DOUG FORD HAS DARED to touch the third rail. He has dared to mess with health care in Ontario. It should hurt, even kill, his bid to be reelected premier in June. But it won’t. Not unless all voters know he’s done it. Many are determined to make sure they do.
Unions are taking the lead with a brace of videos. No one is pulling any punches.
Unions launch ‘air war’
One begins with the message “Public health care is wounded”, then shows drops of blood building up to fill the whole screen, behind the final message: “It’s a bloody mess.”
A second video carries an SOS message to “Save our hospitals ... Save our staff ... Save our care”, while the soundtrack beeps out the SOS message in Morse code dots and dashes.
CUPE, SEIU Healthare and Unifor teamed up to produce the videos for a TV ad campaign. The primary purpose of the ads is to put more pressure on employers to stop stonewalling and settle contract negotiations with the unions. But their content and message are bound to help put health care front and centre in the election campaign.
The Ontario Nurses Association have produced their own video. It warns: “Before the June election there’s something you need to know.” Then talks about a critical shortage of nurses, surgery backlogs, emergency room closings.
One more round
The fight to keep health care public and fully-funded in Ontario is almost as old as Medicare itself. The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), a grouping of more than 400 member organizations and a network of local health coalitions, has long been at the centre of that fight. What Doug Ford is doing, and wants to do, has created what the OHC calls: “the most radical health care restructuring in our history.”
What Fords calls his “People’s Health Care Act” (Bill 74) served only to consolidate government control and make the chances of popular input into the structure and daily delivery of health care in Ontario even more remote. The bill created one Super Agency (Ontario Health) and through it gave extraordinary restructuring powers to the government.
The new Super Agency has sweeping powers to force through mergers, mega-mergers, amalgamations, transfers of services, closures of local services, and entire closures of service providers.
The Ford plan will shrink 1,800 health service providers down to 30 to 50 conglomerates.
In five separate areas the legislation enables the government, its appointees, and health service providers to transfer our public and non-profit health care services to for- profit companies.
The OHC points out: “Bill 74 takes away any last vestiges of local control over health care. ... They [the government] can close a hospital with the stroke of a pen, move a service to another town or close it entirely, or order the privatization of all labs or all surgeries.
Zero public input
There are no public interest protections in the legislation. There is no right to appeal anywhere in the legislation. There are no principles to guide restructuring. There are no procedural protections whatsoever.
Along with the sweeping changes that came with Bill 74 the Ford government continues to chip away at the funding of health care. For example:
Set overall health funding at less than the rate of inflation and population growth
Set public hospital funding at less than the rate of inflation.
Slashed provincial funding for public health by 27% and shrank public health units from to 10 from 35—in the middle of the COVID-19 “public health emergency”.
Expect more privatization
Recently, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott seemed to let the privatization cat out of the Ford bag.
In remarks at a press briefing in Ajax last month, with the premier standing directly behind her, the minister casually mentioned “private hospitals” as among the facilities that will be dealing with the backlog in medical care.
“We’re opening up pediatric surgeries, cancer screenings, making sure that we can let independent health facilities operate private hospitals, all of those things that are possible,” said Elliott.
Her reference to “private hospitals” was brief but, for veterans of health care battles, it was a hammer blow.
Will any of this lead to a Ford defeat? Many thousands of health care workers and citizen activists are doing all they can to make sure it does. One of the first tests of their efforts with come on April 30 the day the OHC has set for a mass rally at Queens Park in Toronto to “defend public health care”.
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