MPP Jeff Yurek’s office has been the target of a couple of healthcare-related protests over the past few weeks, with the latest being yesterday (Friday).
About 30 nurses gathered over the noon hour to protest against Bill 124 and the lack of pay equity in the bill supported by Yurek. It caps public sector wage increases to no greater than one per cent for three years.
Nurses ask health care is included in the public sector but why are physicians exempt.
The nurses stress this is not about pandemic pay and we caught up with Rebecca Jesney, an RN in the emergency department at London’s Victoria Hospital, to learn more.
“Nurses are realizing the Doug Ford government as well as Jeff Yurek, are affecting nurses specifically and targetting us at a time when we’re supposed to be recognized as heroes.
“Nurses have had enough.”
The St. Thomas protest was just one of many across the province Friday.
“It’s a Charter of Rights issue,” argues Jesney, who is also an Ontario Nurses Association departmental representative. “We’re allowed to, as a collective union, be able to go to the table and have discussions about what fair wages are and what are fair benefits.
“This bill (124) prevents us from doing that completely for up to three years. It holds us to a 0.98 per cent wage increase for three years as well.
“We just want to be able to negotiate fair wages. Our male counterparts, the police and fire services were exempted from this bill so they were able to go and negotiate their wages.
“So why did those essential services get to do it but we as nurses don’t?”
Jesney notes it’s been over 10 years that nurses have had to take concessions with their wages.
“I would say about 10 or 12 years ago, police officers and nurses were on par with their wages and now it is such a wide gap.
“We don’t understand why our male counterparts are getting different treatment than us. The work we do is also important.”
And, if Bill 124 isn’t enough of a hurdle to overcome, the nurses are also dealing with Bill 195, which Jesney notes disregards important sections of their current collective agreement during a state of emergency.
“Bill 195 attacks our current collective agreement. When a government declares a state of emergency, they can really address a lot of important things in our current collective agreement that will absolutely affect the care of our patients as well as the workplace of our nurses.
“But it doesn’t echo with the government. What’s happening is they’re saying one thing and doing another to us behind closed doors. It really does feel like a literal slap in the face.”
“Things like redeployment, vacation time and they can also bring in less skilled individuals to do the work for us because they can contract work out versus have that skilled nurse who has been doing that job of caring for patients.”
She points out this is going to affect the community at large and the nurses as well.
“We’ve been working very hard during the pandemic. We have been facing COVID head-on and we want to be treated with respect and we want to be acknowledged for the work we do and we’re being put in a corner and they’re trying to make us fight our way out.”
So, is the COVID-19 pandemic now being used as a wedge?
“I think so. Initially when we were being called heroes by Doug Ford, when we were told we were the backbone of healthcare . . . our community was amazing to us when this first came about.
“But it doesn’t echo with the government. What’s happening is they’re saying one thing and doing another to us behind closed doors.
“It really does feel like a literal slap in the face.”
When asked what nurses sought to gain by Friday’s protests Jesney suggested, “I think nurses need to be seen. Often you don’t see nurses taking to the street to talk about something they are passionate about. I think that is something the community will recognize.
“We need the community to visit ona.org/bill124 and sign that petition on our behalf. To tell the Doug Ford government, to tell Jeff Yurek our local MPP that nurses deserve better.”
In her 17 years of nursing, Jesney says she has never seen “this kind of attack on the healthcare system.
“We, as Canadians, should be proud of the healthcare we have here but, unfortunately, Doug Ford has other plans. Not just for the workers but also the communities that surround those healthcare workers.”
It’s all about demanding respect for their profession, argues Jesney. Something nurses wouldn’t do unless they really felt it is important.
“Outside of just wearing a mask and washing our hands, nurses are making great sacrifices to make sure their communities are safe, to make sure we’re giving good care and making sure we’re showing up to work healthy.”
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A CHURCH SALE MIGHT MAKE
It’s likely a moot point now but city council at its Monday (July 13) meeting voted 8-1 to defer a motion to direct city administrators to begin with the notice of intent process to declare Trinity Anglican Church a heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act.
By the end of the week, 94.1 myFM had confirmed the property had been sold to an undisclosed buyer with the asking price coming in at just under $400,000.
What discussions by a couple of councillors revealed Monday was there may have been little appetite to proceed with a heritage designation in any event.
Coun. Mark Tinlin suggested there is not a high demand on the market for old churches, although the fact there were several interested buyers and the property sold in a fairly short period of time is a challenge to his statement.
Tinlin noted, “The current owned (the Anglican diocese) has not applied for a heritage permit and I don’t know why, in a philosophical way, the city has in the past, and continues to do, hamstrings property owners to a heritage designation.
“I object strongly to those and I don’t believe local government should be in that business.”
Tinlin stressed he was not finding fault with the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee which endorsed such a designation for the property.
“If it’s that important to the city, the city should buy it. For other people who think it’s important, let them buy it.”
