The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) demands immediate action to supply all health care workers with the necessary protective equipment in order to protect themselves and all people in Ontario. 

Nurses, personal support workers, cleaners, doctors and other health care workers are all putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives. They require respirator masks (like the N95 mask), face shields and gowns necessary to ensure they are safe from COVID-19 which also means that their families, their communities and their patients are safe.

On March 28, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliot declared that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was readily available. It is clear from the many public declarations from front-line health care workers that this was a lie. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) did a survey of their members after this was announced and found that 87 per cent of health care staff reported that they do not have access to the PPE they need.

On March 31st, the Conservative government revoked a recent order that would have provided all hospital staff dealing with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient, access to N95 masks and other PPE. The order was replaced with one that excludes registered practical nurses, personal support workers, cleaners, doctors, other hospital staff, nurses working in non-hospital settings and all long-term and home care staff from requiring this level of PPE. Due to obvious shortages of PPE, the government chose to water down the previous requirements instead of providing the necessary masks and other protective equipment. In addition, faulty masks were provided to staff in long-term care homes. All these watered down measures have contributed to the large numbers of deaths of long-term care residents.

Despite weeks of talking about securing more PPE and requesting industry to start producing, the bulk of the equipment has not materialized. The United States government has long flouted international law and norms and has levelled unilateral and arbitrary “America First” imperialist policies against its perceived “enemies”. Now that the US government has added Canada to the long list of countries that it is trying to seize medical equipment orders from, the current PPE supply is even more at risk adding to the reality that there is already insufficient equipment for frontline workers.

This dire situation did not just materialize unexpectedly this year due to the pandemic. The shortage of equipment is one aspect of the overall underfunding and privatization of the public health care system over several decades. Fifty-five million N95 masks were stockpiled in Ontario, but they were allowed to expire rather than being replenished to keep the supplies up to date. The new emergency funding of $3.3 billion for health care in Ontario due to COVID-19 is a 5 per cent increase. This amount is merely what the Ontario Health Coalition and other public healthcare advocates have been pushing for long before this crisis to meet population growth, aging and inflation. This amount would keep the system afloat at the current levels, which are already inadequate with hospitals at overcapacity for the last several years. The Ford government and previous governments must be held accountable for this.

The Ontario and Federal governments have put out voluntary calls to manufacturing companies to make ventilators and masks. Some businesses have stepped forward and signed agreements with governments. However, the urgency and seriousness of the health crisis cannot rely on the good will of companies which are ultimately dependent on profits. We have already seen striking examples of how private interests are profiteering and price gouging, especially in the PPE and pharmaceutical industries. Health is not a commodity.

Much of Ontario’s manufacturing base has been hollowed out by capitalist globalization and “free trade” agreements such as NAFTA/USMCA as corporations move their plants to low-wage, low-regulation jurisdictions. However, this crisis has revealed to all that this trend must be reversed.

Green Jobs Oshawa, a labour and community campaign against the recent General Motors plant closure last year, has called for the plant to be reopened and used to manufacture medical equipment. This would be a step towards establishing a public manufacturing hub to provide a secure publicly owned and democratically controlled manufacturing base to fight the pandemic and the looming climate crisis. The Communist Party supports this demand in Oshawa and elsewhere. Decisive and direct action by the government must be taken to immediately produce necessities for the healthcare system and to create safe jobs in this essential industry.

The CPC (Ontario) calls for a public take-over and expansion of operations producing medical supplies and equipment, with heavy penalties including jail time against theft or profiteering on the production and sale of medical supplies and equipment. Profit has no place in any aspect of people’s health. Big businesses such as pharmaceutical companies, long-term care corporations, producers of medical equipment and supplies, and others that are vital to public health and an economic recovery benefiting the public, should be put under public ownership and democratic control.

Provincial Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)