Like many people in Ontario, I am appalled at the Conservative government’s plan to spend tax dollars to set up for-profit surgery clinics. We’ve known for decades that privatizing essential services leads to worsening outcomes and higher costs for everyone. Need proof? Look at the disastrous long-term care privatization that happened under Mike Harris. Countless people needlessly lost their lives during the pandemic due to understaffing, poor quality of care, and the lack of an effective COVID mitigation plan. Do we really want to do the same to our healthcare system?
It is important to recognize that the problem in hospitals is not a lack of space in operating rooms, but a lack of staff. We have a finite number of health care workers and private facilities will be poaching these workers - leading to even greater short-staffing in the public system. Nursing contract agencies have already been poaching health care workers with many northern hospitals using contract workers to fill the gaps. Contract workers are paid up to three times the wages of hospital staff though, costing tax-payers more and creating resentment because those on staff are restricted to the low wages imposed by Bill 124. Arbitrary wage caps also exist for management, based on legislation and patchwork changes that didn't include everyone, meaning there are big gaps in the ability of some of the hospitals to be able to effectively recruit leaders.
The Ford government’s own documents acknowledge that Bill 124, recently declared unconstitutional by the Ontario Superior Court, has been pushing health care workers out of the profession. Will it be any wonder, then, if workers leave public health to work at for-profit clinics with easier caseloads? Our health care crisis has followed the standard conservative playbook: underfund the public system until it is on the brink of collapse; make working conditions impossible; and then declare privatization as the only solution.
Private facilities thrive on extra hidden fees to generate profits. For-profit facilities also mean that those with the means can jump the cue: one standard of health care for the well-to-do — or the desperate — and a lower standard for everyone else.
Year after year, Canadians have named Universal Health Care, accessible to everyone equally, as a core Canadian value. Indeed, health care must be seen as a human right. When this government tried to remove fundamental rights from education workers, insurmountable pressure from the public forced them to back down. Together, we can do this again.
It is time for each one of us to stand up in support of public health care, refuse the Ford government’s false solutions, and fight to restore our public health system. For ourselves, our families, and the generations that follow, this is a battle we can and must win.
Lise Vaugeois is the NDP MPP for Thunder Bay—Superior North.