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What are we fighting for in the Ontario election?

18 questions you need to ask your local candidates

Community groups deliver the best prevention programs. Credit: Rob Salerno

HEALTH

Will the next government raise benefit rates to help people living with chronic illness ease themselves back into the workforce?

Many people living with HIV/AIDS rely on limited support from the Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works (welfare) when their medical conditions prevent them from working. Both programs discourage recipients from continuing to work in any fashion because benefits are cancelled or clawed back.

After the Harris PCs cut welfare rates by 21 percent in 1995 and then froze them, the Liberals allowed rates to rise again, but they have not regained the ground they lost.

Will the next government maintain catastrophic drug coverage and lower the income threshold for coverage?

Many people living with HIV/AIDS rely on coverage from the Trillium Drug Program to pay for expensive prescription medicines.

Will the next government maintain SRS listing and expand treatment options for trans people?

Sex-reassignment surgery (SRS) is a medically necessary procedure for many trans people. OHIP started covering the procedure in 1971, but it was delisted by the Harris PCs in 1998. The Liberals relisted it in 2008; however, Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is the only Ontario facility that assesses patients seeking SRS. The only surgical facilities are out of province.

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LAW/HUMAN RIGHTS

Will the next government enact guidelines to prosecute only when a clear intent to transmit the HIV virus is present?

Current law requires HIV-positive people to disclose their serostatus before engaging in sexual activities that entail “significant risk” to their partners, which stigmatizes HIV-positive people and discourages people from taking responsibility for their own sexual health.

In March the Liberals announced that Attorney General Chris Bentley would draft prosecutorial guidelines, but he recently sought to intervene in a Supreme Court case to argue against the court’s “significant risk” qualifier, raising the onus on HIV-positive people to disclose.

Will the next government maintain the OHRC and improve access to it?

Prior to 2009, PC Leader Tim Hudak called for the elimination of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Now, after softening his stance on the issue, Hudak says he wants to “fix” it instead of scrapping it.

Will the next government amend the OHRC to include gender identity?

The Ontario Human Rights Commission already interprets the category “sex” to include gender identity, but in 2007 NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo introduced Bill 186, “Toby’s Act,” seeking to add the words “gender identity” to the Ontario Human Rights Code.

To date, Toby’s Act sits in limbo. When DiNovo reintroduced the bill in 2010, the attorney general dismissed an appeal by the Ontario Trans Human Rights Campaign, saying “the protections already exist.”

Will the next government launch a public inquiry into the G20?

Premier McGuinty maintains that a public inquiry into the G20 debacle is not necessary. McGuinty was criticized for passing a secretive regulation that left the erroneous impression that police had the power to arrest people who refused to submit to a search within five metres of the G20 zone’s fence.

Will the next government abandon its appeal of the sex-work ruling? How will it respond to a possible Supreme Court ruling that upholds decriminalization?

Last year an Ontario Superior Court ruling struck down sections of the Criminal Code relating to sex work as unconstitutional, stating they endanger the lives of sex workers. Ontario and the federal government have appealed the ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

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EDUCATION

Will the next government support inclusive sex education?

When the provincial Liberals released the revised physical and sex education curriculum in 2010, religious groups, led by anti-gay-rights campaigner Charles McVety, complained it would teach homosexuality to eight-year-olds. McGuinty shelved the document, promising a rewrite that has not arrived.

Will the next government enforce the province’s equity policy and mandate GSAs in all schools?

Some Catholic boards amended the ministry- mandated equity policy to include a ban on gay-straight alliances, student-led support groups that offer safe spaces for youth to talk about queer issues. Catholic schools repeatedly block student proposals to start GSAs.

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COMMUNITY SERVICES

Will the next government maintain funding to local, community-based AIDS service organizations? How will it respond when other levels of government shirk their public health duties?

Activists say community-based AIDS service organizations run the most effective awareness and education campaigns. The federal Conservatives slashed funding to Ontario’s AIDS service organizations in 2008, and Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford has made clear his desire to end public health spending on HIV/AIDS.

Will the next government support harm-reduction approaches to drugs?

Taking a harm-reduction, rather than criminal, approach to drugs may contribute to slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users. In Vancouver, the city’s Insite safe injection facility has helped reduce new HIV infections, but proposals for safe injection programs are controversial.

Will the next government continue to support the arts and community organizations? Will the premier take part in WorldPride?

In hard times, governments often target the arts for cuts. In Toronto, the mayor has already attempted to defund Toronto Pride and has set his sights on the city’s arts budget. WorldPride is coming to Toronto in 2014, in the middle of the next government’s mandate.

Will the next government continue to upload costs for provincially mandated programs and accelerate the upload?

During the Harris PC government, a number of provincial programs were downloaded. Municipalities are required to pay parts of Ontario Works (welfare), the Ontario Disability Support Program and the Ontario Drug Benefit, as well as security costs at provincial courts. These programs put a strain on municipalities, squeezing vital municipal services. In 2008, the Liberals vowed to phase these costs back to the province by 2018.

Will the next government legislate essential service designation for EMS?

Paramedics unions applied in 2009 to have emergency medical services declared essential, meaning that strikes could not affect service. The province has not acted, ostensibly because of cost. During the 2009 Toronto municipal strike, gay man Jim Hearst died of a heart attack as an EMS crew waited 30 minutes on his street for police backup. An inquiry ruled that Hearst’s death was caused not by the labour action, but by poorly trained workers.