Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne hosts town hall on campus

Community gathers in Wallace Hall to hear Wynne speak about OSAP, OHIP+

MPP Sophie Kiwala (left) and Premier Kathleen Wynne (right).

Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne visited campus on Wednesday afternoon to give students the opportunity to speak their minds on the most pressing issues facing them today.

Kingston and the Islands MPP Sophie Kiwala introduced Wynne to a sizeable crowd in Wallace Hall and said, “if there is anybody, any person, any Premier in this province in the past and future that has got our backs, it is this Premier.”

After a brief preamble regarding the efficacy of Ontario’s new OSAP policy on access to education for students, as well as the democratic importance of student engagement, Wynne, ArtSci ’77, opened up the question period. 

One of the first questions she faced was posed towards sexual violence on university campuses. Wynne said the government is working with universities to better implement and enforce a sexual violence action plan on Ontario campuses.

“We’ve got to do something more,” Wynne said. “What [I’m] hearing is that there was very little input from a number of post-secondary colleges and universities, and very little input from students into the policies at universities and colleges.”

“We’re still having the same discussions as we had when I was here — that is incredibly frustrating, because if you had told me in 1974 that we would be having the same conversation in 2018, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Wynne said.

Wynne said the government is requiring that students be involved in the formulation of sexual prevention policies. Once created, she said there will be an ongoing review of those policies. The Premier also encouraged students to engage in dialogue with her in order to increase the efficacy of campus policies and their enforcement. 

Several questions were also raised by students regarding the economy in light of polarized views on the impact of the recent minimum wage increase.

“$11.60 an hour is not enough,” Wynne said. “If you’re working full-time, at that wage, people cannot afford to look after themselves. [They] have to go to the food bank if they’re trying to look after their family, and it just isn’t acceptable to me.”

Wynne also addressed questions regarding the impact of Ontario’s new OHIP+ policy, which is intended to provide free prescription drug coverage for children and youth age 24 years old and under, regardless of family income. 

Kathleen Wynne with Common Ground staff. Photo by Iain Sherriff-Scott

“Our motivation around free medication was that we believe if we were setting up a medicare system today we would have included pharmacare. I think there is a pretty strong consensus across the country that there was a gap in our healthcare system,” Wynne said.

The more problematic impacts of the province’s new drug policy were addressed by DrugSmart Pharmacy manager, Suzanne Kerr, who claimed that the implementation has impacted some prescription holders negatively following OHIP+.

Before OHIP+, Kerr claimed she never had to send away students without their drugs. However, now she has to because of the new paperwork required for certain perscriptions. With the change, students will now wait for their medication in some instances because their private insurance won’t pay for various medications.

Wynne responded to these concerns by suggesting cooperation and dialogue in order to ensure that the issue is resolved.

In an interview with The Journal following the town hall, Wynne discussed how the government will address the growing prevalence of mental health concerns on Ontario campuses.

“Mental health comes up every time. It is an issue on every campus I’ve been on in Ontario, and I think that reflects the catch-up we are doing right now. I think there’s a lot of pressure on young people, but I also think that 30 years ago we weren’t talking about it,” Wynne explained.

“We didn’t have the language to talk about mental health. I think part of it is that we are now aware, and that is a good thing, but the system is catching up.”

Wynne also told The Journal she encourages continued student engagement with provincial politics.

“One of the reasons I’m doing these town halls is to give students an additional opportunity to take part, but I think if there are issues they’re aware of in their community, if there are issues they think the government isn’t paying attention to they need to engage with their Member of Parliament, Member of Provincial Parliament or even their municipal counsellors,” she said.

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