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BRIEFING NOTE: Saving Public Health Care & Public Services Under the Doug Ford Government, September 11, 2018

Posted: September 11, 2018

Saving Public Health Care & Public Services Under the Doug Ford Government               

(September 11, 2018)

By Natalie Mehra, Executive Director, Ontario Health Coalition

Since Doug Ford’s election there has been a lot of glib talk about Ford as a buffoon, a Trump-north, an almost contemptible figure. But this ignores the fact that the brain trust behind Ford is not ridiculous at all. They are clever – diabolical even– and they are deeply ideological. These people have collectively spent decades working against our social safety net and public programs, public health care included. They are sophisticated and experienced in government.  And they have a clear mission. A raft of Harper strategists and staffers populated both Ford’s nomination campaign and his election team (more info here).  Now, in government, Harper’s former chief of staff has been appointed as Ford’s principle secretary.

Doug Ford did not reveal an election platform but there is definitely a clear plan that is being rolled out day after day across Ontario.

In fact, Gordon Campbell, arch-privateer, former B.C. premier, and a really bad man in my personal opinion, has been appointed to do a review of Ontario’s finances. Ironic, since Campbell as B.C. premier ran his province from a surplus into a deficit and increased the debt substantially. But this doesn’t matter for the anti-government ideologues. What matters is that Campbell accomplished the deepest cuts of any premier, perhaps in Canada’s history. (He’s in a dead heat with Mike Harris for this dubious distinction). Campbell cut every government ministry; gutting environmental programs, closing rural schools and hospitals, chopping social assistance and arts, closing women’s services. He fired hospital support staff en masse and privatized their services forcing them to re-apply for their old jobs in private companies at minimum wage or drastically cut rates, rolling back fifty years of hard-won labour improvements for those workers and their families. He laid off 11,700 civil servants in one day and called it “thoughtful” and “innovative”.  He cut public hospital and health services and then contracted private for-profit clinics. Then he turned a blind eye as those clinics started to charge user fees for surgeries and diagnostic tests in the thousands of dollars to patients, in violation of the Canada Health Act. This summer, he agreed to testify for the private clinics in their court challenge in B.C. as they try to wipe out the laws that protect single tier public medicare in Canada. (You see what I mean? Evil.)  Oh—and he overstated the fiscal “crisis” in B.C. (in fact there was a surplus) in order to soften up the public for his “innovative” cuts.

So, it seems predictable.…seems the plan is for Gordon Campbell’s financial review to paint a picture of fiscal crisis in Ontario. The report has already been received by the Ford government and is secret for now. Then,on September 21 the other major report — a service review being done by Ernst and Young  will be received by Ford. (This is a tactic used by the pro-privatization forced in municipalities over the last decade to bring in consulting firms to look at all services and recommend to councils program cuts and privatization.) So over the next few weeks we will see Phase II of the attack on social and environmental gains. They will roll out a set of media messaging that will be echoed up and down the country about the dire financial situation. They will use this  — instead of raising the revenue through fair taxes and the like – to justify draconian cuts to public services and programs. And they will, at the same time, implement their own tax cuts that benefit, primarily, the wealthiest among us.

In fact, economist Mike Moffatt from Western University tallied up the total cost of the cuts to provincial revenues planned by Doug Ford and announced during the election. These are the monies used to fund health care and all our public services and programs. His calculations are public and no one seriously disputes them. The total is a hair-raising $22 billion. (Here’s the link. To see this go to the third tab on the bottom of the screen “Tory promises” scroll to revenues and add them up.) That is the bottom line:  $22 billion to be cut from funding for public services and programs over the next 3 – 4 years. In context, Mike Harris cut $15 billion over his first 4 years.  Doug Ford’s planned cuts are even more radical than Harris’ which led to massive hospital restructuring, closures, amalgamations, home care privatization, evisceration of all social programs, attacks on employment protections and privatization.

So, the evidence is piling up. Phase II, it seems, is on its way.

Phase I already happened.

Before Doug Ford was even sworn into office at the end of June, he imposed a hiring freeze on the Ontario public service. In real terms, that’s a cut because each day civil servants retire or move on and they aren’t replaced. So it has real impacts on services that we rely on. This, after the public service in Ontario has already been downsized for decades.

