Doug Ford’s Government Proposes Major Changes To Ontario’s Health Care System

Among the changes: the formation of a sole super agency, Ontario Health, that would absorb the duties of six existing health agencies as well as 14 Local Health Integration Networks.

Doug Ford cuts

Photo, Getty.

Doug Ford was elected on a platform that promised to find billions of dollars in “efficiencies” in Ontario’s provincial budget. We’re keeping a running tally on what exactly the Ford government has cut — or is considering cutting — and what the consequences might be.

Dissolved: 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and six health agencies

On February 26, Ontario health minister Christine Elliott tabled new health legislation—called the People’s Health Care Act—which proposes the dissolution of 14 LHINs (which oversee home care and manage nursing home wait-lists at the local level) and the merger of six health agencies—including Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario—into one central agency called Ontario Health.

Under this new central agency, as many as 50 regional Ontario Health Teams (responsible for as many as 300,000 patients each) will “connect health care providers and services around patients and families.” The goal, according to a Ministry of Health press release: to better facilitate patient transitions between various local healthcare providers—such as hospitals and home care providers—and streamline health records and care plans.

As part of the health legislation, the government also pledged a $3.8 billion investment in long-term care for seniors and addiction services. As well, patients will have improved access to secure digital tools such as health records.

In a statement, Elliott said that the measures outlined in the new legislation should reduce wait times and end hallway health care. There is no word on how many jobs will be lost in the overhaul.

The legislation is expected to pass this summer.

Cut: Free tuition for low-income students

On January 17, the Ontario government announced that it was eliminating free tuition for low-income students. The previous Liberal government had increased the number of Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) grants, but recently the province’s Auditor General warned that costs associated with the OSAP grant program had risen by 25 percent. As a result, the Conservatives have reduced the family income threshold required to qualify for OSAP funding; eligible low-income students can still qualify for funding to cover their entire tuition fees, but part of it will now be a loan as opposed to a grant.

At the same time, Ontario also announced a 10% decrease in university and college tuitions for the 2019-2020 school year. (These cuts mean college students will pay approximately $340 less in tuition, and university students approximately $660 less.) Schools will be forced to absorb the loss in revenue, which will amount to $360 million for universities and $80 million for colleges.

As well, students will now have the option to choose what additional fees—which can add up to an additional $2,000—they want to pay in relation to funding for campus organizations and clubs (although fees for health programs, athletics and some other services will remain mandatory).

Also included in the changes: interest will now be charged during the six-month grace period on OSAP loans post-graduation—something the Ontario government alleges will “reduce complexity for students.”

Read the full slate of changes to OSAP funding here.

Proposed: Eliminating 14 regional health agencies

Also on January 17, CBC News reported that the Ford government will replace 14 local health integration networks (LHINs) with five regional oversight bodies. According to CBC, LHINs “co-ordinate health care at the local level,” and oversee nearly $30 billion in funding that is disbursed to Ontario hospitals, long-term care homes and community health centres.

Cut: $25 Million in funding for specialized school programs

On December 15, the Toronto Star reported that the Ford government has cut funding for “programs that provide after-school jobs for needy-teens, classroom tutors for kids, ‘student success’ supports for racialized youth as well as a project focusing on Indigenous issues,” in elementary and secondary schools across Ontario. The cuts amount to $25 million.

The province’s 72 school boards were informed of the changes via an email sent at 5 p.m. on a Friday with a list of programs set to be cut or to receive reduced funding. The funding for these programs was initially allocated to the schools by the Liberal government in March 2018 in the form of grants, leaving educators concerned about whether or not money has already been spent.

“We would certainly hope that the government is going to keep the school boards whole, that the money that has been spent up until now will be provided by the government because that information is not clear yet,” Robin Pilkey, chair of the TDSB, told CP24.

In an email to CBC Toronto, Kayla Iafelice, press secretary for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said that the school programs getting scrapped were not an effective use of funds. “Despite only accounting for less than 1% of school board funding, this fund has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments,” wrote Iafelice. It is not clear if these programs will be replaced by other initiatives.

Cancelled: Funding for the Ontario Arts Council and its Indigenous Culture Fund

The Ford government cut base funding to the Ontario Arts Council by $5 million, as well as a $2.25 million cut to the Indigenous Culture Fund, which commissions projects that “support First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, culture and way of life.

