A new report from Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO) finds that despite pledges to ramp up investment in health care, the Ford government is actually planning to withhold promised funding, and that the capacity of Ontario governments can be expected to decline in the coming years. The Ford government’s health-care spending cuts will leave the system severely understaffed, with just 65 per cent of the workers it would need to function. This is nothing more than a deliberate plan to eviscerate an already collapsing system. But a health-care system in crisis suits the Ford government very well, making it that much easier to push for privatization.
A damning report
Unsurprisingly, the FAO report found the present state of health care in a dire crisis. Some damning numbers are provided: waiting times for emergency room patients are averaging 20.9 hours, a 15-year high, and the province saw at least 145 unplanned emergency department closures in 2022.
The report also makes note of the serious labour shortage in the health sector, particularly among nurses and personal support workers (PSWs). This has a domino effect on the whole system. As the report puts it, the staffing shortage “affects hospitals’ ability to discharge patients who need care in alternate settings,” as well as “the ability of hospitals to admit patients from emergency departments and to reduce the surgery waitlist and wait times.” It’s no wonder there have been as many as 250,000 Ontarians on surgical waitlists in recent months, far above even the pandemic years.
The staffing shortage should come as no surprise. Working conditions for health-care employees are notoriously poor across the entire country. Building on this, the pandemic pushed the Canadian health-care system well past its limits and drove many nurses out of the field entirely. For their back-breaking efforts, the nurses and other health-care workers who did stay have been rewarded with wage cuts and other austerity measures, as with Doug Ford’s Bill 124.
The report finds that things are getting worse. Months ago, the Ford government pledged to invest $511.1 billion in the system from now until 2027-8 to ease the crisis. But the report finds that, quietly, the government actually plans to allocate a total of just $489.8 billion—a shortfall of $21.3 billion. All told, the report notes, “Ontario will have less hospital capacity, similar home-care capacity and less long-term care capacity compared to what it had in 2019-20.”
As a result of these funding cuts, the report predicts, the health-care system will be short about 33,000 nurses and PSWs by 2027-8, which represents around 35 per cent of the amount of workers the system will need to meet even the Ford government’s promises.
The second major problem is that of capacity. Even if the Ford government did manage to deliver its promised 30,000 long-term care beds by 2028, the report says long-term and home care capacity will actually decrease, due to increased demand from Ontario’s aging population. This is all that capitalism has to offer: the promise of meagre reforms which often never materialize.
An agenda of privatization
Ford didn’t just forget about the health sector, nor did his administration simply make a few miscalculations while drafting their budget. The Tories have a specific plan in mind for healthcare: privatization. While cutting the public system, Ford has already introduced a bill to privatize nearly half of the province’s surgeries. According to Ford, privatization is needed to “take the burden off” of the same public system he is deliberately suffocating.
But privatization won’t magically make the deficiencies of Ontario health care disappear. Actually, it will worsen them. Under a private system, the government does not just need to cover the cost of care, but the profits of the capitalists as well. This would lead to less funding for workers, training, and facilities, not more. The numbers back this up: in America, U.S. hospitals charge $417 for every $100 of costs incurred! On top of this, privatization will exacerbate the current labour shortage. The recent ambulance operator strike in Newfoundland highlights the fact that working conditions for private health-care workers are even worse than they are for public ones, reducing quality of service and pushing more and more workers out of the field entirely.
Another dead end is to look to the Liberals to fix Doug’s mess. Trudeau actually complimented Ford’s privatization plan, calling it an “innovation”! Not to mention, it was Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien who carried out enormous cuts to federal health-care funding in the 1990s, the largest in Canadian history. Neither of these parties represents the working class or their interests.
The only solution is for workers to fight with their own strength, not just the health-care workers but the entire labour movement. Ontario nurses have already begun to stand up against Ford’s attacks on health care, but they need support from the other unions. An injury to one is an injury to all, and the only thing standing between Doug Ford and the complete destruction of Ontario’s health-care system is the combined might of the Ontario working class.