Then, starting one day after he was sworn in, Ford announced his first formal cut – to OHIP+* — the program that was going to be the great leap forward, expanding publicly funded drug coverage to all Ontarians under 25 years old. Ford’s cut means that families with drug plans through their workplaces would no longer be able to access the publicly-funded program. Instead they will be faced with whatever co-payments and deductibles come with their work plan. For families with kids with cancer, for example, these costs can amount to hundreds per month. They’ll also have to try to get their private coverage first, then if that fails, try to get public coverage, delaying their repayment for drug costs for months. Companies will continue to pay higher premiums than they otherwise would have for drug plans for their employees. This was Ford’s first cut and it was to a program for sick children. And it was a harbinger of what was to come and what is coming up.

A few weeks later, Ford cut more than $300 million from the planned funding for mental health. There is an almost total consensus that mental health funding is far too low to meet the pressing needs of our communities. People who need help have been left suffering as a result.

Then, for weeks throughout the summer, the Ford government made at least two announcements a day, cutting social assistance in real dollar terms, rolling back the minimum wage increase, cancelling the basic income pilot project  and so on – many of the cuts targeting programs and initiatives that create equity and alleviate poverty.  Click for link to list of cuts here.

This summer Doug Ford’s hidden agenda was laid bare. Huge policy changes were announced that were never once mentioned in the election campaign. But it was done in the steamy days of summer when many Ontarians were relaxing over backyard barbeques or at the lake. So Phase I was accomplished, and with the exception of the attempt to wipe out half of Toronto City Council, much of it was done without most Ontarians even knowing about it.

So Phase I is done and now Phase II is coming. This is where we come in.

The ultimate plan is to shrink the size of “government” – in reality, the public services and programs that we all rely upon to lift our standard of living and protect against the vagaries of the market. Many will not immediately understand that this is not about finding efficiencies. It is about killing off programs run as public interest and non-profit services so that private for-profit businesses can move in and take them over. It is about removing protections so that the workforce is more flexible and compliant. It is about power, and fundamentally it will mean greater inequality and more hardship for many. They have done it in the Harris government of the 1990s and in the Harper government more recently.

The lessons from those eras is that when we have stood up and fought back we have pushed them back. The public does not support the agenda of cuts, lower standards and privatization, by and large, and public health care is one of the most cherished programs in the country. The last thing we should do is let the cuts go by invisibly, waiting until people need the service only to find it is gone. What we need to do now is make the hidden agenda visible; to illuminate the cuts for all to see and to expose what they mean for all of us, for our communities. At the same time, importantly, we need to show people a way to stand up.

In the Ontario Health Coalition we have a start. We are organizing a massive rally at Queen’s Park at noon on Tuesday October 23. We know that there are thousands coming. Let’s make it many many thousands. Let’s make it big enough that the forces that would like to see our public health care dismantled, cut and privatized, know that it will be politically impossible to do so.

Doug Ford’s biggest weakness is this: he has no mandate. His agenda was shielded from public scrutiny through the election. The people of Ontario believed him when he said he would “solve hallway medicine” which, to most of us, means reopening closed and privatized services and restoring cut beds. His party said they would support improved care standards in long-term care. Our local coalitions even taped Ford at a rural donut shop promising them that he wouldn’t privatize.

So let’s hold him to that. Let’s organize in a way that cannot be ignored. Let’s be fully aware of what is happening behind the scenes, but let’s never drop the call for what we really need: a reopening of public hospital beds and services; improved access to long-term care and a real improvement in the levels of care in the homes for seniors; and a public home care system for all of us.

Years ago, former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein called public health care the “electric third rail” of Canadian Politics. He was referring to the ground rail on a railway or subway that carries the power. If you touch it, you get electrocuted. I like that. I see our job as to electrify that third rail. Let’s make them afraid to touch public health care with their plan of dismantling, cuts and privatization, so that we can protect it for all Ontarians for generations to come.

*In addition to the link provided above, information on the OHIP+ cut is here:

click here for printable version