By RIMA BERNS-McGOWN
BEACHES-EAST YORK MPP
Since the leak of the Doug Ford government’s health care bill in February and the subsequent official introduction of Bill 74 in March, my office has received an unprecedented influx of emails from constituents who are afraid of what the bill means for health care in Ontario.
Bill 74 is indeed, as the government maintains, a transformative bill. Although it never uses the word “privatization,” it does open the door wide to private entities seeking to purchase parts of our health care system and to sell private services through it.
It also means bundling all sorts of services together — those that currently work well, like Cancer Care Ontario, and those that don’t — under a new super-agency.
People have questions and deep concerns. They’re concerned about what Doug Ford is willing to cut in order to balance the books and what privatization of huge swaths of our health care will mean for the quality and accessibility of services across Ontario.
Process matters. In addition to the substantive concerns that Ontarians have about the bill, they are also rightly deeply concerned about the way the bill was written and railroaded through the legislature without any of the customary opportunities for organizations and individuals to have their say, voice their concerns, and attempt to ameliorate bad ideas and make them better.
Very little consultation was done prior to the Bill 74’s introduction, and yet less consultation was done afterwards.
The government truncated debate and committee time: 1,594 people asked to speak to the committee; only 30 were able to do so. That’s two per cent.
A bill of this magnitude usually “travels” the province so that all Ontarians can have their say on its impacts. That didn’t happen either. More than 19,000 pages of written testimony couldn’t be considered by the committee because there wasn’t time for them to be read.
In this shameful state, the bill passed third reading, and into law, the last day the legislature sat before Easter.
In addition, the City of Toronto estimates that its Public Health budget will be cut drastically — by $1 billion over 10 years — as public health units in Ontario are reduced from 35 to 10 and the province slashes its financial contributions.
As we learned during such public health scares as the SARS epidemic, the work of Public Health is critical. These cuts are dangerous and will hinder the work Public Health does to improve prenatal health, vaccinate children, deliver critical student nutrition programs, and keep our drinking water safe.
On May 9, we’ll be holding a community conversation on health care at Community Centre 55, 97 Main St., from 7 to 9 p.m.
We will be joined by Sarah Downey, president and CEO of Michael Garron Hospital; Matt Kirkham, executive director of the South East Toronto Family Health Team; and Mireille Cheung, director of Primary Health Services at the East End Community Health Centre. They will help us understand the consequences of Bill 74 both provincially and in Toronto’s east end.
I look forward to seeing you there.