After what seemed like a very quick April at Queen’s Park, we’re now already halfway through spring! Soon, it will be the Victoria Day weekend, which many people consider the unofficial start of summer. Hopefully, that means plenty of warm, sunny weather so we can all get outside and enjoy some Vitamin N (that’s “Nature”!) in beautiful Sarnia-Lambton.
To start this column, I’d like to thank and congratulate my colleague, Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, for the successful passage of the Worker Income Protection Benefit (WIPB). The ground-breaking legislation, which I support wholeheartedly, provides three paid sick days to all Ontarians – and creates an important new tool in fighting the spread of COVID-19. The WIPB received unanimous, all-party consent at Queen’s Park.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government continues to work with the federal Liberal government to further support vulnerable workers by doubling payments made through the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) program. In total, the two programs will provide up to 23 days of paid support for Ontario’s essential workers, without adding any new financial burdens to our province’s small businesses, many of which are facing uncertain futures.
Again, thank you to Minister McNaughton for his tireless efforts in support of Ontario’s workers – and thank you to the opposition parties for unanimously backing these important measures.
In case you weren’t aware, May is Sexual Assault Prevention Month – an opportunity to raise awareness about the devastating impact of this crime, as well as the need to support victims and survivors.
Tragically, cases of domestic violence and sexual assault have increased during COVID-19 – a heartbreaking reality that only serves to prove that more needs to be done within our neighbourhoods to ensure women are safe.
Throughout the pandemic, our government has worked closely with the violence-against-women sector to ensure those who cannot stay home have a safe place to go. We have:
- Invested over $500 million through the Social Services Relief Fund to support Ontario’s most vulnerable, including those who are homeless and women fleeing violence
- Provided victim services an additional $2.7 million
- Created the $40-million Residential Relief Fund to address increased residential costs at organizations, including emergency shelters that support women and families fleeing violence and survivors of human trafficking
Locally, you may have heard that Sarnia-Lambton Rebound has created a partnership with the Lambton Police Services Board and the Sexual Assault Survivors Centre Sarnia-Lambton for the development and implementation of a new program, “Project 1 in 3: Pre-Charge Diversion Program for Youth in Sexual Offence Occurrences”.
This project is supported by a $200,000 grant from the provincial government’s Community Safety and Policing funding. “Project 1 in 3” refers to the number of women and girls who will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
This innovative new support program will focus on youth aged 12 to 17 who have been accused of sexual offences and will hold them to a level of accountability when charges have not been laid. The program will educate them about the consequences of their actions in the hope of preventing recidivism. The program will also assist in the healing process for victims of sexual offences.
Finally, as part of the 2021 budget, the Ontario government is now providing up to four hours of free legal advice to victims of sexual assault. This is a province-wide expansion of a successful pilot program, which will help ensure victims and survivors can access supports and services when they are needed most, no matter where they live in Ontario.
In other news, Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues to gain momentum as younger age groups become eligible for their vaccinations. With over five million people having received their first shot – over 40 per cent of those over 18 – we are one step closer to defeating COVID-19.
By the end of May, it’s expected that all Ontarians 18 and older will be eligible for their first COVID-19 dose, so please roll up your sleeves and be part of bringing the coronavirus under control.
Locally, Lambton Public Health continues to do a stellar job of getting shots in people’s arms. We remain near the top of the province with nearly 50 per cent of people 16 and over vaccinated.
As that number continues to grow, LPH has improved its call systems with the creation of a new, dedicated Vaccine Call Centre, which will run from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be reached at 226-254-8222. Individuals with COVID-19 vaccine inquiries are asked to call this new phone number to speak with an agent directly. This will help increase call capacity and provide improved access to vaccine information and support.
Please note, residents are still encouraged to book their COVID-19 vaccine appointments online at getthevaccine.ca – the new dedicated line will assist those who are having difficulties with their online bookings or who have general vaccine questions. All other public health related matters should be directed to the regular Lambton Public Health phone number.
As mentioned earlier, we are now halfway to summer. Unfortunately, the ongoing lockdowns across the province are preventing many people from enjoying their usual summertime activities. This is certainly not what anyone wants, including the provincial government. Our goals are to get everyone who is eligible vaccinated as quickly as possible, bring the COVID-19 numbers under control, and get us all back to our normal lives in the most timely manner.
It’s never been more important for all of us to continue working together to make this happen. We all have our part to play in beating COVID-19. The end to the pandemic is in sight. How quickly we get there will be determined by the actions we take in the coming weeks. Please stay safe and be healthy.
For anyone needing assistance with provincial matters, my constituency office staff is always ready to help. Please call us at 519-337-0051 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to respond as quickly as possible to your concerns.