Proposed: Buyouts for non-unionized public staff

The Ford government is offering buyouts to non-unionized public staffers in order to cut costs, according to an internal government memo obtained by multiple media outlets. The buyout package has been available since 2013, but is now being expanded to non-union employees, as reported by The Canadian Press. Staff can apply for buyouts between January 1 and February 28; the memo states that this kind of buyout is being implemented to address “fiscal challenges” without resorting to firings.

Cancelled: Funding for the Ontario College of Midwives

On December 12, Ford cut all provincial funding for the Ontario College of Midwives, which had received government support for the last 25 years. The College is a regulatory body that oversees more than 950 midwives who deliver 15% of the province’s babies. Those registered midwives also care for more than 12% of Ontario’s expectant mothers.

A statement from the College explains that the province revoked its operational grants retroactively from April 1, 2018. It had requested $750,533 in funding this year and it received about $799,000 in 2017.

While the statement notes that “careful stewardship” of its resources means that the cuts will “have no impact on the public,” it is likely that member midwives will see an annual fee increase.

Proposed: Changes to childcare, environmental and labour regulations

As part of an omnibus bill—which proposed changes designed to reduce “red tape” across a variety of businesses—tabled on December 6, the Ford government wants to increase the number of kids that at-home and unlicensed daycare providers are allowed to care for.  The proposed changes would mean that:

  • unlicensed and at-home providers could care for three children under the age of two (as opposed to two, as it currently stands)
  • an at-home provider with two caregivers could care for six children under the age of two (as opposed to four, as it currently stands)
  • providers won’t have to include their own children in the total number of children under care once their child turns four (as opposed to once their child turns six, as it currently stands)

The Ford government says these changes will make it easier for daycare operators to run “viable” businesses and also for parents to find childcare spaces and get back to work, while critics suggest they will put kids at increased risk due to inadequate supervision—such as what happened to two-year-old Eva Ravikovich, who passed away in 2013 after being left in a hot car for several hours by her unlicensed daycare provider in Vaughan, Ont. The provider had 35 children in her care at the time of Eva’s death and was later sentenced to 22 months in jail.

As part of the same bill, the Ford government also proposed changes that would allow municipalities to exempt commercial and industrial developers from regulations related to the environment—including anti-sprawl legislation—and also rules that protect the Great Lakes and other sources of drinking water. (As it stands, municipalities wishing to bypass these regulations for developers must post public notice and hold hearings before doing so.)

Also as part of the same bill, the Ford government has proposed loosening current rules that require municipalities, and institutions like hospitals and universities, to use unionized contractors for infrastructure projects.

The omnibus bill will be up for debate in Ontario legislature in February 2019.

Not up for debate (according to Doug Ford): The recognition of gender identity

On November 19, Ford told reporters that Resolution R4—to debate whether or not the party should recognize gender identity, which was passed during a three-day PC convention this past weekend—is “non-binding, so it’s done.” As the Toronto Star notes, it’s unclear how Ford can halt a resolution that has already been voted on, but a spokesperson for Ford has said he “will explore every option as leader of the Ontario PC Party to prevent this resolution from moving forward.”

Up for debate (according to the Ontario PC Party): The recognition of gender identity

On November 17, the Ontario PC Party passed a resolution to debate whether or not the party should recognize gender identity (a.k.a. “our deeply held, internal sense of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither”). The resolution posited that gender identity theory is “a highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology.’” If passed into policy, the Ontario PC Government had said it would remove the teaching and promotion of gender identity theory from Ontario schools and sex-ed curriculum.

The resolution—officially named Resolution R4—was passed during a three-day policy convention held in Etobicoke, Ont. and was set to be debated at next year’s convention.

Resolution R4 was originally put forward by former Ontario PC candidate Tanya Granic Allen. (Allen was dropped by the PC party before the 2018 general election after a 2014 video surfaced in which she spoke negatively about gay marriage.) When it was proposed again, critics were quick to denounce it. Trans advocate Jayce Carver told the CBC “We have a government currently in power that’s trying to erase our identities…That is scary.”

