TORONTO — Amie Archibald-Varley is worried about what Doug Ford’s re-election will mean for Ontario’s health system and those who work in it.
The registered nurse and health equity advocate says a piece of wage-restraint legislation, Bill 124, passed by Ford’s Progressive Conservatives is at the centre of her concerns.
“We’ve worked and suffered throughout this entire pandemic,” Archibald-Varley said in an interview.
“We were hailed as heroes, we had people banging pots and pans for us. And when it came down to it, and we were asked what we need to continue to help support nurses here in Ontario, we asked to repeal Bill 124.”
The Progressive Conservatives introduced the legislation in 2019 to limit compensation increases in public-sector contracts to one per cent a year. The provisions were to be in effect for three years, and the Tories said in 2019 that it was a time-limited approach to helping eliminate the deficit.
When asked the morning after the election whether he would ease the wage cap for health-care workers, Ford said he would take inflation into consideration in negotiations once agreements lapse.
“I’m a strong believer, when you get inflation, we got to treat people fairly,” Ford said, after pointing to retention pay his government announced for nurses last winter.
“We’re going sit down and negotiate fairly, with no matter what union it is. But I’m a strong believer of being fair with the people that are out there working hard, doing a great job, and we rely on them, so I’m very grateful for everyone including the nurses.”
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The NDP, Liberals and Greens had all pledged during the election campaign to repeal the legislation.
A recent Statistics Canada survey indicated over 95 per cent of physicians, nurses and other health-care workers polled reported feeling more stress due to the pandemic, while juggling a larger workload. It also found that, as a result, one in four nurses intend to leave or change their job entirely in the next three years.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Medical Association estimates the pandemic has led to a backlog of over 21 million patient services, including over one million surgeries, along with considerable wait times.
The Ontario Nurses’ Association said it was disappointed in the outcome of the election but noted that most Ontarians cast ballots for parties that wanted to scrap the wage-restraint legislation, which has “seriously worsened the nursing shortage.”
“Most Ontarians stood with nurses and health-care professionals in this province and sent a message to the Ford government that they do not support Bill 124 … and attacks on workers’ rights,” Cathryn Hoy, president of the organization, said in a written statement.
Dianne Martin, CEO of the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario, said she hoped to work with the re-elected government to address what she called a “crisis in nursing.”
“I hope to work with the government to help bring that realization of just how bad it is, and what it looks like for patients, to their attention and then, of course, work on solutions with them,” she said in an interview.
Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, wrote in a statement Friday that the province needs to make “strategic investments to build additional capacity” in the health system while also planning for the long term.
That commitment to working together is key, said Naheed Dosani, a Toronto-based palliative care physician and health equity advocate.
“Across the board, we have seen the impact of what inequitable health care can do to people and I think there’s great potential for this to get worse in the coming years,” he said. “We need all hands on deck to protect our public health-care system.”
That begins, he said, by repealing Bill 124 and better supporting front-line workers, along with investing in retention and education.
“After all they’ve done to sacrifice and dedicate themselves during this pandemic, they certainly deserve at least that much,” he said.