Barely weeks after he was appointed as Ontario health minister, Eric Hoskins attended a private dinner in Banff with his provincial counterparts and Rona Ambrose, then federal health minister.
Although it wasn’t on the agenda, the first thing Hoskins did that evening in 2014 was raise the issue of a national pharmacare program. As Ambrose listened attentively, he made a strong plea for such a plan and won the support of many of his colleagues.
It was a brash move for a rookie provincial health minister, who might normally be expected to sit quietly and listen to the wisdom of long-serving ministers.
But it also was a clear sign of the passion and aggressiveness that Hoskins, a medical doctor, would bring to what may be the toughest job these days in the Ontario cabinet.
On Monday, after almost four years in the job, Hoskins suddenly stepped down as health minister and as the MPP for the Toronto riding of St. Paul’s.
On Tuesday, he was appointed by Ottawa to head the new Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, which was announced in the federal budget speech. The council is to make its recommendations to Ottawa in 2019, just before the next federal election.
Hoskins is the ideal choice to head the council, given his long-standing drive to see a universal pharmacare program that would provide free prescription drugs for all Canadians.
That’s because Hoskins was the driving force behind Ontario’s decision to implement a limited pharmacare program that offers free drug coverage to everyone under the age of 25. The program, which went into effect on Jan. 1, is one of his major achievements and forms a key part of what is an impressive legacy for Hoskins.
Indeed, he was arguably the best Ontario health minister in decades.
Under his predecessor, Deb Matthews, the health-care system had become a true mess. It had undergone major cuts in services, most notably in rehab therapy, that affected tens of thousands of patients. Home-care services were underfunded and over-managed; local hospital beds and programs were being cut; doctors were increasingly furious over moves to trim their fees; and opposition politicians were outraged over the government’s handling of the suicide crisis in remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.