Cancelled: Rent control in new buildings, three provincial watchdog positions and more

In a fall economic statement delivered on November 15, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli announced multiple cuts, including:

In addition to these cuts, Fedeli  announced a new tax credit for low-income earners called LIFT (low-income individuals and family tax credit), which he says will mean that most individuals who earn less than $30,000 a year will not pay Ontario personal income tax.

Finally, Fedeli also announced that the LCBO and Beer stores will now be able to open from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days a week.

Once again, the Conservatives blamed the cuts on what they say was a $15 billion provincial deficit inherited from the Wynne government.

Cancelled: Funding for three university satellite campuses

On October 24, the Ontario Conservatives cancelled funding that the previous Liberal government had promised for three planned satellite campuses: $90 million each for a Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton and a Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton, as well as $127.3 million earmarked for a York University/Seneca College campus in Markham.

The Conservatives blamed the cuts on the $15 billion provincial deficit it says it inherited from the Wynne government.

Cancelled: Labour reform (Bill 148)

On October 2, Doug Ford announced in the Ontario legislature that his government would be “getting rid” of Bill 148. Introduced by the Liberals, it’s an employment and labour reform bill that:

• guarantees part-time workers will be paid the same rate a full-time workers doing the same job
• orders employers to pay workers for three hours if their shift is cancelled with less than 48 hours notice
• gives workers three weeks of vacation after five years of employment, as well as 10 personal days a year—two of which must be paid

It’s also the same bill that introduced the minimum wage increase to $14/hour in 2018 (from $11.60), followed by an increase to $15/hour that was scheduled to happen on January 1, 2019. (Scrapping the $15 minimum wage was a campaign promise that provincial finance minister Laurie Scott said the PCs would keep in a September 14 opinion piece in the Financial Post.)

Ford’s justification for scrapping Bill 148? He considers it to be a “job killer” that he alleges has already cost the Ontario economy 60,000 jobs.

That said, his government has yet to take any formal steps to repeal or replace the bill, notes Pam Frache, the Ontario coordinator of the Fight for $15 and Fairness.

Cancelled: Nearly half of Toronto city council

Ford initially announced his plans to reduce the size of city council in late July.

On September 10, Justice Edward Belobaba ruled against Ford’s proposed Bill 5—an act that would cut the number of Toronto city councillors from 47 to 25—due to it being unconstitutional and infringing on candidate’s and voter’s right to freedom of expression as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In response, Ford said he would not accept that ruling and planned on invoking the “notwithstanding clause”—a legal loophole that allows federal or provincial leaders to enact laws that go against sections of the Charter. Essentially, it allows political leaders to not follow legislation that they don’t agree with. Before Ford’s latest actions, this clause had never been used by the provincial government in Ontario. (In fact, it’s only been used around 15 times in Canadian history).

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On September 19, Ontario’s appeal court sided with the Ford government, with its three-judge panel noting in its decision that “unfairness alone does not establish a Charter breach.” This means that there will indeed be 25 wards instead of 47 in Toronto’s upcoming municipal election on October 22.

Cancelled: The Basic Income Project

On August 1, Children, Community and Social Services minister Lisa MacLeod announced that the PCs would be ending the Liberal government’s pilot project looking into providing Ontarians with a no-strings-attached “basic income.” The pilot involved 4,000 people earning less than $34,000 annually who were given up to $17,000. Unlike traditional welfare, the payment was not conditional upon employment status. Couples would receive up to $24,000; those with disabilities were eligible for up to an additional $6,000. The experiment began in April 2017 and was set to last three years.

In her announcement of the pilot cancellation, MacLeod said that it was scrapped because it wasn’t working, although she was unable to provide any data to clarify what that meant. There were also no details on how the program would be wound down for those currently supported by it. This comes on the heels of another announcement on July 31, when MacLeod said the government would increase disability support rates by 1.5% instead of the 3% promised by the Liberals before the election.

“We need to do more than just help people remain mired in poverty,” MacLeod told reporters. “We’re going to hit the pause button on the previous government’s patchwork system and replace it with a system that helps stabilize people in need and support them to succeed.” She went on to say that the government had set itself a 100-day deadline to formulate a plan to revamp the social assistance system in Ontario.

