The creeping privatization of public healthcare in Ontario has picked up pace sharply, with the Ford government’s announcement that it will expand the number of publicly funded procedures done at private facilities.

This is a classic example of a government deliberately underfunding a public service to the point that it begins to break down and people become desperate enough to accept privatization as an immediate solution. It is reminiscent of 1995, when Mike Harris’ Minister of Education John Snobelen was caught on film bragging that he was “creating a crisis” and “bankrupting” public education, to make public opinion more open to expanded private education in Ontario.

In the case of healthcare, and hospitals in particular, successive Conservative and Liberal governments have systematically gutted it through underfunding. If funding were at the level of other provinces in Canada, Ontario would have 33,000 more hospital jobs than at present. Clearly, the long waitlists and appalling lack of beds are direct consequences of government policy.

But when Ford says he’ll “do whatever it takes to fix the system,” he clearly isn’t prepared to do what is needed – provide proper funding. His only answer is privatization.

For millions of people in Ontario, Ford’s announcement will mean extra charges for care, aggressive upselling of procedures which they do not require and a deeper drain on already insufficient government funding, as private for-profit facilities syphon it off. More vulnerable populations – especially elderly people and people in distress – will be particularly targeted for manipulative upselling.

Ford denies the risk of fees and upselling, repeatedly stating that OHIP will cover everything. But this is very misleading, since the provincial government already allows private clinics in Ontario to nickel and dime patients and to upsell them, while OHIP covers less and less.

Furthermore, as experience has repeatedly shown, private sector service delivery (whether in health or any other sector) quickly follows a pattern of two-tiered access – areas which are poor, remote or otherwise “less profitable” receive vastly reduced care options. Northern Ontario, Indigenous communities and rural areas already face enormous shortcomings in terms of the quantity and quality of facilities and services to which they have access. Privatization only exacerbates and accelerates this trend.

Public healthcare rests on the pillars of universality, portability, accessibility, comprehensiveness and accountability. These pillars can only be guaranteed through public sector delivery of fully and adequately funded services in publicly owned institutions. Private sector involvement not only cannot support these pillars, but it actively undermines them.

People in Ontario and throughout Canada fought long and hard to win socialized medicine, back to the heroic campaigns of communists and progressives like Dr. Norman Bethune, Manitoba MLA James Litterick and Fred Rose MP, all of whom organized struggles for public healthcare in the 1930s and 1940s. These efforts laid the stage for the major breakthrough when the CCF/NDP successfully introduced public healthcare in Saskatchewan in 1962.

Since then, working people have had to fight to protect and expand public healthcare, against constant attacks from health profiteers and their allies in government.

In the face of the current threat from the Ford government, working people and health advocates are quickly rising to the challenge. The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), in particular, has built a province-wide network of local committees that unites labour and community and has repeatedly mobilized to defend public healthcare against privatization, delisting of services, forced amalgamation and underfunding.

The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) is a longstanding member of the OHC and supports the coalition’s campaign to stop Ford’s privatization of hospital procedures. The Communist Party calls on all labour and progressive organizations to help build this campaign and defend public healthcare. Rather than diminishing Medicare through underfunding, delisting and privatization, the government must be forced to adequately fund it and expand it to include dental, pharmacare, vision, mental health and LTC.

Sign up to defend public healthcare with the Ontario Health Coalition here:

Categories: Health