From Bully to Statesman and Back

To the Editor:

Premier Doug Ford has gone from big blue bully to statesman-like status thanks to his deft handling of the COVID crisis in Ontario. (Of course it helps if you actually listen to what public health professionals are telling you – unlike the Great Orange Orc south of us).

In front of the cameras, Mr Ford guides us through the stages of reopening and hails frontline health care workers as heroes. But behind the cameras, and under the cover of COVID, the Tories are privatizing health and treating its workers as zeros.

Here’s what they’re doing …

Bill 175 (now law as the Connecting People to Home and Community Care Act, 2020) opens the door to even more privatization of home care because it puts decisions on care into the hands of the new Ontario Health Teams, which themselves include for-profit health care providers. This could well impact the care Personal Service Workers are able to provide within long term care facilities.

We now know the real cost of privatizing long-term care. The Canadian military’s report on the disasters in nursing homes was the tip of a much larger iceberg. Most of the homes with the highest COVID case and death rates are privately owned. In Ontario, private, for-profit facilities have 54% of the beds but 73% of fatalities. Public homes have 20% of beds but only 6% of deaths.

A June 2020 report by the Royal Society of Canada reveals that Canada has by far the highest death rate in nursing homes – 81% to 66% in Spain and 31% in the US. It’s no secret that privately run homes are known for under staffing, skimping on supplies (like personal protection for workers), and poor protocols for containing outbreaks of disease.

Among privately run homes, those operated by chains are the worst (and also the most profitable). For example, Extendicare, which owns 69 long term care and retirement homes in Canada and contracts its management services to 53 others, made over $1 billion in 2019.

ut it spent only $300,000 of its own money combatting COVID-19 outbreaks in its homes. Another $400,000 came from Ontario for pandemic aid. Yet, even in the midst of the pandemic, the corporation was able to send some $10 million in dividends to its shareholders.

By the end of May, 80 people had died in Extendicare facilities due to COVID-19.

By the way, it was the Tories under Mike Harris, that expanded the reach of private corporations into long-term care in Ontario, and axed many of the regulations that maintained standards of care in those homes. Mr Harris is now Chair of the Board of Chartwell, a privately run chain of retirement and nursing homes.

Mr Ford promised an investigation of the long-term care industry and its role during the pandemic, but its terms of reference are a long way from the kind of public inquiry this scandal cries out for. Instead, it will be a back-room kind of investigation with hearings in private, documentation withheld from the public, and no recommendations for improvement.

Normally, citizens would have recourse to the courts to sue for damages caused by mismanagement of the pandemic and bring failings into the light of day. However Mr Ford’s Bill 161 may frustrate that.

Bill 161 (the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, 2020) passed into law on July 8, 2020, the same day that Bill 175 became law. Bill 161 makes justice neither smarter nor stronger. For example, it reduces the ability of Ontario’s legal aid system to provide advice and services which, combined with dramatic cuts in funding, disadvantages those who need these services most.

Bill 161 also imports certain tests from the American system that, with other measures, will make it much harder for citizens to launch class action suits, especially against the Province and corporations like private long-term care companies.

All this is bad enough, but the real insult comes with the miserly one per cent raise the Premier is giving to the “heroic” nurses who are standing between us and the pandemic.

David McLaren
Neyaashiinigmiing, Ontario