Cancelled: Changes to the sex-ed curriculum

Starting this September, Ontario schools will go back to teaching the 1998 sex-ed curriculum. On July 11, the newly-appointed Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, announced that the Ontario government would repeal the changes made to the sex-ed curriculum introduced by the Liberal government in 2015. The updated curriculum aimed to better reflect the issues children face today, including topics such as same-sex relationships, online safety and gender identity—all of which are not part of the 1998 curriculum that students will be taught in September. (Ford and the Ministry of Education plan to consult with parents on how to update the sex-ed curriculum moving forward.)

Cancelled: Hydro One’s CEO and its board of directors 

On July 11, Ford announced the retirement of Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt, effective immediately. Schmidt will leave with a $400,000 lump sum payment, a far cry from the estimated $10.7 million severance he would be entitled to if he was removed by the board of directors. According to a statement from Hydro One, Schmidt will not be entitled to severance. The remaining Hydro One board members will resign and be replaced on a staggered basis over the next month.

During the election campaign, Ford promised that Schmidt would be removed from Hydro One (reportedly “livid” over the CEO’s salary), even if it meant replacing the entire board. “I’m happy to say we kept our promise. The CEO and the board of Hydro One, they’re done, they’re gone,” Ford told reporters outside of his Queen’s Park office.

Cancelled: Writing sessions to revise Indigenous education curriculum

The Conservative government will go ahead with planned revisions to Ontario’s curriculum, updated to reflect the experiences of Indigenous Canadians. These updates were a key recommendation of 2015’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and will include teaching the dark history of residential schools. What they have cancelled, however, are the curriculum writing sessions—which were supposed to happen this week—to further update the curriculum. The Ministry of Education has said that the cancellations are the result of the new ban on non-essential travel.

Cancelled: Hiring in the public sector

Even before he was sworn in as premier on June 29, Doug Ford announced a hiring freeze across the public service. Additionally, Ford shut down all discretionary spending, so no non-essential travel, for instance, or food at meetings. This freeze will be in place until the Progressive Conservatives have done a line-by-line audit of the province’s finances. (Frontline workers, like fire fighters and the police, are exempt. And teachers and doctors don’t actually work for the public service, so this doesn’t apply to them, either.)

Cancelled: Free prescriptions for children and young adults with private coverage

On June 30, the Ford government’s health minister Christine Elliott announced that the PCs would be dialling back the Liberal OHIP+ extension. When the program came into effect last year, all Ontarians under 25 qualified for free prescriptions to 4,400 medications covered under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. Under Ford, however, this will now apply to only to under 25s who don’t already have drug coverage under private insurance. (Those who do have private insurance will bill their insurers first for prescription costs, and the government second.)

Cancelled: The cap-and-trade program

One of Ford’s key campaign promises was to lower the price of gas by 10 cents per litre. The primary way he planned to achieve this was by scrapping the cap-and-trade program. Basically, this is Ontario withdrawing from a joint marketplace with Quebec and California in which companies could buy and sell credits that allowed them to produce carbon emissions. The idea behind the program was that companies would have to “pay” to pollute, and so would be incentivized into maker greener investments in their businesses. The extra cost to businesses to buy these carbon credits was passed on to consumers, and again, this was designed to spur people to make more environmentally friendly choices. Cancelling the program was Ford’s first act as premier. When he did so, he said in a statement: “Every cent spent from the cap-and-trade slush fund is money that has been taken out of the pockets of Ontario families and businesses. We believe that this money belongs back in the pockets of people. Cancelling the cap-and-trade carbon tax will result in lower prices at the gas pump, on your home heating bills and on virtually every other product that you buy.”

Cancelled: The Green Ontario Fund 

The Green Ontario Fund was financed (to the tune of around $377 million) by proceeds from the cap-and-trade program, and was designed to help people retrofit their homes and businesses with green technologies via a rebate system. The rebates applied to things like smart thermostats, more energy-efficient windows and other improvements to reduce a building’s carbon footprint. The government announced in June that it would wind down by September.

Cancelled: $100 million in funding for school repairs

Another consequence of cancelling the cap-and-trade program is that school boards across Ontario are suddenly short $100 million in money earmarked for repairs to its facilities via the cap-and-trade-backed Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. The Toronto District School Board, for example, has a $300 million annual budget for repairs, of which $25 million came from this fund. It has a total repair backlog of $4 billion.

With files from Jessie Borsellino and The Canadian Press.