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Regional group among advocates critical of privatization plans

Posted: November 4, 2022

(November 3, 2022)

By: Bill Atwood, Observer

Health care advocates that laid into the Ford government ahead of last June’s provincial election haven’t let up. Critics include the Waterloo Region Health Coalition, which is part of the chorus warning about privatization of the likes of hospital services.

As with the Ontario Health Coalition, the local chapter says the government lied to the public about its privatization plans. The groups said the province increased funding to private clinics while at the same time denying that they were expanding the private clinics.

“Mr. Ford, in particular, lied to the public about privatization of the public health services and the privatization of them,” Jim Stewart of the Waterloo Region Health Coalition said in a press conference held last week.

The group is made up of community members and healthcare workers advocating for the protection and improvement of the Canadian healthcare system.

Stewart took issue with comments that the Ministry of Health made to several media outlets, including The Observer, before June’s provincial election.

These comments include the widely spread statement from spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene who said that “the use or function of private hospitals and independent health facilities in Ontario is not being expanded or changed.”

In August, the Ministry of Health released a “five point plan” to guide the healthcare system through the post-COVID recovery. While that plan stated the province would hire 6,000 more healthcare workers and free up 2,500 hospital beds, Stewart expressed concern over references the plan made to independent health facilities.

“Ontario is working with hospital partners to identify innovative solutions to reduce wait times for surgeries and procedures, including considering options for further increasing surgical capacity by increasing the number of OHIP-covered surgical procedures performed at independent health facilities,” the plan states.

“Our perspective is that’s not creative at all. [Ford] said he was going to get creative, but really all he’s been doing is being responsive to the registered lobbyists with respect to privatizing public health care in Ontario,” Stewart said.

His comments echo statements by the provincial coalition and the advocacy group Democracy Watch.

“The Ford government lied to the public leading into an election,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, in a recent release.

“You can’t just outright deny you are expanding private for-profit clinics while you are in fact shunting millions over to expand private for-profit clinics. You can’t pretend you are not going to privatize before an election and then, as soon as the election is over, announce plans to privatize. By every measure, this is wrong. It is fundamentally undemocratic and cannot go without challenge,” Mehra said.

“The Ontario public will not tolerate such deception. Nor will we tolerate the Ford government failing to deal with the strain our public hospitals are under while at the same time funneling public money over to profit seeking corporations to privatize our public hospitals’ services.”

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, called statements by the Ford government before and during the election misleading.

“[They] are just one of many examples of the need for an honesty in politics law to penalize misleaders who violate voters’ rights by baiting them with false statements and election promises and then switching direction when they get elected,” Conacher said in a release.

Stewart said the current problems the healthcare system is facing have existed for a long time. He also doesn’t see the efforts by the government as a legitimate attempt to fix it.

“Obviously, the pandemic has exacerbated some of the issues. But as you may know, Ontario is the lowest funded per capita province in the country. We have the lowest number of beds in the country, per capita. And we have the fewest number of nurses per capita, and it’s all about funding primarily,” he said.

“We believe that there has to be something else other than privatizing our public health care system as a solution.”

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