Q&A with Kingston & the Islands MPP Sophie Kiwala

University District

Liberal MPP talks new OSAP changes, minimum wage increase and the sale of cannabis in Ontario

Liberal MPP Sophie Kiwala.
Credit: 
Supplied by Kiwala's Constituency Office

Liberal MPP Sophie Kiwala (Kingston & the Islands) sat down with The Journal for a Q&A about the Ontario government’s many recent policy endeavours.

Kiwala was elected to the Ontario Legislative Assembly in June 2014 and is an active member in Kathleen Wynne’s government, holding positions such as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Youth and Early Education and to the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

Kiwala is also an active member of several caucuses including Rural Affairs, the Francophone Caucus and the Women’s Caucus.            

What does the government see as being the successes of the new OSAP program?

The successes are that 50,000 more students this year than last, have received free or almost free tuition. That is an enormous success. 210,000 students are taking part in the program this year and we feel that is a tremendous number. We would like it to get better, but we were very proud.

In terms of the future outlook on OSAP, do you see the government revisiting, maybe expanding the current framework again in the near future?

I think that since it is relatively new we’ll take a little bit of time to figure out what the uptake is like. We’ll do the appropriate analysis and find out what students are needing. When we came together as a caucus and when cabinet came together on this initiative, they were basically asked to bring all of the money together and wipe away everything that we had been working with before, to figure out what was the best we could do for students right now and how we could make sure that the money was going to the people who need it the most. As a government we may not always have that approach but it was a start from the beginning, no holds barred, we’re going to do this and make it effective for students in Ontario today.

How do you think the government’s decision to raise the minimum wage to $14 starting in 2018, and then to $15 in 2019 will impact the Queen’s and Kingston community at large?

I think that students and the Queen’s community are obviously going to have access to higher paying jobs. This is going to be a huge thing for students as they are trying to support themselves through their education. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there right now because change makes people question and it makes people worry. In other jurisdictions we haven’t seen quite the doom and gloom that’s being predicted. The fact is that we need to make sure that everybody has a fair chance at earning a fair wage. When you are working full time or you are working part-time in the summer to support your studies, you need to know that you will be able to pay the bills at the end of the day.

Ontario’s Financial Accountability office estimated the change will benefit 1.6 million workers, but result in a net loss of 50,000 jobs. Does the government see this as the necessary cost of a policy like this?

I think that there are lots of different opinions on what will happen. As I mentioned, we have not seen the job losses that are being predicted now in other jurisdictions. I’m not sure how somebody could come up with the nice round figure of 50,000 job losses. I think that it goes back a little bit to that uncertainty about change. It is always natural to be uncertain and worry about change. It’s been thoughtfully researched and we know that Ontarians need to be able to make a sufficient salary in order to be able to support themselves, that is the right thing to do.

Concerning the plan to manage the sale of cannabis, one issue that has been raised in opening a limited number of LCBO-like storefronts to sell cannabis, is that demand could out-pace supply pretty rapidly. How will the government respond if there is too much pressure on its distribution system?

This is a very new change in society. I think that it is difficult to assume that there will be this massive demand. We don’t know that yet. This is the start, the beginning of brand new legislation that has never happened before. We need to start somewhere, and this is where we have set ourselves at. This is the number we have set ourselves to achieve and we’ll see what happens.

In this fall sitting, what policies might be coming down the pipeline that will affect Queen’s students or the Kingston community?

In terms of what is already in the pipeline and will be coming into legislation, there are some very important pieces of legislation that we have been working on. One of them that we have talked about already is the OHIP+. Anybody under the age of 25 will receive free medication and they will have a choice of among 4,400 different types of medication, so it is a very substantial program and one that is necessary to support youth.

Another thing that could have an impact, and I hope will have an impact on Queen’s students and on young people in Kingston and the Islands is the low carbon infrastructure fund. So looking at sustainable projects within our city, or within the rest of the province. I think that is really important because young people are where some of the best ideas come from and we need some fresh ideas. We are interested in exploring some new opportunities.

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

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