Concerns surrounding pandemic a focal point during Bisson town hall

·7 min read

Timmins MPP Gilles Bisson hosted a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday evening to allow the public to discuss how they've been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and everything relating to the government imposed restrictions and lockdowns.

Lasting approximately 70 minutes, the veteran NDP MPP fielded many questions, and allowed people to vent on various frustrations. A wide range of topics were covered.


A citizen named Gladys called in and asked: “How will I be notified, as to when and where, I'm going to go and get this vaccine?”

Bisson said it was a great question, and one that he receives many times each day. He prefaced his response by acknowledging that regardless of political stripe, every government is facing a tremendous amount of challenges in handling the pandemic.

“Currently we're in what they call 'Phase 1' – which means to say they are going to vaccinate, as vaccines become available, and we've started in Timmins already, people living in long-term care homes, people living in some retirement homes that are higher risk...and then they move to healthcare workers, people living in alternate levels of care at the hospital, hospital workers, ambulance people, paramedics, police, and others. People at risk,” said Bisson.

He said once that step is done, the government will likely set priorities for the general public by age or other risk factors. He noted that the Province of Quebec has said they will be vaccinating those 85 years of age and up beginning next week.

“I think that's how they're going to do it. They're going to say everybody over a certain age, get them done, and then they'll move to the second, third, fourth, and so on.”

Gladys followed up by stating that she believes she is a “high risk” individual due to a compromised immune system, but doesn't feel she will be included in the higher priority category.

“More than likely, you should be able to go ahead of others,” replied Bisson, adding that he is personally immunosuppressed due to a medication he takes for his psoriatic arthritis, but that at only 63 years of age, he will likely be well down the priority list.

He added that the province has yet to release the full details of the immunization plan, and how exactly people will be notified.

Later on, a citizen who identified himself as Wayne asked what will happen to people who outright refuse the vaccine.

“I'm going to go over there Wayne, and tackle you if you don't take your vaccine,” joked Bisson.

“People have the right to refuse vaccines. Nobody is going to be forced to take a vaccine if they don't want 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 explained.


A question came in regarding the strong likelihood that mental health and addiction issues have been exacerbated during the pandemic, and what exactly has the province done to assist those struggling.

“I think the short answer is, even at the best of times, we do not have the capacity in the system to respond to both addictions and mental health problems the way that they should be,” responded Bisson.

“During this pandemic, it has certainly gotten worse. People who are under stress, and are having a difficulty dealing with this from a mental health or an addiction perspective, don't have a lot of extra services to be able to provide the kind of support they need to get them through this. This has been a real problem.”


With some aspects of the economy now re-opened, there are some wondering if Ontarians can expect to see live entertainment, such as concerts and sporting events, made available any time soon.

“The government, because of the recommendations they're getting from health officials, like Chief Medical Officers, and other health experts, and the health panel, are reluctant to open up sporting events in a big way until we reach a certain point of people being vaccinated,” said Bisson.

“So this whole term they call 'herd immunity' is when 70 or 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated, the chances of people being able to spread the disease is much lower. So they'll be able to get back to a more normal setting when it comes to going to concerts, and going to sporting events, and doing the various things we used to do.”

He said the short answer is, the government is in no hurry to relax on their current restrictions regarding large public events.

“I think it will be in stages, and it will be slow to come until we get to the point of having a good part of our population vaccinated.”


There were several questions and comments regarding increased bills for utilities such as natural gas and hydro electricity throughout the past year, particularly with people spending most of their time at home.

Bisson stated bluntly that the fluctuation in hydro bills, including his own, over the past year have been “extremely annoying.”

“I don't think there is anybody in Ontario who supports what has happened to our hydro system, and what it means to us. The private sector, when it comes to natural gas and others, there has been absolutely no push on the part of the province for them to give any kind of respite to people when it comes to their energy bills, other than what we control, which is Hydro One.”

He added that during the last provincial election campaign, both the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and the NDP had very specific plans to how to deal with hydro, and to lower the rates.

“The Conservatives won the government on the basis of their promises, and their campaigning, and rates have gone up every year since they've been in office.

“They should have, for the time of the pandemic, left electricity rates at the 10 cents per kilowatt, no matter what time or day of the week it is, as a way for people to cope.”


A citizen named Jason called in to ask about the possibility of the province implementing travel barriers to mitigate the spread of possible new COVID-19 variants.

“With the springtime coming up, a lot of people from Southern Ontario come up to Northern Ontario to enjoy all of our splendour up here. Is there anything we're going to do to stop that, or is there any contingency plan there?” he said.

Bisson replied that any measures like that are extremely complicated to put in place.

“We started looking at that ourselves, sometime before Christmas, and a number of our Northern colleagues started looking at it.

“It gets quite complicated because, if you're the mine operator, and you have to have somebody come up and do specific work to keep the mine running, do you prevent those people from coming up? Doctors travelling, truckers moving goods, it gets really complicated when it comes to shutting down regions of the province.”

Bisson said that although it was looked at, the government ultimately decided not to go that route.

“Was that the right decision? I think only time will tell.”


Bisson acknowledged that it is very easy to criticize government currently, whose members have a very tough job, and not a lot of of precedence to work with in dealing with a major public health crisis. But the provincial government's performance, led by Premier Doug Ford, has been a mixed bag.

“Mr. Ford, I've got to tell you, I give him full marks, when he goes in front of a camera, he says the right things,” said Bisson.

“The problem with Mr. Ford, I find, is that he doesn't deliver on what he has talked about, and then it becomes sort of an undeliverable.”

Bisson said overall, the chatter among those at Queen's Park, is that the Ford government isn't doing a very good job of listening to the concerns of its constituents that have been brought forward by MPPs.

“It's unfortunate, but that's kind of the direction this government has taken.”

Andrew Autio is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for The Daily Press. LJI is a federally funded program.

Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press