Toronto

'Extremely concerned': Protesters decry Ontario health-care cuts, changes

Around 200 health-care workers and unions protested cuts to Ontario health care on Saturday, decrying the Ford's government's planned changes to public health and ambulance services at a rally in Toronto.

Ford government cutting public health funding, reducing local health units

Several groups and unions were involved in Saturday's rally at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. (CBC)

Around 200 people protested cuts to Ontario health care on Saturday, decrying the Ford's government's planned changes to public health and ambulance services at a rally in Toronto.

"We're extremely concerned about these cuts," said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, which organized the rally in Nathan Phillips Square.

Public health should be preventing illness, but "with these cuts we're going to be more reactionary," said Sandra Bearzot, who represents GTA nurses with the Ontario Nurses Association. 

"This to me spells more deaths."

The Ford government plans to cut provincial public health funding, so all municipalities must pay 30 per cent of costs.

The government also plans to consolidate Ontario's 35 public health units to 10, and merge Ontario's 59 local ambulance services into 10 regional ambulance providers.

Natalie Mehra, Executive Director Ontario Health Coalition, said the province does not have a mandate to make these cuts. (CBC)

Mehra said there are also "dollar cuts" to hospitals and long-term care homes.

These cuts are "dramatic," said Mehra, and will make hospital overcrowding "even worse."

Changes to public health funding mean Toronto will face a $14 million shortfall from 2021 onward, the chair of Toronto's Board of Health Joe Cressy has said.

"If you want to prevent disease you're going to have to invest in public health care," said councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam at the rally.

"When people get sick ... it's going to be much more expensive in the long run."

Many health-care workers have forcefully opposed the Ontario government's proposed changes over the past year. (CBC)

Previously, municipalities had different cost-sharing arrangements for public health with the province — with Ontario paying 100 per cent or 75 per cent in some cases.

The province is offloading "huge" health costs onto municipalities, Mehra said, which will either mean service cuts and privatization or municipal tax hikes.

Ontario spending millions on health care, ministry says

Several health-care workers, community groups and unions were involved in the rally, with some people bussed in from Hamilton, Oshawa, and Newmarket. 

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

In a statement, a ministry spokesperson said Ontario has a "comprehensive plan to end hallway health care." The statement touted millions in government spending on things like a new dental program for low-income seniors, new hospital beds, and mental health and addictions supports.

Demonstrators rallied in Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday. The Ontario Health Coalition organized a previous rally at Queens Park this summer, with thousands protesting health-care changes. (CBC)

Last month Ontario appointed a special adviser to lead cross-province consultations on the government's planned health unit amalgamations and proposed changes to ambulance services.

Elliott has said the government is still committed to the reforms but wants to consult more widely before moving ahead.

Mehra said the government "has acted like it's turning a leaf and that it's going to be kinder and gentle."

But, she said, "the reality is quite different."

Protesters in Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday morning. (CBC)

"Ontarians voted to improve public health care," said Mehra. "There is no mandate in Ontario for these cuts."

Toronto Mayor John Tory and several city councillors have also staunchly contested the province's planned cuts to local health units. 

City officials have warned that the cuts will jeopardize school nutrition services, dental programs and restaurant inspections.