THUNDER BAY – As provincial representatives return to the legislature at Queen’s Park, calls to strengthen Ontario’s health care system are getting louder.
There were protests across the province organized by the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), including at the government building known as “mini Queen’s Park” in Thunder Bay, where organizers looked to draw further attention to what they say is an effort by the governing Progressive Conservatives (PC) to weaken public hospitals and move toward privatization.
“[It doesn’t] matter whether you were born into a wealthy family or a poor family, everyone [should have] access to health care,” remarked Jenny Sharpe, who spoke to the crowd about her story of her family having to sell off items to bankruptcy to pay for health care. “Tommy Douglas and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) envisioned universal health care for Canadians to [help] reduce the burden on families like [mine], And Doug Ford is trying to remove that.”
Douglas served as the Premier of Saskatchewan between 1944 and 1961, and his CCF government (precursor of the New Democratic Party) introduced the first publicly-funded medical insurance system in Canada in 1961.
The governing Liberals under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson passed the Medical Care Act five years later (1966) which extended universal health care coverage across Canada.
Sharpe went onto say, “It is obscene that our [Progressive] Conservative government is sitting on over a billion dollars that was earmarked for health care. As you’ll recall during the [COVID-19] pandemic, the federal government gave money to the provinces for health care. Is this what he has done with the money that was given in that terrible time?”
In August the province’s independent Financial Accountability Office (FAO) stated that the PC’s spent $1.7 billion less than planned on health care in 2022-23.
One spokesperson for the government dismissed the FAO report as “opinions”, even though the report is based on numbers from the province’s own accounting system.
Several other unions and groups came out to support the fight including Poverty Free Thunder Bay, the Hospital Professionals Division of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Unifor, and United Steel Workers (USW)
The vice-president for Region 7 of OPSEU, Ed Arvelin, believes funding is going towards private clinics.
“The dollars [are not going] to the front-line staff, and with the front-line staff it becomes tough on retention and filling those positions, because health care isn’t that beacon that people once thought it was,” he said. “[People used to want to] come into health care because it was a good job, good pay and the prestige around it. Now you talk to anybody in health care and we’re burnt out. We’re feeling fatigued, it’s a tough profession right now.”
That campaign mobilized against Bill 60, which allowed more private clinics to offer publicly-funded procedures like cataract surgeries and hip and knee replacements, a move the government said would help reduce long wait lists at public hospitals.
“Mike Harris opened the door to private corporations to take over long-term care, and now Doug Ford is going to finally privatize the last sector of public care, which is the hospitals,” he alleged. “We can’t allow this to happen. We’re fighting for not just for hospitals, [but also] for home care and long-term care.”
In 1998 the PC government, under Premier Harris, built 20,000 new long-term care beds and allocated the majority of them to for-profit corporations, including large chain companies.
“While sitting in the legislature this afternoon, I could hear the thousands of protesters gathered outside,” said Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Lise Vaugeois in a statement provided to TBNewswatch.
“The Ford government refused to meet with the protesters, but they certainly could hear them from inside the legislature. It’s time for the Ford government to listen. The people of Ontario are demanding the end of the Ford government sell-off and the restoration of funding to our public health care.”
TBNewswatch reached out to Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Kevin Holland for this story, but had not received a response at the time of publication.
There were similar protests in Sault Ste Marie outside of the Sault Area Hospital and in Dryden outside of the Constituency Office of Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford.
There will also be a second protest on Tuesday at Noon at Queen’s Park in recognition of the celebration of Yom Kippur on Monday.