Bisson addresses constituents' concerns in virtual town hall

·4 min read

Timmins MPP Gilles Bisson says if another shutdown were to happen, people would cope with a “fair amount of difficulty.”

Bisson held a virtual town hall Tuesday night to discuss how his constituents have been dealing with the pandemic.

Some of the topics raised by community members at the meeting were related to vaccines, education, paid sick leave, electricity rates and the federal gun bill.

“One of the things we’ve been saying is there are certain things the government could’ve done to mitigate the amount of infections we have and with this new variant out there, there’s a risk (a shutdown) might happen,” Bisson said. “Am I worried about it? You bet I’m worried about it. And people are going to cope with it with a fair amount of difficulty.”

The town hall participants also had a chance to vote in a poll that asked how they’ve been coping with the pandemic and whether people felt reopening the economy was the right thing to do or not. The final poll results will be available Wednesday.

During the telephone meeting, a South Porcupine resident asked how people will be notified where and when to get the vaccine.

Bisson said the vaccination rollout is currently in phase one where the priority is given to people living in retirement, long-term and alternate care homes.

Bisson added people have the right to refuse the vaccine and nobody will be forced to take it.

“I would highly encourage you to take the vaccine but that is a personal choice and people have the right to make that decision themselves,” he said.

Locally, the second doses of Moderna vaccine are starting to roll out in the Porcupine Health Unit region this week.

Talking about education, Bisson said schools in Timmins are open to students who choose to study in-person. He said it was a parental choice to send their kids to classes and he thinks parents should keep their children at home until more people are immunized.

Another community member asked how she can get a refund from Air Canada since her trip got cancelled and she was offered only vouchers. Bisson said the federal government has not moved anything to force airlines to give people a refund. He noted NDP MP Charlie Angus raised the issue a few times.

“The reality is there will be a lot of people at the end of this who are not going to be able to afford to take that trip that they planned over a year ago. And they’re going to be trying to make up finances that they’ve got to deal with as the result of what they’ve experienced through shutdowns,” he said. “To me, the right thing for them to do would be to make sure you get your refund. But at this point, the federal government hasn’t moved in that direction.”

Bisson also spoke about the proposed Bill 239, the Stay Home If You Are Sick Act. He said there needs to be legislation in place to allow people to take 14 days of paid sick leave if they have to deal with COVID-19 and wait for testing results.

The bill would ensure people, who have symptoms but can’t afford to stay home, will not infect others if they show up at work, he said.

“That would not cost an employer more money because it will be funded by the province and it will be another health measure to try and stop the spread of the disease,” Bisson said.

Another speaker expressed her objection to lifting pandemic electricity rates. Bisson agreed that having an off-peak pandemic rate would make “some sense.”

“And, quite frankly, the government should keep their promise they made in the last election of lowering electricity rates by 14 per cent and doing it away with these particular differences in rates that are currently in place,” he said.

Bisson also talked about how the government doesn’t have the capacity and the system to properly respond to both addiction and mental health issues. He said it has gotten worse during the pandemic and there are no extra services to provide support to people dealing with those issues.

In response to a question when sports events and concerts will happen again, Bisson said because of recommendations from health officials, the government is reluctant to hold large events until there’s herd immunity.

Bisson also shared his thoughts on the federal gun bill, C-21, saying there are many responsible gun owners in Northern Ontario, but there have to be measures put in place to make sure the guns “don’t go to the wrong hands.”

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,