Majority of Ontarians oppose province's cuts to public health, new poll suggests

A poll conducted by Environics Research suggests 83 per cent of Ontarians oppose the cuts to public health by the provincial PC government.

Poll by Environics Research suggests 8 out of 10 Ontarians and over 50% of PC voters oppose cuts

Environics was commissioned by CUPE Ontario and CUPE Local 79 to conduct a survey to determine the attitudes of Ontario residents towards recently announced cuts to public health units. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Just over a month after the provincial government announced its plan to cut local health units and slash millions in funding, a new poll suggests a vast majority of Ontarians are not on board.

In a poll conducted by Environics Research over a three-day period from May 14 to 16, 70 per cent of those surveyed said they "strongly oppose" the decision, with 13 per cent saying they "somewhat oppose." 

The poll was commissioned by CUPE Ontario and CUPE Local 79, the union representing about 20,000 City of Toronto workers and contained a margin of error of 2.7 per cent. A total of 1,332 people across the province were surveyed with a mix of landline and mobile numbers called.

"My message to Premier Ford is very simple," said Toronto board of health chair Joe Cressy, reacting to the poll results. "The people of Ontario have spoken. It's time to listen to them and reverse these dangerous cuts."

In last month's budget, the first for Premier Doug Ford's PC government, the province outlined plans to chop the number of public health units from 35 to 10, coupled with an annual funding reduction of $200 million.

'In the 11 months since this government was elected, we have yet to see a controversy as wide and as deep as the one over Public Health cuts,' said Toronto Board of Health chair Joe Cressy. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Cressy says the cuts would impact various public health programs, including infectious disease initiatives, communicable disease surveillance, immunization programs, food safety and water quality initiatives as well as student breakfast programs.

In response to the poll, a spokesperson for health minister Christine Elliott said in a statement, "Public health units will continue to be properly funded," adding "the accuracy of any poll paid for by CUPE, a union that has publicly announced its political bias against our government, should be seriously questioned and discounted."

4 out of 10 PC voters oppose cuts, suggests poll

The poll further suggests more than half of those who voted for the new PC government are against the cuts, with 38 per cent  reporting they were strongly opposed to them and 18 per cent somewhat opposed.

Cressy says it's not just everyday voters who are against the measures.

"I know for a fact that members of the PC caucus are privately opposed to these cuts. They have told me and others as much."

Meanwhile, when asked whether outcry over the cuts to Toronto Public Health will start to hurt the PCs, Toronto mayor John Tory said he thinks it already has.

"Speaking for the City of Toronto, but it also applies to places across the province, I don't think there is a single Progressive Conservative MPP who got elected on the basis of (these cuts) midway through the year," he said.

Toronto mayor John Tory says he is still hopeful the province will be willing to sit down with the city to 'find ways to achieve efficiencies in public health in childcare.' (Martin Trainor/CBC)

When it comes to those surveyed as part of the Environics poll, 7 in 10 said the cuts make them less likely to vote PC in the next provincial election.

Among PC voters, 38 per cent said they are less likely to do so, the same percentage as those who said they weren't sure.

86% of Torontonians oppose cuts, poll suggests

While opposition to the cuts is strong across the province according to the poll, Toronto had the highest rate — with more than 8 out of 10 residents saying they are against the decision.

Toronto Public Health has a gross operating budget of more than $250 million, with roughly three-quarters of the funding coming from the province, a number now set to change.

Cressy revealed last month that various TPH programs fully funded by the province are eventually going to be hit by a 50 per cent cut. Other programs funded roughly 75 per cent by the province and 25 per cent by the city will also drop to a 50-50 split.

The statement from the ministry of health says the province "has been clear that we expect all municipalities, including the City of Toronto, to thoroughly review spending to ensure taxpayer dollars are being responsibly spent, just as our government has done provincially. This applies to Toronto Public Health."

Tory, meanwhile, maintains the cuts will do nothing but hurt Ontarians.

"What I'm most hopeful for is we can convince the government of the absolute error in their ways.... Perhaps a misunderstanding on their part of the services and how important they are to people and how they actually reduce provincial expenditures on health care."