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How Tories and Liberals set the table for healthcare privatization

left JAB by John Bell

August 28, 2022

Ontario’s healthcare system is in crisis and the Doug Ford Tory government is going in for the kill.

The voices of nurses, doctors, paramedics and health care workers are virtually unanimous. They describe an underfunded, understaffed service, personnel burnt out and quitting, workplace injury and assault, and patients suffering needlessly. 

“Common Sense” austerity

Not that healthcare was flourishing before Doug Ford. The “Common Sense” Mike Harris government closed 28 Ontario hospitals, laid off 6,000 nurses and cut another 28,000 jobs from the public health sector. Many of those were good paying union jobs, replaced by privatized cleaning and nutrition companies paying low wages and few benefits.

At the time Harris compared nurses to workers in a hula-hoop factory: obsolete. Under his regime, corporate seniors care corporations like Extendicare, Revera and Chartwell were given free rein in Ontario as provincial and municipal seniors homes were privatized.

You also might recall that Harris has been cashing in royally on this privatization of health services. Two years after leaving office Harris became chair of Chartwell’s board of directors and continued until his connection to the disastrous, even murderous COVID crisis in long term care gained him too much notoriety. 

He and his wife Laura also bought the Toronto franchise of a private nursing home-care business called Nurse Next Door in 2012. So he got to hire back those hula-hoop workers he laid off at lower pay. 

Liberal cuts

The Liberal governments of McGuinty and Wynne didn’t undo these cuts and privatizations. Quite the opposite. In 2014 McGuinty laid off another 1,900 nurses, driving more of them to work for for-profit health businesses. The Liberals promised to economize by “reforming” and reorganizing the system – that meant closing ER services in many hospitals, like the Mindemoya Hospital on Manitoulin Island. Across the province, health units lost beds, and communities like Fort Erie saw their ER shut permanently.

A personal aside. My cousin Mary lived on the southern end of Manitoulin Island, and was dealing with aggressive cancer. She received compassionate care from the health centre in Mindemoya, a 15 minute drive from her home. Under the Liberal “reforms” these services were discontinued. This sick woman was forced to drive for hours to Sudbury – far from her community support – to get treatment.  

Delisting: privatization by inches

Many services once covered by OHIP have been delisted over the years, an invitation for private healthcare to nibble abound the edges of the public service.

Most prominent is eyecare. Eye exams and optometrist care was first limited to 1 appointment every 2 years, and then cut. This has been happening, slowly, for almost 20 years. In 2001 the Harris Tories allowed the creation of private eye clinics, like the Ivey Clinic. A 2-tier system now operates.  In 2012 the McGuinty Liberals delisted and limited access to diagnostic testing for glaucoma and macular degeneration, driving more people facing the threat of blindness into expensive private care.

Other services that have been discontinued by previous governments:

  • Physio therapy
  • Most cosmetic work
  • Registered massage therapy
  • Dental work performed by a dentist
  • Ambulance transportation
  • Travel medicine

While Ford is right to point a finger at previous governments – although he never mentions his mentor, Harris – it should be noted that his first budget in 2019 almost doubled the lnumber of delisted services, including pre-operative assessments, sinus x-rays, and cardiac HOLTER testing. 

Nothing but the best for our betters

Ontario’s rich have long been catered to by private clinics and hospitals. Some specialize in  a limited range of services, others offer more general care in a manner to which the elite have grown accustomed.

A few private clinics have operated since OHIP was created. Best known is the Shouldice Clinic that specializes in hernia operations.

Others include:

The Deerfield Clinic (Rosedale Wellness Centre) specializes in cosmetic surgery and anti-aging treatments.  Founded in 2009, it costs only $4000/year (medications and supplements not included) and offers VIP access to the Deerfield Inn and Equestrian Centre. Polo anyone?

Medcan Clinics were started in 1989, first offering ancillary services like private nursing, and growing quietly into a comprehensive service employing more than 60 doctors. Prices “start” at $2600 for a 5-hour health assessment. If you’ve got it they’ll find it. Valet parking, gourmet coffee and snacks are on the house.

For just $3300/year you can get instant service 24/7 from Healthcare 365, opened in 2010. It prides itself on filling the “systemic gaps” in public health, gaps its lobbyists pushed to open in the first place.

The Cleveland Clinic opened in Toronto in 2006, part of a US chain famously endorsed by Barack Obama. It offers instant care for elite athletes and corporate bosses alike. Executive health plans start at $3150/year.

For the middle management types Medisys offers a comprehensive assessment and a years membership for the low, low price of $1500. It is one of the longest running private health services – it opened in 1987, under Liberal premier David Peterson. It should be noted that the Bob Rae NDP government that replaced Peterson did nothing to shut down this pioneering private clinic.

That was healthcare terrain that Doug Ford inherited – privatization by stealth through hospitals closures, staff layoffs, budget cuts and delisting of services. And slowly but surely a 2-tier system has been created – first catering only to the elite, but now being opened up for corporate thieves like Galen Weston and his monstrous Shoppers Drugmart chain.  


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