Source: CUPE Ontario

A health care crisis is sweeping through Ontario as living conditions worsen for the working class. While the number of working nurses and family doctors dwindle, emergency departments have wait times extending for dozens of hours, with some even closing due to lack of staffing. Those who can get treated are crammed into hallways, and in one case, a Hamilton hospital has booked out a hotel to make room for patients. There are ambulance shortages, with increasing instances of “level zeros” when no ambulances are available for 911 calls. The COVID-19 pandemic—which is still ongoing—has cracked the already over-stressed health-care system to the point of collapse, and people will die, and are dying, as a result. 

In response to the crisis, the Ford government has proposed action that will make things worse. They intend to privatize aspects of the health-care system. This would include contracting some surgeries and other medical procedures to private hospitals, and moving senior folks out of hospital beds and into long term care homes that are not of their choosing. Far from helping anything, this will have a devastating impact on working class people. It is important to fight the privatization of health care in Ontario. We can’t let Ford destroy public health care and give handouts to his corporate friends! 

In a recent press statement by Doug Ford, he claimed that his government would “get creative” when delivering essential health-care services, and that “everything is on the table” in response to a question about further privatization of health care in Ontario. He has promised that OHIP would cover health-care services, and not “your credit card”, but also pointed to a private hernia surgery clinic as an example of what it means to “get creative”.

What is left out of the statement is that the need to “get creative” was brought on by decades of cuts and underfunding by both PC and Liberal governments. Even in the midst of the pandemic, Ford was attacking health-care workers’ labour rights and occupational safety. Indeed, none of the “creative” solutions considered seem to include lifting the public wage cap on health-care workers, improving working conditions to ease burnout, or building more emergency rooms.  

Instead, the Ford government unveiled a “Plan to Stay Open” as a way of freeing up hospital beds and supposedly add thousands of health-care workers. This plan would include transferring seniors from public hospital beds to private long term care homes. The Minister of Long Term Care Paul Calandra claims that this policy will not be “forced” on them, but nobody believes that to be true.

The statements made in this press release and in the plan were very vague, perhaps intentionally to cover up what they want to do. However, it is easy to guess what “getting creative” would actually mean in this context—further privatization of an essential industry that is already increasingly leaning towards non-government funded establishments such as privately owned long term care homes and the use of agencies to provide nurses at a much higher rate to publicly funded hospitals. 

Those who support such measures will claim that it eases the burden on the public system, and is not a threat to public health care so long as bills are paid by OHIP. This is very much not the case. The kind of privatization that is being proposed will only result in millions of dollars of public money being handed over to for-profit providers, robbing resources from the public services that so desperately need them. Any illusions that private health care can provide an adequate level of care for patients should be shattered by the horrific conditions in private long-term care during the pandemic, where outbreaks skyrocketed and residents were left to die, while owners continued to collect profits. These long-term care centres are exactly where Ford wants to send seniors as part of his “creative” solution to the crisis.

Grassroots organizations and workers’ groups have denounced the plan for further health care privatization. In response to the Ford government’s press release and plan, the Ontario Health Coalition has accused them of manipulating some of the facts included within their statements, and has issued a fact-checker for them. They have called out Ford’s intention of privatizing surgeries and forcing seniors into for-profit long term care homes, without relaying this information clearly within his government’s plan. 

The Ontario Public Services Employee Union (OPSEU) also released a statement denouncing further privatization of health care. In their press release, they pointed out that Ontario voters “did not give the Ford Conservatives a mandate to start privatizing the province’s public health-care system” and clearly stated that they don’t want a “parallel health-care system” created to “poach health professionals from public faculties”. 

NDP health critic France Gelinas also criticized the idea of privatization in a written statement, saying that this would “bleed staff away” from public health care and make the health care crisis “much worse”. 

The health care crisis faced by Ontario is largely exacerbated by the fact that nurses and family doctors are leaving the profession in record numbers. A staggering 1 in 2 registered practical care nurses are considering leaving the profession entirely, and the impact of being on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic for two years without adequate compensation is also making nurses leave the profession. 

Bill 124, a Ford government invention, capped the wage increase of nurses and health-care workers at a mere one percent for three years. The bill, which was passed in 2019, has been protested by many unions and left groups, including the Ontario Nurses Association, which has called for its repeal. When asked about repealing Bill 124 and raising the wages of nurses, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones simply said “that is a conversation for another day”. 

The Ford government will not raise the wages of nurses or give them incentives to stay in the profession, but then will blame them for the health care crisis and will suggest privatization instead! How about raising salaries for health-care workers, Doug? 

The bottom line is, the Ontario health-care system reached this point of crisis due to health-care workers grossly underpaid, overworked, and understaffed. The Ford government’s initiatives to erode health-care salaries such as Bill 124 make the problem worse, and subsequently justify further privatization initiatives. Make no mistake—this is exactly the end goal of the provincial government. They want to continue underpaying nurses and health-care workers, while making sure that their corporate buddies, the private hospital and long term care home owners, are left happy! 

It is clear by now that neither Doug Ford nor his government are friends of the working class or public health care. This crisis will not be solved by further privatization. The new health care plan proposed by the government will only ensure further suffering of the working class as they are forced to have their essential procedures done in for-profit establishments. 

We call for the immediate end of any health care privatization. Let us solve the health care crisis by expropriating pharmacies, health-care organizations, and by increasing the wages of nurses, family doctors, and other health-care workers! The ruling class and the state do not care about keeping health care free and accessible to the working class—all they care about is their profits. The unions need to unite against this threat. If Ford says that “everything is on the table” in terms of privatization, the workers’ movement must respond that everything is on the table in terms of our fightback.