Ontario’s freedom of information system is ‘broken,’ critics say

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Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles says the province’s access to information system is “broken” after two Ford government ministries made contradictory decisions over the release of health-care staffing information to two media outlets.

In 2022, Global News filed a freedom of information request for health-care staffing information. The government released some data but withheld the specific number of nurses, physicians and personal support workers Ontario would need over several years.

An appeal to the information and privacy commissioner (IPC) was unsuccessful. An adjudicator found a “compelling public interest” in releasing the information but ultimately agreed with the Ministry of Health that its publication could cause “economic harm.”

As lawyers for the Ministry of Health were working on their appeal to withhold the information from Global News, privacy officials with the Ministry of Long-Term Care released the same data to The Canadian Press through a separate request.

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Freedom of information and privacy staff with the Ministry of Health redacted key portions of a briefing obtained by Global News. Global News

The Ministry of Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Health share a freedom of information team. The same civil servants work on requests made to both ministries.

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Stiles said the contrasting decisions lay bare the issues with how access to information works in Ontario.

“I think the FOI system is broken,” she told reporters on Monday.

“I think if these rules are being used as a way for a government to frankly not share essential information with people, then there’s something wrong. It should be freedom of information, the people deserve to know what’s happening out there and the government can no longer hide the state of our health-care system.”

The details obtained by The Canadian Press show that in 2022, the province needed 6,000 more nurses across all health-care sectors. In 2023, the need rose to 10,110 and this year it was expected to be 13,200.

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By 2027 the province is expected to need 20,700 additional nurses, growing to 33,200 by 2032.

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When it comes to personal support workers, the province needed 24,100 more in 2022 and 30,900 more in 2023. This year the need was expected to be 37,700, which was projected to rise to 48,977 in 2027 and 50,853 in 2032.

Neither The Canadian Press nor Global News obtained the statistics for physician shortages in Ontario, which were redacted in Global News’ initial request.

Ontario Liberal MPP John Fraser said the government was “always trying to shroud things in secrecy,” while Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the province “doesn’t want to be honest with people” about the state of provincial health care.

A spokesperson for Minister of Health Sylvia Jones said the ministry was aware more needed to be done to recruit staff and referred questions about access to information to the IPC, the non-political arbitrator for freedom of information disputes.

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“This is a ruling made by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and we respect the ruling,” the spokesperson said.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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