On January 1st, people across Ontario started 2018 with a higher minimum wage and free prescription medications for everyone age 24 and under. I’m proud to have helped bring forward these changes to improve the lives of the residents of Beaches-East York, and millions of Ontarians across the province.
Our economy is booming. In 2017, Ontarians created 180,000 jobs and unemployment is at a 17-year low of 5.5 per cent. But we know that not all families share in the prosperity.
Many people in the Beaches and in East York are struggling to raise families on minimum wage. Some are unable to pay for the medications their children need because they don’t have access to an employee benefit plan. They’re worried about falling behind, despite working hard to get ahead.
That’s why our government has brought forward these changes – to create a fairer province for everyone.
Starting January 1, the minimum wage in Ontario increased to $14 an hour. It will rise to $15 an hour a year from now. Personal emergency leave and paid vacation have also been expanded, and those affected by domestic or sexual violence will now have 17 weeks of job-protected leave, including five paid days.
I know the implementation won’t be easy – we’re seeing challenges playing out across the province already – but this is an important increase for hundreds of thousands of our neighbours, relatives, children and friends.
We’re also helping families afford the care they need to stay healthy with OHIP+: Children and Youth Pharmacare. Now, people age 24 and under are able to get over 4,400 medications free of charge, including antibiotics, asthma inhalers, EpiPens, insulin, diabetes test strips and drugs to treat depression, anxiety and epilepsy. All they need to do is show their prescription and Ontario health card number at any pharmacy.
This represents the largest expansion of health care since universal coverage was introduced across the country 50 years ago, and is a move toward universal pharmacare that all Ontarians should be proud of. But we can’t take it for granted that all of these positive changes will still be here come July. Patrick Brown and his Conservative caucus voted against all these measures, and their scheme relies on $12 billion in cuts that will hurt families trying to get ahead.
Raising the minimum wage and being the first province in Canada to provide prescription medication at no cost for children and youth age 24 and under is part of our government’s commitment to build a fairer and more just society for the people of this province.
The decisions we make this year will mean the difference between our children growing up in an Ontario where opportunity is real, or something for a privileged few. On January 1st millions of people woke up in an Ontario that is a little bit fairer because of positive changes that are making a difference in their lives.
I’m committed to making sure these positive changes continue, and wish you all the best for a safe and successful 2018!
Arthur Potts is the Liberal MPP for Beaches-East York.