Premier, if the [political] world were to end in 5 or 6 days, what would be your legacy? For what would you be remembered, or would like to be remembered?
«I think our government has done much to improve the availability and delivery of health care services and supports, in particular to our more vulnerable and to our growing demographic of Senior. We have dedicated increasing finances to developing expertise and qualified personnel to provide care when and where it is most needed. Moreover, we have either developed new programs or tweeked existing ones to level inequalities of care to ensure that no citizen be exclude from the care that is required for a dignified quality of life when under health stresses.»
Have you turned attention to the physical infrastructure required to deliver those services? With an ageing population, would you require more “beds”, so to speak?
«Of course, and for that we have been working with municipalities, local communities, to ensure funding and levels of care that may be more appropriate to any given “locality”, “hubs of community care” and service.»
Culturally appropriate and focused?
«In some cases, where there is a critical mass of numbers that make it feasible, yes. You know the face of our city and our province is changing, and, it makes good sense to partner with local communities to deliver services that they often feel the need to start up on their own.»
Like Villa Colombo, for example
«Exactly. Or in my own riding, which includes Thorncliffe Park, where the local Arab/Muslim community has begun to organize services to meet the needs that reflect cultural/religious peculiarities. In either case, the Province has an obligation to establish standards and delivery for care that transcends cultural/religious and even linguistic differences. I rely on an [expert] advisor whose task it is to stay current on changes and to explore, for me and my government, the options for adjustments that need to be contemplated and funded.»
What happens when funds allocated or intended for a specific goal or purpose do not end up where they were targeted or are utilized in a project that produces outcomes not initially contemplated in the allocation? We have something close to that in the funds the government proposed for redevelopment of a school and has now emerged as a joint project with the Columbus Centre.
«I thought you might go there. I know the area. You may remember that I represented that ward as a Public School Board Trustee, earlier in my political career; and, I have been to many functions at the Centre. I am aware that a consultation process is nearing completion and I will decline comment until that is done. In the interim, and after, I will [continue] to stay informed, consult with the Ministers concerned and with my colleague MPP Mike Colle, the local representative. Then, we will make a decision that is most appropriate for the community.»
Ok. Fair enough. While we are on the topic of schools and community, you must also be current on the efforts by many in our Italian-Canadian community to access programs in our schools in Italian, even as they come up against the questionable tactics of School Boards in the GTA to curtail availability of heritage languages programs.
«One of my Ministerial responsibilities in the past was as Minister of Education. I also completed my Masters in Linguistics. You can understand why appreciate the value of what we now call International Languages study from an academic perspective and from a pedagogical point of view. Numerous studies point to the enhanced learning abilities observed among those who learn, or practice, a second, third language and so on…»
And yet School Boards like the TCDSB and the York Region Catholic School Board have recently embarked on plans to eliminate International Languages – Italian specifically – from their extended day program. In York Region, fully 8,000 of the 27,000 elementary school children are registered in a program the Board wants to eliminate. Have you considered placing international languages into the core curriculum and funding it so that these Boards don’t look to cutting the extended day?
«The circumstances at York were eventually resolved, as you know, in part because of our input. Your Consul General also made interventions with us. As to funding and insertion into the curriculum, this is something that we are prepared to explore with the various communities affected and the delivery organizations such as the school boards.»
Premier, education and demographic policies ensure the survival of communities and keep them vibrant. In an environment of ageing populations, the Italian being no exception, immigration and demographic policies may be the only way to ensure survival and cultural vibrancy. Immigration is one of two shared jurisdictions with the Federal government. Do you plan to exert a more aggressive stance vis-a- vis immigration with the federal government?
«Our Minister Laura Albanese has already succeeded in negotiating more favourable programs and expeditious procedures with her federal counterpart for Ontario. It is no secret that immigration will make up the population shortfall in our marketplace as the birth rate seemingly continues to decline…»
As you may know, there is a vast reservoir of young, educated and skilled Italians leaving Italy at the rate of 100,000 plus per year. We have an interest – and I think Ontario does as well – in attracting as many of them as possible. That’s really what I meant by a more aggressive approach because they are now going elsewhere.
«And I am aware of that. Ontario should attract them and other dynamic individuals from around the world. I agree, it is in our economic long-term interest. As I said, Minister Albanese has full grasp of the issues and how to address them. I rely on her lead. She has my full support as she works with our federal counterparts».
One last question/observation. I thought you “stole the show” at last week’s Subway opening. The consensus is that the opening of the subway into Northwest GTA was a long time in coming. People immediately spoke of upcoming expansion and other network connections of public transit into Bolton, Caledon, Brampton where so many of the Italian community seem to be relocating. You are a former Minister of Transportation; are there plans for the expansion of “public transit” to connect our community to the economic life of Toronto and Vaughan?
«In a word? The original name of the Ministry of Transportation was the Ministry of Highways, probably indicative of its main role in establishing the infrastructure for the province’s economy. Highways are no less important today but the business of moving human resources from point A to point B and beyond is clearly a much more complex and engaging exercise today. I am happy that our Minister of Transportation, Stephen Del Duca, is unfolding our plans strategically. it is our goal to connect as many communities and people in as efficiently and as sustainably as possible. It forms part of our innovation and economic plan – one that makes Ontario a competitive place to invest and whose quality of life attractive for people to lay down roots.»