Doug Ford's health-care bill provokes avalanche of public response

Although the Ford government gave barely 24 hours notice of a public hearing on its sweeping health-care reforms, people swamped Queen's Park with requests to speak.

More than 1,400 people ask to speak at public hearing on legislation to overhaul health system

Although the Progressive Conservatives allowed just a one-day window to sign up, more than 1,400 people asked to speak about the government's new health legislation at an upcoming public hearing at Queen's Park. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Ontarians swamped Queen's Park with requests to speak about the Ford government's sweeping proposals to revamp the health system. 

Although the Progressive Conservatives allowed just a one-day window to sign up, more than 1,400 people asked to make oral submissions to a public hearing Monday and Tuesday. The Legislature's standing committee on social policy is reviewing the government's bill, called The People's Health Care Act. 

Even the most controversial bills typically draw no more than a few hundred requests to present at a public hearing, according to veteran MPPs.

"I have never seen such a pent-up demand to be heard," said MPP France Gélinas, the NDP health critic for the past 12 years. "Never, ever, ever." 

The response to the PCs' legislation shows how deeply people care about the health system, said Gélinas in a phone interview on Friday. 

"They are not happy with the changes that the government is trying to do and they want their voice to be heard," she said. 

The proposed changes include dissolving all 14 of Ontario's Local Health Integration Networks, as well as six other administrative bodies such as eHealth Ontario and Cancer Care Ontario, and replacing all with a single oversight agency to be called Ontario Health.

Doug Ford, sitting in the Ontario Legislature, looks toward the camera, while Christine Elliott, sitting behind him, looks toward Ford.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, sits next to Health Minister Christine Elliott during question period. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Only 30 people will get to make oral submissions to the PC-controlled committee of MPPs looking at the health system bill. This means about 98 per cent of those who asked to present will not get the chance.  

The New Democrats say the PCs are failing to consult adequately on the health reforms. 

"They don't want to listen to the people of Ontario," Gélinas said.

"They make their decisions behind closed doors with a few chosen advisers and they don't want to give people a chance to be heard."

Health Minister Christine Elliott was not available for an interview Friday. 

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Elliott's press secretary Hayley Chazan said the government consulted with patients, families, nurses, doctors and experts before tabling its bill in February.

"Our discussions with Ontarians won't end with the committee process," Chazan wrote in the email.

"Our government will continue to consult with patients and the people who plan and work on the front lines of our health care systems as we implement our long-term strategy."

The PCs have also kept a tight leash on public input into other major bills, such as their rollback of police oversight measures.

The notice of public hearing for that legislation was posted on March 5 and the one-day hearing was held March 7. That bill passed third and final reading on Tuesday.