Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa says northwestern Ontario’s elders shouldn’t have to spend their remaining time hundreds of kilometres away from their families and support systems in southern Ontario, likening Ontario’s new healthcare legislation to that of the Indian Residential School system.

Bill 7, the More Beds, Better Care Act could force hospital patients waiting to get into a long-term care home into other homes elsewhere in Ontario, to help free up hospital beds across the province. The controversial piece of legislation was passed without public input or the opposition’s support in August.

During Question Period at Queen’s Park last week, Mamakwa, the NDP’s Deputy Leader and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Critic, says he and his office has been contacted by local elder Garnet Angeconeb, who has concerns about the bill.

Angeconeb is a respected and vocal Indigenous rights leader in northwestern Ontario, and is a survivor of the Pelican Indian Residential School. He received the Order of Canada medal in October of 2015 for his advocacy work across the country.

Mamakwa says Angeconeb is currently a patient of Sioux Lookout’s Meno Ya Win Health Centre and is on the waiting list for long-term care in the area, but he’s concerned he’ll have to spend his remaining time away from those he loves. He’s also sent letters to the Premier and Minister of Health and Long-term Care in protest of the bill.

“Bill 7 is not an appropriate solution for northern Ontario,” said Mamakwa. “Garnet is an Indian Residential School survivor who is now at the end of his life. Now, he is being institutionalized again by Bill 7. This is not right. The answer isn’t shipping elders to southern Ontario without their consent.”

In response, Government House Leader of the Conservatives, Paul Calandra, says ‘every effort’ will be made to keep patients as close to home as possible, and says the legislation is a positive step to Ontario’s transformation of its healthcare system.

“Bill 7 seeks to improve the quality of care for seniors who are in hospitals. The bill provides a better quality of care in the right place in the right time. Our seniors deserve the best quality of care possible.”

Mamakwa has repeatedly spoken about the need for more long-term care beds and healthcare resources in the north, especially as his Kiiwetinoong riding is primarily made-up of fly-in communities with little access to additional supports.

He’s also brought up the PC’s ‘broken promise’ to the Sioux Lookout community and Sioux Lookout’s Meno Ya Win Health Centre, as 76 long-term care beds were promised to the hospital over four years ago and work still has not started to create them. It was a 2018 election promise made by Doug Ford.

With an estimated 30,000 people between the Sioux Lookout community and about 30 First Nation communities who receive healthcare services in their area, Sioux Lookout’s lowly 20 long-term care beds leaves about 1 bed for every 1,500 residents.

In August of 2018, a few months after the original funding announcement, Meno Ya Win staff created a new web portal to track progress on the construction of the new beds. But by May of 2021, the site was no longer active.