Protect public health care

Ontario Health Coalition and allies mount a show of force at Queen’s Park to protest province’s health-care legislation 

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Ontarians from across the province, including patients who have experienced health-care challenges, politicians and labour representatives, gathered on April 30 to send a clear message to the Ford government, saying “No” to cuts, privatization and mega-mergers. Supplied

It was just one month ago that thousands gathered outside the Ontario legislature to show their opposition to health-care cuts and privatization. The Rally to Protect Public Health Care, held April 30, was organized by the Ontario Health Coalition. 

Patients who have experienced health-care challenges, politicians and labour representatives joined Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, to speak about the urgent need to fight the Ford government’s health-care cuts and privatization plans. 

Here is the Ontario Health Coalition’s report on the day. 

They came from across Ontario by the thousands in the middle of a workday with a message for the Doug Ford government. From a stage in front of the Ontario Legislature, Natalie Mehra called on the crowd of more than 10,000 to make enough noise that it would be heard by legislators inside the building.

“Doug Ford’s government has no mandate to impose cuts and privatization of public health care. Not a word of this was breathed in the election,” Mehta said. “Health care belongs to the people of Ontario; we fund it, and we have worked in our communities for a century to build our public hospitals and local health services. 

Health care belongs to the people of Ontario; we fund it, and we have worked in our communities for a century to build our public hospitals and local health services.
— Natalie Mehra is executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition

“Mr. Ford, we are demanding that you improve it as you promised, and we say ‘No’ to cuts, privatization and mega-mergers. If you try to close down or privatize our local health care services, we will fight these in every community, every step of the way.”

Patients spoke out about concerns over mega-mergers and health restructuring. Ford has used his majority to push through a new law giving the government and their appointees in the new health “super agency” extraordinary powers to restructure, cut, transfer, close and privatize health services.

Cancer care patient Paul Kahnert told the crowd that previous cuts to colonoscopy screening tests meant that his colon cancer remission was not caught quickly enough. He said, “I had to have chemo, and developed complications that have changed my life forever. It’s been a lot of loss. But my experience is two stories. On one hand, I came as close as a person can to dying because of health-care cuts that were made to fund corporate tax cuts, just like Doug Ford is planning. On the other hand, the care I got in Ontario’s cancer care system was amazing. It is no exaggeration to say that the Ford government’s cuts and privatization plans will risk lives if not stopped.”

Lyyli MacDonald is an organ donation recipient who had a lung transplant: “The Trillium organ donation program saved my life; it is a model for the world, and doctors from Europe and Asia come here to learn how we do it,” she said. “Doug Ford’s cuts and mergers and privatization are a huge threat to patients like me. We need improvements to our health care, not the destruction of our social safety net.”

Doug Ford’s cuts and mergers and privatization are a huge threat to patients like me. We need improvements to our health care, not the destruction of our social safety net.
— Lyyli MacDonald is an organ donation recipient

They were joined by Shalon Armstrong, a chronic pain patient who is fearful about leaked plans to cut almost half a billion dollars in OHIP services, potentially including chronic pain shots: “If Doug Ford wants to increase emergency visits and worsen the mental health crisis, this is how to do it,” she warned.

NDP Leader and Leader of the Official Opposition Andrea Horwath spoke at the rally, where she committed to “stand up for our public, in government and outside.”

She was followed by John Fraser, Leader of the Liberal Party, who warned about the Ford government’s plans for “corporatization of our public health care” and pledged to stand up against it.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner thanked the crowd for all their work to protect public health care. He said, “The majority of Ontarians did not vote for this and do not support it,” as he called on the premier to stop privatization and cuts.

Leaders of Ontario’s unions, including CUPE, Unifor, OPSEU, ONA, the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress were featured as speakers, while thousands of their members who work as nurses, health professionals, personal support workers and support staff cheered. They were joined on stage by other union representatives from UFCW, COPE, OSSTF, USW, ETFO and SEIU Healthcare, and together they pledged to build a fightback plan and work with community organizations to protect and expand public health care, not privatize and cut it.

Physician Dr. Ritika Goel and dozens of paramedics spoke of their fears about the impact of cuts, restructuring and privatization on patient care.

Local community members who have formed citizen’s committees to save their local hospital services following the last round of restructuring told the crowd that they now face a far bigger threat, with massive-scale restructuring planned. They vowed to stop any new attempts to cut and close their services.

Ontarians from across the province left the rally having sent a clear message to the Ford government: This is just the beginning, Coalition leaders said, as they committed to fight in every town across Ontario to protect our services and insist that the Ford government live up to the election promises.

The Ontario Health Coalition urges Ontarians to email or call their MPP and deliver a clear message – do not cut or privatize our health services.

Health Care Cuts

April 22, 2019

Ford government health care cuts to date:

  • Cut OHIP+ so families with sick children will have to seek private coverage first and pay deductibles and co-payments. (June 2018)

  • Cut planned mental health funding by more than $330 million. (July 2018)

  • Cancelled all new planned overdose prevention sites. (Autumn 2018)

  • Cut funding to the College of Midwives of Ontario. (December 2018)

  • Cut funding for the dementia strategy.

  • Let surge funding run out for hospital overcrowding. Surge beds are now closed without replacement, despite overcrowding crisis.

  • Cut and restructured autism funding. (Winter 2018–19)

  • Set overall health funding at less than the rate of inflation and population growth, let alone aging. This means service levels cannot keep up with population need. (2019 Budget)

  • Set public hospital funding at less than the rate of inflation. This means real dollar (inflation adjusted dollar) funding cuts and serious service cuts. (2019 Budget)

  • Cut provincial funding for public health by almost 1/3 (27%) and cut public health units from 35 to 10. (2019 Budget)

  • Introduced Bill 74, which gives sweeping new powers to the minster and Super Agency to force restructuring of virtually the entire health system. (February/March 2019)

  • Municipalities revealed Ford government plan to cut and restructure ambulance services, down from 59 to 10. (April 2019)

  • Leaked document reveals plans to cut half a billion dollars in OHIP services. On the chopping block are sedation for colonoscopies, chronic pain management services and others. Plans will be made this spring/summer. (April 2019)

  • Cut OHIP funding for residents travelling out of Canada. (May 2019)

  • Cut 44 positions at the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) – provider of video medical services – which previously employed 265 people. In other words, 1 in every 6 telemedicine staff positions is being cut. The official dollar figure has not yet been released, but OTN received $42 million in provincial funding in 2017-18; nearly all came from the Ministry of Health. (May 2019)

  • Set 2019 land ambulance grant funding at less than the rate of inflation. This means real dollar cuts to ambulance services. The City of Toronto has calculated the value of these cuts at $4 million for Toronto alone. (April 2019)

  • Plans to reduce the number of Public Health Units from 35 to 10. Cut 27%, or $200 million, of provincial funding for public health. Toronto Public Health has been particularly hard-hit. The city of Toronto has calculated the cuts to amount will amount to $1 billion over a 5-year period. Ford government disputes these figures. (April 2019)

  • Cut more than $70 million from eHealth’s budget. (May 2019)

  • Cut almost $53 million from the Health System Research Fund, a fund dedicated to research relevant to provincial policy and health-care system restructuring. (May 2019)

  • Cut $5 million in annual funding for stem-cell research at the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine. (May 2019)

  • Cut $24 million in funding for artificial intelligence research from the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence as well as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. (May 2019)