“We are here today to make sure that the people of Sarnia-Lambton know that not only did Bob Bailey tell things to the press that were not true, but we’re here to say that we want public health care,” said Shirley Roebuck, the chair of the Sarnia-Lambton Health Coalition.
“We’re not interested in privatizing anything.”
Thursday was the latest in a series of Ontario Health Coalition events blasting the Doug Ford Progressive Conservatives for repeatedly claiming before June’s election there would be no privatization of the provincial health-care system and then announcing in August that it would increase the number of surgeries performed at independent health clinics.
Details were presented in a health coalition briefing note late last month, when other health coalition chapters held similar demonstrations elsewhere in the province.
Sarnia’s event waited until Thursday because of people’s availability, Roebuck said.
She was one of nearly 20, including members of the coalition chapter, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Unifor, gathered on the sidewalk outside Bailey’s Point Edward office early in the afternoon.
“It’s about the truth,” Roebuck said about the gathering.
“We, the public, who were told that there would not be any privatization of our health care are now going to be paying for private, for-profit surgical clinics,” she said, noting none are in Sarnia-Lambton.
“They will only be in large cities because there’s more opportunity for profit,” she said, as a motorist passed honking.
“I want to put to rest this notion by, oh I won’t say who, but a certain coalition that’s going around saying that we’re going to privatize health care,” Bailey said at the time to a gathering at the Sarnia Golf and Curling Club. “There couldn’t be anything further from the truth.”
The health coalition chapter had earlier in the spring been part of a campaign of “emergency summits” warning about potential health-care privatization and critiquing government decisions like the call to award the majority of 30,000 long-term care beds pledged over a decade to for-profit homes, a segment of the sector that saw the highest COVID-19 death toll among residents.
Asked for comment about Thursday’s demonstration, and again in the wake of Roebuck’s criticism, Bailey’s office released a statement identical to one previously provided by officials from Health Minister Sylvia Jones’ office.
The statement reads: “Ontario has and will continue to have one of the largest publicly funded health-care systems in the world, and to support this our government has invested $77.5 billion this year to continue to provide Ontarians with the care they need when they need it. We are working with all our health-care partners to identify innovative solutions to surgical recovery like expanding funding for procedures performed on evenings and weekends.
“These (independent) facilities already perform publicly (OHIP) funded procedures and will ensure patients have access to the health care they need and deserve.”
Roebuck said she’s also concerned about other legislation from the current government that limits wage increases to public-sector workers and has been criticized as exacerbating a provincial nursing shortage, as well as a bill imposing contracts on unionized education workers, including pre-emptively using the notwithstanding clause to quash any Charter challenge.
A strike by education workers is still expected Friday, as is another demonstration outside Bailey’s office in Point Edward.
“How can you say you respect public workers when you’re not giving them what they’re due?” asked Roebuck, encouraging people to contact Bailey’s office to call for change.
Dylan Stelpstra, who ran against Bailey as the NDP candidate in Sarnia-Lambton this spring, was one of the demonstrators Thursday.
“We saw what happened in the election, but I think it’s important in between election cycles to show people that people still really care about this stuff, and this stuff really matters,” he said, noting he wasn’t affiliated with any groups represented at the demonstration.
“I think this is a really good way to stay visible and stay in people’s minds, and it shows people we’re together on this.”