U.S. Steel Decision is Devastating for Hamilton

The news that U.S. Steel has won almost all its claims in an Ontario court is devastating. Pittsburgh will now control the restructuring process and ensure that its claims are paid first, leaving little to reimburse the workers, the pensioners, the suppliers, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Hamilton. It is disgraceful. The federal government must reform the law so that this can never again happen in Canada.

The outcome of the U.S. Steel Canada restructuring process will have major ramifications for Hamilton and the province. At Queen’s Park, the retirees and workers of U.S. Steel Canada will continue to have my full support, and I will continue to press the provincial government to extend as much protection to them as possible.

The Liberal provincial government released its latest budget last week, and unfortunately, it was generally disappointing. I hoped this budget would finally see significant investment in affordable housing to stem the housing crisis and offer hope to the thousands of Hamiltonians living in inadequate accommodation, but there was little movement. I was hoping the budget would address the concerns of families: strengthening healthcare, education and creating jobs. But instead of protecting vital services like healthcare and education, this budget will stretch household budgets and make it harder for seniors to stay healthy.

One of the most troubling changes is that most seniors are going to see a big increase to the annual deductible for their drug costs. For people on a fixed income, that’s significant. The NDP has highlighted the unfairness of this change and the burden it will place on seniors. I remain hopeful that our pressure will encourage the government to change course.

In real terms, hospital funding is declining for a fifth straight year. Although the budget has increased base hospital funding by a nominal 1 per cent, after a four-year freeze, this will not keep up with inflation, population growth, or the rising cost of an aging population. The consequences of these cuts are becoming very apparent in Hamilton. St. Joseph’s Hospital has been under particular pressure, with cuts at all campuses.

In a terrible blow for our community, St. Joseph’s is cutting staff and closing its psychiatric services unit in east Hamilton. People needing those services – many of them economically and socially vulnerable – will have to travel to the Mountain campus.

If they take the bus, this will be an extra hour’s journey each way. This is no way to encourage vulnerable people to get the treatment they need, and the root cause of this closure is the sustained chipping away at hospital budgets by the Liberal government over the last several years. We need a health policy that puts people first, and realizes that short-term slashing of vital services will lead to great hardship and greater long-term costs. I promise that I will continue to make that argument in the weeks ahead.

Originally published in Stoney Creek News, March 3, 2016