The pandemic forces us to look at life and at all of those who are part of our society in a new perspective. At a time where, more than ever, we are showing our appreciation to those who every day keep contributing to the fight against the virus, it’s also important to recognize those who are often forgotten and value their crucial work.
For that reason and acknowledging the fundamental work politicians do on a daily basis, this week, Manuel DaCosta interviewed Rudy Cuzzetto for Here’s The Thing (Camões TV). A member of the Progressive Conservative Party, currently MPP for Mississauga-Lakeshore, where has been his family home for the last four generations after immigrating from Italy.
Cuzzetto is what we call the common man in the political process. His humble background and the fact that he lived the life of a common citizen makes him understand our everyday struggles and bring to politics a new and more grounded perspective of what a community really needs.
Manuel DaCosta: In the last election you won against Charles Sousa, which many people thought couldn’t be possible. How did you achieve that?
Rudy Cuzzetto: From de day I got nominated, I went door to door to the community. My family grew up in Port Credit, we have been there for four generations. My father used to work at a Refinery, in Port Credit in 1953, called Texaco Refinery which will now become a development called Bright Water. I grew up right in front of that Refinery, at 23 Mississauga Road South, which under the Home Heritage Act today is still known as the Cuzzetto residence. The door that goes into the Crooked Cue, on Lakeshore, was my grandfather shoe repair in 1958 with the movie theatre The Vogue at the time. My roots are very deep in the variety. Also, my constituency office used to be a white house where it was my family doctor. As I seat in my office, I can see the church where I was baptized as well as my elementary school and my mother, being a first-generation immigrant, worked as a custodian at Riverside School which is just down the road.
MDC: Being from a family of Italian immigrants who worked very hard to build their lives from the ground up, how does your family feel about your life in politics?
RC: My family has always been involved in politics. I lost my father when I was 19, because of the refinery he died of asbestoses, but luckily my mother lived until she was 90 years old. She died from shingles, although I believe it wasn’t only that, it was the thought of not being able to go back to her own home as she wouldn’t be able to live alone. That’s one of the reasons I got into politics, I want to keep seniors in their homes for as long as possible. We have seen what is happening with long term care…
MDC: Traditionally, we came from a place where we keep our parents and look after them, but unfortunately the pressures of life allow that to happen less frequently. When we look at long care facilities, especially now, we really have to restructure things so our parents and families can be more at ease.
RC: I agree and that is what we started doing. We are the first government to have a Minister of Long-Term Care. We started to restructure and get rid of the quads to reduce it down to two in a room. It takes time. In Ontario, for the last 15 years, we have only built 611 long-term care beds. In Mississauga Lakeshore alone we have an accelerated build going on at Cheriton Park with 140 beds, we want to build 15,000 beds in the first five years and then move on to 30,000. It takes time not only to build the facilities, but we have to hire Personal Support Workers. (PSWs) If we build the 15,000 beds, we will need 26,000 PSWs. Where are we going to get them? We have to work with the federal government on immigration to bring people that want to work as PSWs.
MDC: The Portuguese community is building their first long-term care facility with a total of 256 beds. We are excited and hoping to break ground soon. The question is: are we able to find sufficient staff to make it cultural efficient?
RC: I think we can, but it will take time to do it. We have announced four hours of care for our seniors in long-term care, but we have to hire PSW but there are not many people in the profession. We increased their wages hoping we can attract more.
MDC: The pandemic has brought a lot of situations that need to be analyzed for the future. After the pandemic, the government has their work cut out.
RC: Yes, we do. Thank God that Peter Bethlenfalvy is our Minister of Finances and the President of Treasury Board. Peter comes from the TD Market in the US, he has worked at Manulife as well, he is a brilliant man. If he can’t bring this province back, no one will be able to.
MDC: You are serving in 10 committees which gives you a great range of exposure and knowledge in various aspects of Government. You worked at Ford for 31 years, you came up the ranks, so you know what is like being the working man.
RC: I know what it means to get up, be at work at 6 o’clock in the morning, in a factory for 10 to 12 hours. Working on the line, I started at as a welder, I worked every job… I know how hard it is. Going home beat, go to bed and back to work the next day. Besides, working shifts. That’s difficult on the body and also on the family.
MDC: That gives you a great perspective on what the common man is about. A lot of career politics, that never held a job like you did, don’t really have an appreciation of what is like. You know how the rest of the world lives and you can bring that experience to Government.
RC: That’s what I’ve been doing, trying to bring that experience back to Government. Some don’t understand what is like being in a factory, trying to make a living.
MDC: Speaking of Ford, the transformation of the automobile industry in Ontario and electric cars. Reviving an industry that we thought being near death. Do you see this resurgence as a long-term investment?
