This is the text of a presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy regarding Bill 60 made on March 27th, 2023.
The Communist Party of Canada is 102 years old this year. The Communist Party of Ontario is 83 years old. We are proud to have been among the first advocates for public health care in Canada.
It took several decades to achieve Medicare in Canada. And even then Medicare was far from universal and fully public. It excluded and excludes important aspects of essential medical care including dentistry, eye care, home care, long-term care, mental health care and prescriptions. Out-patient care was also remained in private-sector control. However, the core of essential medical services were provided by government funded hospitals.
It is this core of the public Medicare system that is now under attack. This attack is facilitated by Bill 60.
As has been widely stated, the expansion of private clinics and the private delivery of surgeries will mean extra charges for care, aggressive upselling of procedures which patients do not require and a deeper drain on already insufficient government funding, as private for-profit facilities syphon it off.
Bill 60 greases the skids to allow this to take place. It expands the power of a Director to issue licences to private clinics, while reducing opportunity for public oversight, enabling quick privatization and offering no standards and regulations. Meanwhile, Schedule 2 of Bill 60 creates new categories of lesser-skilled, lower-waged health workers to be created which will allow for a further deterioration of wages and working conditions which will always lead to lower quality health care.
We can expect mass privatization of previous hospital services. The Premier himself has said that 50% of surgeries could be done out of hospital, meaning they are a target for privatization.
We are told that the status quo is untenable and there is a backlog of 200,000 surgeries which makes expanding private clinics a necessity.
But there is plenty of government money and existing public health infrastructure that is being unused. In 2022, 158 emergency rooms in Ontario were closed because of lack of staff while operating rooms were remaining idle for the same reason.
The Province has underspent on health care by $1.25 Billion during the first 9 months of the 2022/3 fiscal year according to the Financial Accountability Office. During the same 3/4ers of this fiscal year the Province spent 104% of the budget attributed to private clinics. This says it all. This government is starving public health care, in order to expand private clinics.
The supposed cure facilitated by Bill 60 is a fatal threat to the public health system. The disease our public health care system is facing is caused by 50 years of cuts, neoliberal restructuring, other incursions of privatization and attacks on public sector wages and working conditions. The real cure is to reverse all this and expand public health care to include dental, pharmacare, vision, mental health and long-term care.
So why is this government, and it should be said other provincial governments, not all of them Conservative, moving in the opposite direction? Corporate interests are keen to capitalize on the crisis in health care. If they are allowed to do so, we can see our near future south of the border. Once big business entrenches itself in this area it will be very hard to roll back. The US has an all-powerful corporate health sector that has successfully held back public health care in that country and is responsible for countless medical bill bankruptcies and some of the worst health outcomes per dollar spent on healthcare in the world.
It is worth mentioning that corporate Canada has its eyes on the health sector too. Loblaw, which owns Shoppers Drug Mart, launched the PC Health App in 2020 and in 2021, purchased a chain of physiotherapy clinics. Loblaw has said that the health sector is one of its four priority areas for growth. This is one of Canada’s largest corporate monopolies, infamous for price-fixing bread and again in hot-water because of price-gouging on grocery items which continues to drive inflation.
If we understand that this government is not “for the people” and is not “working for workers’” but serves the interests of Loblaw and other monopolies things become clear.
Fortunately, we know that Ontarians will fight for public health care. The current crisis in health care can be reversed, starting with decent wage increases for nurses and health care workers that have had their labour rights stripped from them under Bill 124.
Most working class Ontarians understand that the idea of profiteering on people’s ill health and deaths is reprehensible and inhuman. We urge the members of the standing committee to reject Bill 60 in its entirety as it is designed to fast track and facilitate this kind of profiteering.