support this initiative on one condition, that steps are taken to ensure the safe and appropriate use of the information. Best (Lib) said that this is an important issue, not just for the Black community but for all Ontarians, and added that “to be informed is to be well-armed”.
I echo Best’s last statement, because it is the lack of robust, comprehensive health data that impedes the development and support of targeted resources and programs where they are needed. For example, we should be able to know how many Black men ages 45-65 in Ontario underwent prostate cancer screening (digital or PSA test) in 2010. How many of those screened had positive tests? How many with positive tests were referred to an urologist? What were the outcomes?
The same questions can be asked on a dozen other health related issues. Without the answers to these types of questions how do we assess how well we are preventing disease and keeping people well?
Kirk Mark, president of the Canadian Association of Black Educators asked:
Are you and your party willing to commit to eliminating the detrimental practice of promotion without performance within our elementary schools and give our children a fair and honest opportunity to excel?
This question was made in reference to the alarming high school drop out rates, particularly among Black males (nearly 40 per cent) and the sad occurrence of high school students with elementary level reading and math skills.
Van Veldhuysen (Green) noted that her party does not endorse holding back children and penalizing them but rather being aware that children often have different methods of learning. Mathurin commented that the current standardized testing in schools looks at numeracy and literacy only and suggested we need to consider their proficiency in other areas such as the social sciences, music or physical activity.
Williams, who has over 30 years experience as a teacher, vice-principle and principle, was quite passionate in her response: “Promotion without performance – no way. Low expectations – no way. Can’t read, can’t do the math – no way. You will stay until you can”.
Best reminded the audience of the steps the Liberal government has taken to improve education for Ontarians, namely the introduction of full day kindergarten which will benefit 250,000 children this year and her party’s plan to extend teacher training programs to two years from one. She also said that when the Conservatives were in power they closed 500 schools and voted against all day kindergarten.
On the topic of employment, Delores Lawrence, founder and owner of Nursing & Homemakers Inc. and the primary force behind Operation Vote Canada, asked:
How will your party’s tax relief policies affect small businesses in Ontario?
All the candidates agreed we need to support small businesses. Singh said the Green Party platform wants to increase the business tax exemption to $800,000 and increase the number of small business grants and loans to stimulate job creation. Both the NDP and Liberal candidates, Mathurin and Best respectively, said they would lower the small business tax rate from 4.5% to 4.0%. Williams mentioned a Small Business Bill of Rights designed to reduce the “red tape” with which small business owners currently have to deal, with respect to taxes and hiring. Van Veldhuysen suggested a focus on reducing payroll taxes for small businesses and support for businesses that reduce waste and pollution.
These were a few of the questions and responses in the forum which at times was heated and entertaining, and always informative.
It was important to note that we have representatives among all the provincial parties. Each candidate had good reasons for joining the respective party and running for office. Each one stated they are proud to represent and be a voice for our community in their party if given the opportunity at Queen’s Park. And each candidate reiterated that for anything to happen they need the support of the community.
Events such as the forum provided an opportunity to interact directly with the community. A number of the forum participants admitted this was the first time they participated in an election forum of any kind.
On behalf of the organizers of the event we thank the candidates for their participation and wish them well in their respective campaigns. I encourage members of the Black community to get involved, become informed, support a candidate and vote.
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 email@example.com