Kingston healthcare employees join anti-privatization rally at Queen’s Park

Protestors at Queen's Park on Monday

Members of the Kingston Health Coalition and several hospital unions were part of a large protest at Queen’s Park on Monday afternoon.

Three full busses left Kingston on Monday morning to gather outside of Ontario Legislature as it made its’ return from summer break.

In total, close to 80 busses travelled from around Ontario bringing thousands of hospital employees to rally on the lawns in front of Queen’s Park.

Erica Benn, President of OPSEU Local 4106 said that the resounding message was a continuation of that which was carried through rallies in the spring: that healthcare workers aren’t happy with the Ford government’s privatization plan and have no plans of stopping their fight against it.

“We’re fighting to win this, we’re not going to back down,” Benn said.

“We’re in this to win public healthcare for Ontario.”

Benn added that both Marit Stiles, leader of the Ontario NDP and John Fraser, interim leader of the Liberals, spoke out against Bill 60 at the rally.

The Ontario Conservative government says it is implementing a three step plan to divert some non-emergency surgeries to private clinics, with payments still being made through OHIP and expanding the range of surgeries outsourced over time.

But healthcare workers, and the general public according to Ontario Health Coalition’s referendum earlier this year, worry that this will exacerbate staffing shortages in hospitals and open the door to a United States-style pay for care system.

Benn says the Ford Conservatives’ choice not to invest billions of dollars budgeted for healthcare system are helping to create the problem that they say they are aiming to solve.

“The money that he’s not giving to the public healthcare system is what’s speaking volumes to what his plan is,” Benn said.

“If you stop spending billions of dollars that you’re supposed to be spending… of course the healthcare system is going to crumble.”

The Ontario government, however, insists that they are only trying to reduce surgery backlogs and expand options for Ontarians.

Hannah Jensen, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Health Sylvia Jones, said in a statement that the provincial government has continued to take steps in improving the breadth of care people in Ontario can receive.

Our government is proud to have one of the largest publicly funded healthcare systems in the world, a system we have invested nearly $80 billion in this year. Since 2018 we have grown our health care workforce by over 63,000 nurses and 8,000 new physicians and built 3,500 hospital beds across the province,” Jensen said.

“Our government is expanding capacity across the province, getting shovels in the ground for 50 hospital developments over 10 years that will add over 3,000 beds to connect Ontarians to the care they need now and into the future.”

The statement also noted the expansion of medical school in Ontario, easing the process for out of province and out of country doctors and nurses to work in Ontario, and the Your Health plan meant to improve connection and convenience in healthcare for people in Ontario.

An early 2023 report from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario however says despite the commitments made by the Ontario government, the increasing demand will more than offset any investments being made, and all in all the Ford government is underfunding the system by over $21 billion during a six year period.

“Relative to projected growth in demand, by 2027-28, Ontario will have less hospital capacity, similar home-care capacity and less long-term care capacity compared to what it had in 2019-20,” the report reads.

Given that, hospital employees say their fight against privatization is only ramping up.

Benn says while the momentum died down a bit during the summer months, she feels after yesterday it is picking up once again, and healthcare workers are ready to make Ford walk back his controversial plans as he has recently with development on the Greenbelt.

“As far as the citizens of Ontario, we haven’t really been able to push back to far on Bill 60,” Benn said.

“But I wouldn’t say that this is the last time you’re going to hear from us, I think the momentum is going to keep building until he (Ford) has to eat his words and eat crow like he has with the Greenbelt.”

Further protests are expected, but have yet to be announced.