TORONTO — Protesters hoisting signs and chanting slogans gathered outside Ontario’s legislature Tuesday to rally against changes to the health-care system, despite government assurances that the new measures would not lead to any form of privatization.

The event, organized by the Ontario Health Coalition, saw participants bussed in from across the province, with some carrying placards, banners, and even effigies of Premier Doug Ford and Finance Minister Vic Fedeli.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the advocacy group, said the crowd was protesting the level of the government’s health-care spending, which she said will not cover the cost of inflation and is effectively a funding cut to hospitals.

“That means hospitals will not be able to maintain existing services because their funding level is too low,” she said. “For health care overall, funding levels will not keep pace with population growth and inflation.”

The group also criticized the province for merging local health bureaucracies into a larger entity, saying the change won’t improve patient care.

Many protesters voiced concerns about future privatization of services as a result of the new measures.

Betty Van Zeyl, a registered early childhood educator from Fonthill, Ont., took a bus to the event and handed out anti-privatization stickers to protesters. She said she doesn’t think Ford was transparent about his agenda when he was elected last spring.

“This has gone way too far already,” she said. “We need to take a stand and not let it go any further.”

Van Zeyl said targeting health care to shore up government finances won’t work.

“I believe that there are times when the government thinks that they are saving money and it ends up costing them more due to complications,” she said. “Unsatisfactory services result in poor health and therefore more costs.”

The government is creating a new superagency, called Ontario Health, that will consolidate 14 local health integration networks, Cancer Care Ontario, eHealth Ontario and several other agencies.

The province has promised no frontline health-care workers will lose their jobs due to the changes but has acknowledged some health care executives may end up unemployed.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government is making investments in both the operating and capital budgets of the province’s health care system and stressed it is not exploring privatization of services.

“We’re committed to strengthening our public health care system,” she said. “If you look at what’s happening in the budget that is what we’re doing, we’re putting money into public health care.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government’s plan for health care is the wrong approach.

“This protest is all about making sure that the people of Ontario are getting the health services that they need and that the government understands that people expect government to provide a robust health-care system,” she said.

Henri Giroux, president of the North Bay Labour Council, carried an effigy of Fedeli around the protest with a name plate dubbing the finance minister “Sir Cuts-Alot”.

“The whole budget is all about cuts to services, cuts to everything,” Giroux said. “So, we decided to come here today. Health care is one of the big areas where they are going to be cutting and privatizing.”

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