Thousands rally outside Queen’s Park to protest Ontario health care changes

Thousands of people held a rally outside of Queen’s Park on Tuesday in protest of the Ford government’s changes to Ontario’s health-care system.

The protesters, many of them health-care professionals, were opposed to decisions the PCs have made since taking power last summer, including changes to paramedic services, public health funding, and the merger of local health integration networks (LHINs) to create a super agency.

Protesters began gathering at some hospitals in Toronto’s downtown core around 11:30 a.m., including Sick Kids Hospital and Toronto General, before marching up University Avenue towards the Ontario legislature building.

READ MORE: Ontario Health super agency to co-ordinate provincial health-care system

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Buses of protesters were also brought in from around the province.

“I’m scared for the public’s sake,” said protester Lauren Rodzynek, who has been a paramedic for 12 years. “We can’t have cuts to health care and education … The fear is that the quality will go down because the workload will go up.”

Many of the protesters said they were concerned about the possibility of privatization in Ontario’s health-care system given the government’s changes.

In February, the provincial government announced that it would be merging LHINs to create one super agency called Ontario Health, which will co-ordinate care throughout the province in a bid to end “duplicative” work conducted within the current system.

READ MORE: Ontario looks to cut OHIP program covering emergency medical costs abroad

Around two weeks ago, the government also announced that it is looking at merging ambulance services throughout the province.

Premier Doug Ford said that while nothing has been finalized, the purpose of the review is to look at how service could be increased while, at the same time, saving taxpayers money.

He added that the number of paramedics in the province would stay the same.

Protesters, however, said the changes have opened the door to the possibility of private companies joining the health-care system.

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“Everyone’s going to suffer, from the workers to the people who need the services,” said Mike Delfante, a paramedic of 10 years.

READ MORE: Ontario government looks at merging ambulance services; Doug Ford says service won’t go down

“The last thing I want to think about is ‘how much does something cost?’ In a private system, you have to worry about the cost of resources. In a public health-care system, I don’t … I want to make my decisions based on the needs of somebody, not the needs of a corporation,” Delfante said, adding that he worked for a private health-care company before moving to Ontario.

In response to the protests, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the concern of privatization is completely misguided.

“That is not going to happen,” she told reporters at Queen’s Park. “Everything we are doing is to strengthen our public health-care system.”

Elliott pointed to the government’s budget as evidence of their commitment to the public health-care system, which she said includes a $27 billion investment over 10 years into health-care infrastructure and $174 million for public mental health and addiction programs, among other investments.

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“What we want to do is make sure that we can strengthen our public health-care system with the injections of capital that were mentioned in the budget,” Elliott said.

Some in the health-care sector have supported the changes, including the Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario.

However, opposition leader Andrea Horwath has said that the changes open the door to privatization.

She also said Elliott should “come clean” regarding the government’s “cutting agenda,” adding that the province is not providing health funding in line with inflation, which amounts to a cut.

She pointed to the concerns raised by the City of Toronto about public health funding as evidence of cuts.

READ MORE: Ontario government to slash funding to Toronto Public Health, officials say

The city says it will be losing $1 billion in health funding over the next 10 years as a result of the LHIN changes, leading to concerns about future services.

“What they’ve done is downloaded and created a lot of financial troubles for municipalities, which is not what they said they were going to do,” Horwath said.

The provincial government, however, disputes that $1 billion figure.

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-With files from the Canadian Press and Nick Westoll

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