NDP hammers home fears about privatization at health care town hall

Two weeks after the PC government introduced its plans to create a health super-agency, the NDP hosted a health care town hall to reiterate its pledges to push back.

Horwath says new legislation will 'usher in unprecedented levels of privatization'

Andrea Horwath vowed to 'defend' Ontario's health care system at a town hall event on Tuesday evening. (CBC)

The Ford government's massively transformative health care bill may already be on its way through the Legislative Assembly, but Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is still hoping to gear Ontarians up for a fight. 

"We're going to defend our world class public health care system and push to expand it," said Horwath on Tuesday evening at a health care town hall hosted by the NDP in Toronto.

"[Doug Ford] has cooked up a massive health care scheme that will usher in unprecedented levels of privatization," said Horwath during a speech to a packed room. 

The town hall came just two weeks after the PC government announced its plans to merge 20 health agencies into a single super-agency and to create local health-care teams to help people navigate the new system.

For the town hall's attendees, some of whom work in the health care sector, the mood was jittery.

"For me, the biggest concern is the uncertainty, and not really knowing clearly what the impact of those changes will be," said Kim Frasier, who works in community health.

She arrived with Sarah Hobbes-Blyth, who also works in community health and who described similar concerns upon hearing about the new PC plan.

"My staff got nervous. We're all a little bit nervous," said Hobbes-Blyth.

Worries about job losses

Horwath's fiery town hall speech is just the latest salvo in a battle that's been on for months.

In addition to raising concerns about privatization, she has also pointed to recent health care job losses in Kitchener and Thunder Bay as evidence that one goal of the legislation is to cut jobs, despite a Ford campaign promise that no one in the public sector would lose their job under his government.

"We're taking all of those agencies and lumping them in — there are a lot of jobs in those agencies, what's going to happen to those positions?" Horwath asked on Tuesday. 

In recent weeks, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has denied that privatization is on the agenda, and said that reducing jobs is not the intent of the new legislation.

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In January, the CBC was the first news outlet to report on a plan to dissolve regional health agencies, also known as local health integration networks, or LHINs. 

A draft of the bill to dismantle regional health agencies was then leaked by the NDP in early February.

At that time, Horwath said the bill would allow the new agency to "farm out" health-care services to other organizations, including private corporations.

Elliott fired back, accusing the NDP of "fear-mongering" and "intentionally [creating] confusion" about health care changes.

On Tuesday, Horwath insisted that there are lessons to be learned from the last time the Conservatives were in power.

"The Harris government, the Conservative government last time they were in office, privatized our home care system," she said. "We have seen already what the result is of these kinds of moves."