The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) has just started a Simcoe County chapter, and their first order of business will be to help rally Simcoe County residents to vote in a province-wide referendum.
The OHC was joined by chairs of the newly formed Simcoe County Health Coalition to host a town hall Zoom event on Wednesday night (March 8) to present what privatization could mean for local hospitals. As part of the discussion, representatives presented a plan of action, which is to hold a mass grassroots referendum, tentatively planned for May 26 and 27.
And they’re looking for local volunteers to help.
“One of the biggest difficulties in fighting to protect public medicare in Canada is that Canadians take it for granted,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “We just came out of a provincial election in which no one said, in any way, that they were going to privatize our public hospitals.”
Since being re-elected in June 2022, the Progressive Conservative government has made multiple announcements that point to a move to privatization of health care, including sending $18 million to private clinics to perform more routine minimally invasive surgeries to work to clear the surgical backlog, spending $1 billion to pay private home care services and investing public funds into privately-owned long-term care homes.
While the government has said these moves are intended to ease the strain on the publicly-funded system, the OHC isn’t buying it.
Mehra pointed to deficiencies in local health care including difficulty finding a family doctor, emergency room and appointment wait times, and staffing shortages. Across the province, Mehra noted the reports of 158 short-term emergency room closures in 2022 in Ontario.
“That is staggering,” she said. “Ten would be extraordinary. We have never seen anything like this. It is made worse by government policy.”
This week, the Financial Accountability Office found the provincial government’s health-care plans fall short in that they aren’t building sufficient capacity in the hospital, long-term-care and home-care systems; its budgeted funding falls short; and it will not have enough health-care workers to meet the commitments to expansion it has made.
While the exact wording of the OHC referendum question is still to be decided, the referendum will ask whether voters are for or against a move to privatization of health care across Ontario.
Mehra said the goal is to reach one million votes across Ontario through the referendum, which would then be presented in the legislature.
“That would be huge,” said Mehra. “It would shake a government of any stripe.”
As of now, Mehra said the first step is to organize the referendum. In Simcoe County, their coalition is looking for local organizers in all municipalities to run polling stations and gather ideas on how best to reach the largest number of residents to participate in the vote.
“We’re going to need a small army to do this,” said Mehra.
To get involved locally, the Simcoe County Health Coalition can be reached via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or via email at [email protected]. Their next meeting will take place on March 22.
More information on the Ontario Health Coalition can be found on their website here.