“I think we should be doing our job and think about the consequences of an old church that we know has some serious flaws and is it realistic that anyone is going to put money into that building to turn it into . . . a theatre hall or restaurant?”
He continued, “I don’t think we should be doing anything until the owner wants to have a building designated.
“If it’s that important to the city, the city should buy it. For other people who think it’s important, let them buy it.”
Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands brought up the example of the heritage designation process that was underway for Grace United Church on Balaclava Street some time back.
“A potential owner did walk away from that because of the heritage designation . . . and it ended up being demolished. It was put up for sale and now it’s a parking lot.
“I do not want to see the same thing happen to another dear church to my family. I would like to see this deferred in order to work with the new owner.”
The lone dissenting voice on her motion was Coun. Steve Peters who was unable to add to the discussion once the motion was tabled.
In a follow-up conversation with Coun. Peters he noted, “Was I prepared to speak, of course I was. Procedurally, I wasn’t able to.”
Given the opportunity to speak, Peters affirmed his support for proceeding with the process for heritage designation.
“I think with the deliberations of the committee (Municipal Heritage Committee) the primary focus was the four walls of the building. While we would like to see the interior preserved, we had to offer some flexibility.
“The diocese does not support designation of their facilities. One of the few churches that is designated by the Anglican Church is Old St. Thomas Church.”
He continued, “Old churches can be repurposed.”
Coun. Peters advised, “I’m going to be pushing to see that it’s on our August agenda for discussion. And, I will have my hand up first this time.”
As it turns out, revisiting the debate next month seems a case of closing the gate once the horse has bolted.
MAKING A SPLASH, AGAIN
At that same council meeting, Coun. Baldwin-Sands requested a revisit of the decision not to open Jaycees Pool for the summer due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We need to have something for the kids and the families of this community to do. Chlorine is a disinfectant and there are things we can do for that, especially with it being an outdoor pool.
“Like rotating the swimmers through every 30 minutes. So, I would like the emergency management team to re-look at that to possibly open at least for the month of August.”
We spoke with city manager Wendell Graves yesterday (Friday) with regard to staffing the pool should it open next month and he advised, “Actually, we are evaluating that and we will probably have more firm guidance on that probably next week in terms of where that looks like it’s heading.”
As to a short window of opportunity for opening in August, Graves said, “We think we could technically make it happen. We have a pretty narrow season ahead of us. There will be quite a deficit in the operation if we open up for a very limited time.
“But we’re still evaluating that and we’ll have more information at the first of the week on that.
“We’ll probably set up a special meeting to talk about these things with council.”
A COVER-UP POSSIBLE?
During our discussion with Graves, we asked about the possibility of making face coverings mandatory in the city when visiting indoor spaces.
“There is discussion going on and we will be having more discussion in the week ahead about that,” Graves indicated.
“We will be relying on our medical officer of health’s guidance on that. We would follow her direction.”
No doubt city administrators would rather follow the lead of Dr. Joyce Lock should it come down to a mandatory order – as is the case in a growing number of municipalities – than adopting a local bylaw to do the same thing.
To wear or not wear a mask has become a hotly debated issue across the country.
Or, should we say a highly politicized flashpoint if referring to south of the border.
THE READER’S WRITE
Last week’s article on whether to initiate the process to designate Trinity Anglican Church under the Ontario Heritage Act garnered several responses from Facebook readers.
Paul Smith warns of demolition by neglect.
“If the heritage designation is too restrictive, the sale potential can be reduced. If that happens it will slowly disintegrate, just like we have seen before with many buildings.”
That prompted this response from Herb Warren.
“Agreed, Paul. There are no easy answers. In some ways giving it an historic designation is a death sentence.”
As to the item dealing with accessibility parking along Talbot Street, Carrie Hedderson Smith writes from personal experience with her son.
“The city needs to consider these interlock huge curb parking spaces they are creating do not necessarily work for low to the ground Rampvans with side door ramps. Most places consider wheelchair vans to have rear access but this is not always the case.
“Also the sidewalk having a curb and not an easement ramp is not always easy or conducive, as well, please don’t place trash bins near these spaces as the door which is unlocked to empty trash doesn’t catch- thusly swinging open and is an impairment to accessibility.
“My son was on the accessibility committee for the town for over two years and a lot of his input fell into an abyss with the city engineering representatives. Unless you personally experience these challenges it is hard for others to realize. I pray they do it right. “All of the huge interlock sidewalks with decorative benches, etc. are a real challenge when making a right turn with a wheelchair van like ours as it sits low to the ground and doesn’t clear the curbs in these instances like the one by Grand Central and in order to make a right turn onto Talbot, you need to almost go into the oncoming traffic.
“As for the heritage protection of our home church of 28 years, that means nothing. When money is involved they will tear down instead of preserving or in the case of Alma … well, that’s another story. Heritage or not, deputations to council or not, the city sets precedents by tearing down valuable properties designated or not. I pray every day our church can be saved, but at this point, it’s truly in God’s hands.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
Visit us on Facebook
And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.