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Ontario healthcare ‘never so bad’

Posted: May 8, 2024

(May 7, 2024) By: Sara McCLeary, Sault This Week

About 60 people, mostly senior citizens, attended a recent townhall on Ontario healthcare, organized by Sault Ste. Marie-Algoma chapter of the Ontario Health Coalition.
The May 2 meeting, held at the Moose Lodge, featured five panelists sharing insights about the current situation in the province, how it has gotten to the point it has, and what they feel should be done to fix it.
Those panelists were Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition; Randy Robinson, Ontario director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; France Gelinas, Ontario NDP health critic and MPP for Nicklebelt; Dr. Marlene Spruyt, former Algoma Public Health medical officer of health and current healthcare adviser for the Ontario Green Party; and Dr. Jonathan DellaVedova, a Group Health Centre pediatrician.
Dr. Adil Shamji, MPP for Don Valley East with the Ontario Liberal Party, was also set to take part, but had to cancel at the last minute.
Al Dupuis, chair of the Sault Ste. Marie-Algoma Health Coalition, said the group decided to host such an event to raise awareness that the current state of the healthcare system is a result of political choices and therefore could have been avoided and can be fixed.
“The Ford government continues to drive the public health care system into crisis by holding funding levels to the lowest in Canada, and then uses the crisis created to suggest that ‘innovation’ must be considered to deal with it – namely, privatization,” Dupuis told Sault This Week.
“We know that the refusal to significantly increase investment in hospitals, health teams, and community health centres is a choice and not driven by a lack of resources that could make things significantly better.”
Dupuis added, the lack of action is “really quite remarkable given the very serious consequences for so many people: crowded ERs, hospitals at overcapacity with staffing shortages there and in primary care. In Sault Ste. Marie and across Ontario, millions of people are losing, or have already lost, their family doctor or access to a primary care provider.”
Randy Robinson from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reinforced the fact that provincial spending on healthcare is at the lowest level it has been for many years when adjusted for inflation.
“The government is using big numbers to make people think they’re doing big things,” Robinson said during his presentation. He pointed out the numbers the government uses when talking about how much more they’re spending than previous governments don’t account for inflation, and in fact when that adjustment is made, the province spends significantly less than it has in the past.
“Ontario is the worst province at spending money on public programs,” Robinson added, showing that Ontario is well below the average of all Canadian provinces.
Natalie Mehra from the OHC concurred that healthcare in Ontario has “never been so bad,” adding she believes it is being caused both by incompetence on the part of the government and a desire by Premier Doug Ford and his team to privatize healthcare to make it profitable for supporters. She argues the policies Ford has implemented have strengthened the kinds of inequities that led to public healthcare in the first place.
Mehra further argues for the large-scale deployment of resources to resolve the crisis, arguing it can be done, as we’ve seen it happen in emergencies. She calls for the creation of more healthcare teams like the model established by the Group Health Centre, and for the government to take steps such as covering licensing fees for foreign-trained physicians and creating conditions that would encourage retirees to temporarily return to work.
The event organizers also invited Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano to take part in the townhall and provide an update on the findings of the task force he established in response to the Group Health Centres’ derostering of 10,000 patients, but he was unavailable due to a family emergency. The organizers then invited MPP and Minister of Health Sylvia Jones, or a ministry spokesperson, to take part, but received no response.
Although many of the presenters at the townhall had no issue talking about the crisis through a political lens, Dr. Jonathan DellaVedova tried to remain politically neutral as he spoke of the challenges facing physicians in the current climate.
“I just want to take care of everyone as best I can and that’s becoming increasingly hard to do of late,” he said during his presentation. “We’ve been making gold out of straw for a very long time. Now we’re not even getting straw anymore.”
Overall, Dupuis and the other organizers were pleased with how the event went, including the “excellent” presentations, he said.
“Attendance was a good start for the campaign,” said Dupuis. “The room was mostly seniors, but the OHC does get a lot of support from younger people across the province. And we know from the success of young people organizing to address the environmental crisis, for example, that there is a serious need to engage that energy on the healthcare crisis.”
The event was one part of a large-scale campaign across Ontario, spearheaded by Mehra and the OHC, to educate the public about the healthcare crisis and to try to convince the Ford government to take action.
“We will lose public medicare unless we stop them. Everyone has a role,” said Mehra, noting the Ford government has bowed to public pressure in the past, such as in the case of the Greenbelt development.
The next step of the campaign is leafleting, with plans to get leaflets to at least two million people across the province, or roughly one in seven, throughout the month of May. More than 8,000 will be delivered in the Sault.
Then, on Thursday, May 30, a local rally will begin at the Roberta Bondar Pavilion at noon, before marching through the downtown and back to the Pavilion. That event is set to coincide with other rallies and protests across the province, such as one set for Queen’s Park in Toronto. Dupuis hopes many local residents will take an hour at lunch to take part in the rally to make a strong showing.
Anyone interested in learning more can find the Sault Ste. Marie-Algoma Health Coalition on Facebook email at, or check out the OHC on Facebook @OntarioHealth or its website at .

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