DOUG Ford is a liar. Too strong? Let’s see.
“Under our government, I’m going to reinforce this, not one single person will lose their job,” Ford said during the televised leader’s election debate on May 27 last year.
“I say it every night and I’m going to say it again and again. No one, no one will lose their job,” he said at a rally in Windsor on May 31.
“Don’t listen to the scare tactics,” he said in Nepean on June 2. “No one will lose their job, absolutely no one.”
Apparently someone finally sat him down and pointed out that this would be impossible given his other promise to shave four cents of every provincial dollar spent while reducing hydro bills by 12 per cent, reducing income tax, reforming education and . . . you get the idea. Staffing is government’s highest cost.
So the no-job-losses promise had to be modified. Enter Finance Minister Vic Fideli (well, he used to be finance minister until he was demoted Thursday with four other top ministers who Ford said recently were part of “the best cabinet this province has ever seen” — apparently another lie) who told a March 9 pre-budget news conference, “You’re going to see our promises kept, and one of the promises that the premier made is that no front-line workers will be cut.”
See how he slipped that in?
If you weren’t “front line” you were off the protected list. Like the 416 health-care workers who got bad news this week as Ford’s Progressive Conservative government continues to merge 20 agencies into one.
These “back-office positions” in communications, planning, data analysis and finance are being lost in offices like local health integration networks, Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth.
The end result of this revolutionary reorganization is to create a new super agency called Ontario Health and save $350 million a year by 2021-22. Ontario Health will be managed by a board of directors in Toronto who will be expected to know the fundamental differences in health care delivery in all the various and varied parts of this enormous province. What could go wrong?
The goal of ending duplication across all of these offices seems logical enough in the interests of reducing the provincial deficit. But Ford is in an awful hurry. The loss of a job — any job — is devastating on individuals and families. Multiplied by the hundreds across entire agencies it’s not hard to imagine how hopeless these people must feel about finding new work in their field.
Even if you accept that these employees, largely unseen by the public, can be sacrificed on Ford’s altar of deficit reduction, what about the genuine front-line workers who’ve already gotten the axe? People like employees in the Thunder Bay office of the Child and Youth Advocate, untold numbers of school employees being let go in order to cancel $25 million in specialized education program funding, the 40 nurses at Kitchener’s Grand River Hospital, among other health care facilities impacted.
Health Minister Christine Elliott (willing to do Ford’s worst bidding, she kept her job) said Wednesday that front-line workers is what the premier meant all along.
“Certainly my understanding from the comments by the premier was with respect to no front-line job losses would be happening,” she said in an interview. “So, he has been clear on that.”
No he hasn’t. Read again what Ford said above. She’s lying, too. Unless he was saying something different in the cabinet room which is a whole other level of lying.
And a hiring freeze slapped on the public service last year means that hundreds of jobs in various ministries are vacant. So the front line itself is weakened and service to the public reduced.
The winners in all of this are the 150-and-counting health groups formed to take advantage of it. These are collections of hospital leaders, doctors, home-care providers and others vying to be designated as one of the new Ontario Health Teams.
As the government centralizes control of health care in Ontario Health, it is asking for applicant groups to carry out the board’s and ministry’s mandate in each region of the province.
The response, naturally, is immense. Health care providers have long been after the government to let them run things in their own unique areas in their own ways. They won’t have carte blanche — and may well balk at what they’re told to do in the way of “efficiencies” — but at least it appears there will be a modicum of ground-up leadership.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler is not among those keen on the health-team idea. He told The Globe and Mail that NAN was not consulted and that he’s still hoping to use a 2017 federal-provincial promise to put Indigenous people in charge of their own health care delivery in NAN’s 49 communities across Northwestern Ontario. If that proposal goes the way of others designed to increase Indigenous self-government, the negotiations could be long and tedious, leaving many First Nations residents out of whatever form Ontario health care is taking.
The big picture of what the Ford government has been doing is mind-boggling. Thirteen ministry budgets have been reduced and everything from tree planting to libraries has been hit.
For those with an interest in detail, or a test of their brain’s level of endurance, read Fatima Syed’s dizzying list of “everything the Doug Ford government cut in its first year in office” (before closing shop for five months) in the online National Observer.
It might make your head hurt but at least you’ll understand the immense scope of what’s happened in only 12 months of the Tory premier’s mendacious agenda.
Just try and count the number of things you had no idea were to be chopped out of the services Ontarians pay for. Lies by omission, in other words.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.
(Originally published June 22, 2019)