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Secrecy and lies shroud Ford plan to privatize healthcare

John Bell

February 8, 2019

Doug Ford and his Ontario Tory government have no intention of privatizing healthcare services. So said Health Minister Christine Elliott, one of the “moderate” Tories naïve observers had hoped would rein in Ford’s far-right agenda of austerity and privatization.

She lied.

When confronted with leaked documents proving the privatization plans, made public by NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Elliott tried to talk her way out of it and claim that Horwath was just “playing politics.” When reporters kept pressing her with the evidence, she abruptly ended her press conference and headed for the side door.

According to CTV News, Elliott claimed that her government was consulting front line health workers. “Doctors, nurses and other health care providers (are being consulted) as we build our long term transformational strategy,” Elliott said.

She lied.

Representatives from the Ontario Nurses Association, and Concerned Ontario Physicians (representing 11,000 doctors) say there has been “absolutely zero” consultation with the Ford government.

Or perhaps they did consult Dr. Brian Day, the doctor who is suing BC for the right to privatize health care. Ford hired former BC premier Gordon Campbell to "audit" all Ontario spending, and Campbell has supported Day's lawsuit. And Dr. Rueben Devlin, former president of the OPC party and one-time advisor to Mike Harris, is a champion of health care privatization and "special advisor" to Ford on health issues.

One thing is certain, they did not consult the public on their plans.

In the election campaign, Ford promised to end “hallway medicine” and over-crowded hospitals, but specific plans were non-existent. During pre-election debate, Horwath warned about Ford’s plan to privatize healthcare. Ford denied it. “That is not in my vocabulary”, he said with the smug grin he wore throughout those debates.

He lied.

Just like he lied about low gas prices being the result of his scrapping the “carbon tax”. Just like he lied about “buck-a-beer.” Just like he lied about not ending the guaranteed income programs. The list goes on….

Leaked proof

The documents revealed by Horwath and the NDP  show that the first step toward privatization is to create a “super agency” to conduct a massive transformation of the health system. Top of the agenda is to hire focus groups to find a media-friendly name for the agency; maybe the goal will be to provide Doug Ford with new vocabulary so he doesn’t have to use the word “privatization”.

Maybe “outsourcing” would be more palatable. The leaked documents say the new “super agency” would “outsource” services like air ambulance, hospital inspections, laboratory services, and more. The new bureaucracy would also take over labour relations, foreshadowing attempts to weaken and break the power of unionized workers to resist cutbacks and privatization.

Ontario Health Coalition Executive Director Natalie Mehra warns: “The draft legislation also provides for the Super Agency to create mega-mergers. It also enables the ordered closures of health providers like hospitals without any appeal.”

Health Minister Elliott tried to sweep the evidence back under the carpet. She insisted the documents were just first drafts for study, not indication of government policy. She even tried to say she had never even read the plan.

She lied about that too. The leaked documents have been approved by Ford’s cabinet. And far from being a purely hypothetical exercise, it turns out that the “super agency” has already been created in secret. Ford, Elliott and their gang have started a new crown corporation called “Health Program Initiatives” to start the privatization ball rolling. They have installed three as-yet unidentified “high ranking” bureaucrats to run the corporation; these are temporary “placeholding” names, hastily appointed until job searches can be done to find more suitable permanent bosses.

The planned legislation will be hidden in a larger omnibus bill when it brought to the legislature. That, and the rush get the new “super agency” up and running are attempts to do an end run around rising public opposition.

"It's a done deal. But the entire Ford government has been hiding this plan from the public. Why? Because people won't like it," Horwath told the press.

The latest from Elliott’s office is this statement: "Unfortunately, due to the importance of cabinet confidentiality, we are unable to confirm what has gone through the cabinet process."

Even with all the evidence on the table the Tories continue down the path to privatization, with their denials, lies and secrecy.

Whistleblower punished

The person who leaked the documents is known–the government has fired them. But like so much of the healthcare privatization story, this information has been kept from the public.

Sources say the Ontario Provincial Police have been brought in, suggesting charges may be brought against whoever leaked this information to the NDP. Remember that Doug Ford has a special connection to the provincial police, having tried to have his drinking buddy Ron Taverner appointed OPP Commissioner. Ford insists he can appoint anyone he wants, and that naming the top cop is just a “political appointment.”

Whoever the whistleblower is, they deserve praise. They must have known that the odds were good they would be identified; there can’t be that many people with access to such cabinet level documents. Yet they revealed the evidence because it is in the public interest.

Ontario has legislation to protect people who expose white collar crime, but not those workers who blow the whistle on a provincial government that secretly plots to undermine a federal law like the Canada Health Act.

We need protection for workers who expose the secret machinations of government. It is in the interest of accountability and democracy. We aren’t about to get it from Ford.

The hallmark of Ford’s government is deception and secrecy. His election slogan, “For the People”, is nothing but a cruel joke.







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