Residents throughout Ontario, including Guelph and Wellington, had an opportunity to unofficially weigh in on the provincial government’s health care privatization efforts, courtesy of a “community opinion vote” headed up by the Ontario Health Coalition.
An online poll ran for about a week, leading up to in-person ballots being cast at numerous locations on Friday and Saturday.
“The goal is to give Ontarians an opportunity to voice their opinion on whether or not they want our hospitals to be privatized,” said Brit Hancock, co-chair of the Guelph and District Health Coalition, noting privatization plans weren’t part of the Progressive Conservative Party’s re-election platform ahead of last year’s election. “They really have no mandate to be doing this.”
Using its legislative majority, the provincial government officially passed Bill 60 last week, after rejecting a number of proposed amendments. The bill allows more private clinics to offer certain publicly funded surgeries and procedures, such as hip and knee replacements.
That’s in addition to expanding private services for cataract treatments as well as diagnostic imaging and testing.
“They really pushed through the legislation, Bill 60, really, really quickly and haven’t adopted any of the (74 proposed) amendments,” said Hancock. “That’s incredibly unprecedented in itself.”
Referendum participants were asked to mark ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when presented with the question: “Do you want our public hospital services to be privatized to for-profit hospitals and clinics?”
The initiative was led by the Ontario Health Coalition, which describes itself as a coalition of over 400 organizations concerned about health care, including several health care-related unions.
Included on the coalition’s website FAQ are statements including “For-profit hospitals & clinics only take the fast, easy, profitable patients” and “Ontario funds our public hospitals at the lowest rate in Canada.”
Local referendum results are expected to be released Monday morning, with a provincial tally announced Tuesday. In-person ballots cast throughout the province are set to be presented to the ruling provincial government by opposition party members on Wednesday.
GuelphToday spoke with several people at various voting locations after they cast a ballot. All of them spoke in opposition to privatization.
“I need treatment all the time and I don’t want it outsourced. That’s ridiculous,” shared Ben Thompson, who said he sees a specialist in Toronto for his Crohn's Disease and receives treatments at a Guelph clinic. “Your health shouldn’t have a price on it.”
“I don’t think our government has the best interest for socialist programs such as having public healthcare,” added Louise Huanj, a nurse. “By pressuring people to make infrastructure that only serves for-profit reasons, it doesn’t serve as a long-term solution.”
Hancock predicts the provincial health care changes will have a “devastating” impact.
“Places like Mount Forest and Palmerston have already had multiple ER closures due to inadequate funding and staffing shortages. They’re just going to continue,” she said. “You don’t want to have to call your ER and see if it’s open.
“That is the sad reality for a lot of people.”