Recently I found myself at a car dealership waiting to have my snow tires put on my vehicle. Admittedly, I was very late and fortunate not to have run into difficulties on the road, given my constant trekking back and forth between Queen’s Park and my constituency office in Elliot Lake. I know better.
As I sat in the waiting area, I soon struck up a conversation with a woman who was also waiting for her car. It soon became apparent that she was less than thrilled because they suddenly had to buy a new one since theirs had run its course. The mechanic told her weeks before that the old car could have lasted several more years had they made suggested repairs while they were still minor and few. Now, she was frustrated with her husband because she suspected he deliberately ignored the inspection reports so that the car would fall apart. The lady was convinced of her husband’s new car scheme.
I am sure that more than a few Ontarians can see the similarity of this story to the one being played out now by the Ford Government with our healthcare system.
Healthcare has been grossly underfunded for years under successive Conservative and Liberal governments. Since being elected in 2018, many stakeholders have urged Premier Ford to make the necessary investments to maintain, if not improve, Ontario’s failing healthcare system. The extensive list of healthcare professionals and associations issuing pleas to stop the cuts and provide necessary funding is extensive. The list includes the Ontario Medical Association, Ontario Nurses Association, and numerous healthcare worker unions. Also included in the list is the Ontario Healthcare Coalition (OHC), which represents more than 500 healthcare organizations.
The argument can be made that, like the husband in the above story, Premier Ford is knowingly and deliberately orchestrating a plan to achieve a long-time Conservative goal — healthcare privatization.
For several years, Premier Ford and his Health Ministers have been assuring Ontario voters that the Conservatives have no plans to privatize healthcare — that is, until recently. Now, however, Health Minister Sylvia Jones says that “all options are on the table.”
The OHC is ramping up to challenge the Ontario Government head-on. CBC News reported on August 16, 2020, that the OHC was consulting with lawyers and calling emergency meetings with union leaders and healthcare organizations to protect public hospitals from any privatization efforts led by Premier Doug Ford’s government.
Natalie Mehra, OHC executive director, told CBC, “We will fight them with everything that we have. Everything is on the table to defend our public, not-for-profit health care system. We will not allow — without a major fight — the for-profit privatization of Ontario’s hospitals.”
New Democrats are joining in this battle. NDP MPP Catherine Fife told the Ontario Legislature that it’s unconscionable that, even now, in the middle of a health care crisis, the Ford government is choosing to underspend on health care by almost $900 million. As a result, Pediatric ICUs across the province are being overwhelmed, surgeries are being cancelled, and families with sick children are waiting 10 hours plus for care. In shortchanging health care funding by $859 million, Doug Ford is sending a clear signal that his government doesn’t want to spend the money to fix the crisis in our hospitals. Instead, Ontario should invest more to ensure people get the care and treatment they need when they need it, not spending even less than planned.
For months, the NDP urged the Ford government to respect healthcare workers with measures including an immediate repeal of Bill 124, to ensure fair wages, benefits and incentives for healthcare workers to join and remain in the sector. The Province should also be accelerating licensing for internationally-trained healthcare workers. Unfortunately, concern for the health and welfare of Ontarians does not seem to be the focus of Premier Ford’s plan.
Despite the chorus of warnings, the Government passed Bill 124, the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act. Passing 124 demonstrated that fairness and respect for healthcare workers and public sector workers were not one of Premier Ford’s objectives. Bill 124 limited wage increases for nurses and public sector workers to just 1 percent per year. Mr. Ford chose to pass the bill despite countless warnings that it was unconstitutional and would be challenged in the courts. It’s interesting to note that just days ago, the courts did, in fact, rule that the bill is unconstitutional, saying that it “is not a reasonable limit on a right that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society under s.1 of the charter.” Furthermore, the courts said that the law infringed on the applicants’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
And if some are still not certain of Premier Ford’s ultimate intents and goals, despite being told by the judicial system that 124 is unconstitutional, he has already indicated that the Government will appeal the ruling.
In an effort to protect Ontario patients, NDP Health Critic France Gélinas proposed the Health Care is Not for Sale Act. If passed, the act would impose consequences for clinics and professionals who use loopholes to charge patients for OHIP-covered services and add-ons. Penalties would have included fines, licence suspensions, and a requirement to reimburse patients.
But the Conservatives rallied behind Premier Ford and voted down France’s bill, interestingly just hours after 5 health care unions came together to ask the government to say no to privatization.
Gélinas stated, “We know Doug Ford wants to send more surgeries to for-profit clinics, and now we have proof he is okay with Ontarians being forced to pull out their credit card to access OHIP-covered services. By rejecting my proposal to crack down on the predatory practice of charging for OHIP-covered services and tacking on extra fees, Doug Ford’s Conservatives have confirmed they won’t back off their scheme to pursue privatization.”
What will it take for this government to finally address this crisis and do the right thing? We need immediate action to ensure our children are safe and that hospitals are fully staffed across the province.
The lady at the dealership was understandably frustrated and disappointed. When we put our trust in a relationship, we expect to offer and receive fairness, honesty, and respect. It seemed to me that she was feeling her trust had led her to be manipulated, just as Ontarians are beginning to realize how our healthcare crisis may also be being orchestrated.
New Democrats’ message for Premier Ford is, “Ontario healthcare is NOT FOR SALE!”
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at email@example.com or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député