RC: I see it as a long-term investment. I look at all cars industry, they stopped investing in the combustion engine… we are going over to battery cars. There’s always a worry, we have to mind for lithium and other substances. Canada does a great job at mining, but there are other countries that do a lot of environmental damage in mining as well. We have to be careful when we think about doing something for the environment.
I remember going to the old Loblaws with my mother and we used to pick up paper bags and glass bottles and I remember that we had to stop it because we were hurting the environment, cutting too many trees, so we went to plastic… now, 45 years later, it’s the worst thing we did. I believe we have to move to electric cars, but let’s be careful, we still don’t know what will happen when we have to dispose the batteries. Let’s look 45 years down the road.
MDC: Everyone is talking about moving away from carbon and oil. This country grew on minerals, oil and trees, that’s how the economy was built. I agree we have to start moving to alternative energies, but we can’t just kill an entire industry so quickly.
RC: We have to do it gradually because otherwise we will kill the economy, but we do have to protect the environment. We have to remember, we have 38 million people in Canada, that’s the size of California, we can do it gradually and implement these new changes going forward.
MDC: The pandemic has had a huge economical impact. Being in the auditing committee, you can see that effect. We will be billions of dollars in deficit. How do you see us becoming prosperous again?
RC: We will probably have a 38 million dollars deficit in Ontario. Canada will probably have a trillion-dollar debt, unfortunately it will be our children and grandchildren paying it back. I’m proud to be working for Peter Bethlenfalvy because, as I said, he will be the only one capable to get us out of this. We are using technology to make things more efficient and that’s what we have to do. Use the tools we have to their greatest extend. At the Treasury Board I see that on what we are implementing through our audits. We are on track, but it will be hard. 38 million dollars debt is a lot for a province of 16 million people, but at this time we had to do it.
Growing up as a son of an immigrant, my parents would work overtime to save for a rainy day. The pandemic is a rainy day, if we had put money aside for the last 20 years, we would be better off.
MDC: One of the main issues we have right now it’s the mental aspects on millions of Ontarians that are confined and lost their jobs. Is there an economic plan to revive those who have lost all they had?
RC: There is a plan in place, and it will come out in the next budget. Regarding mental health, once again, we are the first Government with a Minister of Mental Health, Michael Tibollo. The pandemic has been hard on people and, unfortunately, most people live paycheck to paycheck. Can you imagine deciding between paying your electricity bill or put food on the table?
Let’s do whatever we can to get back on track.
MDC: People seem to be getting more and more frustrated. We are still not following the rules which forces the government to create these lockdowns that honestly don’t help anyone. How can we ask people to confine considering the mental health consequences?
RC: It has been almost one year on and off lockdowns. Overall, I think the public has been doing a great job. There are always people that will break the rules. We have to continue doing what we are doing and now we notice the numbers starting to come down. Let’s hope it will continue in that trend.
Our worry is the ICU and the Hospitals. I have a mechanical heart valve, I had it done eight years ago… these surgeries are very important, and we will have to start putting off surgeries like that.
MDC: My worry is that, in certain situations, people will have to play God and decide who lives and who dies. This week, on Milenio Stadium, we will be covering front line workers, including those that tend to be forgotten, such as yourself. Do you think politicians are considered front line workers?
RC: I think the public won’t accept politicians as front-line workers. If you see what I have been doing for the last eight months, I have been delivering food, over $300,000 of chicken. These two truckloads, one was to Feed Ontario and the other to a Food Bank. We ended up cooking for the Mount Sinai hospital, for the less fortunate in the community and senior groups. We were able to get donations of Lysol, for example, to distribute to long-term care facilities and daycares.
If I can prevent one Covid case, is one Covid case we have less.
MDC: We see Doug Ford coming out every day, being confronted with questions and criticism towards the government. That’s a front-line worker, considering all the abuse that is taking and, for the most part, with good humor.
RC: None of us, as politicians, thought we would be in a pandemic. I have to give Premier Ford much credit. The man never stops, and he is always there to help. I can call him anytime and he will answer his phone. He is there to help me deliver whatever I need to the community. There are very few politicians like that. The Ford family are caring people and I wish the media realised that.
MDC: You have been in government for over two years, never expecting to do it through a pandemic which I’m sure threw some cold water on the plans you had, but it’s also teaching you many aspects of the political life. What do you feel the government has done so far, the good and the not so good?
RC: At the beginning we could have communicated our plan much better. Right now, we have been doing a better job communicating with the public. The pandemic has showed what leadership our team has. We are the team to bring Ontario back to what it was, creating jobs, like we were doing at the beginning of the mandate. Premier Ford, Minister Bethlenfalvy, Minister Elliott, Minister Mulroney, they are all on what we have to do to bring the province back on track after the pandemic.