Pocketbook issues will dominate the new year, says Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek

By Jennifer Bieman, The London Free Press

The New Year’s Eve countdown is finally here and Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek is taking the opportunity to count up his many accomplishments in 2016. We caught up with the Progressive Conservative MPP to get a year-end round-up of the last 12 months at Queen’s Park.

What was your proudest moment of of 2016?

“I had another private member’s bill pass second reading,” said the PC health critic about his co-sponsored bill, the Lung Health Act. “It does two things. It forms an advisory council made up of health professionals to advise the minister on research and… support for those with lung health issues,” said Yurek. “It also forces the minister to implement a lung health strategy within the next two years.”

Bill 71 passed second reading on Nov. 24 and was referred to committee. If all goes as planned, Yurek is hoping the bill will get to its third reading by June.

“This is bringing lung health up to the forefront and getting supports in the healthcare system that are needed,” he said.

The private member’s bill was a coordinated bipartisan effort between Yurek, Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Ted McMeekin and France Gelinas, New Democrat MPP for Nickel Belt.

The Lung Health Act would be a comprehensive approach to respiratory health in the province and bring more attention and resources to afflictions like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and other breathing issues.

What were some challenges you faced this year?

“For challenges this year, definitely continuing to look for more doctors for the area and also working to try to find some more funding for knee and hip elective surgeries, which have been rationed by the government’s mismanagement,” said Yurek.

In early 2016, the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital completed its funded hip and knee surgery allotment with weeks to spare before the end of its fiscal year – and new funding allocation. Yurek was outraged that the hospital, with the resources and ability to perform more surgeries, was being stifled by a lack of provincial funds.

“It’s been a fight to try to find more money. I think the pressure I put on the government resulted in some money being made available to try to cut down the wait list,” he said.

Of course, there’s always the issue of energy rates. Yurek said it’s been difficult to push the costly issue with the governing Liberals and wants to put more pressure on the government in the new year.

“Holding the government to account on energy prices will continue. It’s a huge challenge to get the government to recognize life is becoming unaffordable,” he said.

Any regrets or things you wish you did differently?

Yurek is not one to live in the past.

“I try not to live with regrets. If I made a problem, hopefully I’ve learned from it and changed my ways and will better represent my constituents,” said Yurek, adding the only sorrow he has is the regrettable situation for Ontarians some government policies have caused. “You can’t do anything about the past, you have to live in the present and lead into the future.”

What’s next for you in 2017?

The Chinese zodiac calendar says 2017 is the year of the rooster, but in Ontario, Yurek said it’ll will be more like the year of the pocketbook instead.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of discussion about pocketbook issues. Energy rates are set to increase. We have a new Cap and Trade tax starting Jan. 1, gas prices will increase, gas to heat our homes has a hidden tax in it now,” said Yurek. “I think people are going to be discussing more about how this government is putting pressure on the affordability in their lives.”

On a local level, Yurek said school closures and rural school funding are at the top of his priority list in 2017. Three Elgin county elementary schools – Springfield, New Sarum and South Dorchester – have been recommended for closure in an initial report by the Thames Valley District School Board. A fourth, Sparta Public School, will be re-purposed as a French immersion institution. The board is investigating options for the region and is expected to make a final decision in May.

“With the school closures the board is putting forth in our area, the government needs to re-evaluate rural school funding,” said Yurek. “Unfortunately Elgin county is getting hit hard.”