After the Fact: What Happened Since Premier Ford’s Announcement to Invest in Private Healthcare?

Some Have Warned Of A Slippery Slope Ahead As Premier Doug Ford Announces Unprecedented Expansion Of Private Health Facilities In Ontario.

By Zyad Osman

Over the three long years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian healthcare system had its limits tested and stretched to great extremes, exposing glaring cracks and vulnerabilities in the process. At least, this was the sentiment shared by Premier Doug Ford during a press conference on January 16th. During this conference, Ford, alongside Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones, announced that the province would allow hospitals to delegate more cases to private health providers to ease backlogs and take the burden off of emergency rooms.

This decision shocked observers and politicians, both in Toronto and Ottawa. Political leaders tend to rarely upset the federal-provincial balancing act that is healthcare in Canada. Additionally, there has been a wealth of data demonstrating that universal medicare, free education, and other staples of the welfare state provide a source of national pride for most Canadians. However, both wait and referral times in hospitals have increased on average from 9.3 weeks to more than 27 since 1991. Some have

attributed the increasing burden on hospitals to be a result of underfunding and neglect and have suggested that the answer lies squarely within the realm of government. Premier Ford, however, believes that increased cooperation between the provincial government and the private sector could hold the answer to Ontario’s healthcare woes.

Healthcare in Canada is a joint effort between the provincial and federal governments. While the logistics and organization of health are decided upon by Queen’s Park, the federal government is almost entirely responsible for financing it. Ottawa often attached conditions to healthcare funding based on the Canada Healthcare Act (CHA) – which is a 1984 law that forbids provinces from financially discriminating against or preventing any Canadian from receiving needed treatment. Despite the fact that Premier Ford repeatedly stated that Ontarians would always receive healthcare “with their OHIP cards and not their credit cards”, his decision has resulted in significant backlash and anxiety in Ottawa nonetheless.

Shortly after the announcement of this healthcare plan, the federal NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, lambasted the decision and unsuccessfully attempted to invoke the Canada Healthcare Act to call an emergency debate in the commons. Singh later went on to highlight the potential inequalities that Ford’s plan could exacerbate, stating that allowing for-profit facilities to hire nurses and doctors away from their publicly-run counterparts could “cannibalize” the entire system.

A number of large unions representing public and healthcare workers also spoke out. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) issued a statement on the day of the announcement on behalf of itself and four other unions: The Ontario Nurses’ Association, OPSEU/SEFPO, SEIU Healthcare, and Unifor. These unions echoed the NDP’s sentiment that “for-profit clinics siphon staff from public hospitals, focus their business on providing services for patients with the least-complex medical needs to maximize profits, and leave public hospitals to care for patients with multiple, severe – and expensive-to-treat – conditions.”

In an interview with the Trinity Times, Dr. Rodney Haddow – a professor of political science specializing in Canadian politics and public policy – cautioned against the rhetoric used by the NDP and other opponents of the plan, as well as those who have suggested Canada’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse. He stated that it is important not to lose sight of the fact that Ontario, even after Premier Ford’s announcement, will be nowhere near an American-style private healthcare system, or even a two-tier system, as the CUPE statement asserted. However, Dr. Haddow was still skeptical of many tenets of Ontario’s new healthcare direction, agreeing with the sentiment that expansions in the private health sector will not alleviate the shortage of medical personnel. He also

questioned whether the establishment of new clinics as a response to diminishing service capacity in hospitals is a reasonable alternative to simply expanding that existing service.