Ontario’s health minister issued a forceful denial that her government is considering additional private delivery of health care services, after Global News revealed that Sylvia Jones’s ministerial talking points were edited to remove a firm position on privatization.
A Global News freedom of information request for Jones’s legislative house binder — a collection of government-approved talking points on a variety of issues related to her portfolio — revealed that a key phrase about privatization was crossed out in August.
The line, “No, we are not privatizing healthcare. Full stop,” was scribbled out of the minister’s notes and was never uttered by Jones during question period at Queen’s Park or during a news conference about the health care system.
Instead, Jones relied on softer language about Ontarians using their OHIP cards rather than their credit cards for health care which led to ambiguity and raised questions about the government motives.
“No, no, no,” Jones told Global News during a news conference about capital funding for public hospitals.
“We are making investments in our publicly funded health care system in Ontario, we will continue to make those investments.
“We will ensure that people have services where they need it, when they want it in the province of Ontario.”
The minister’s denials, however, were met with suspicion at Queen’s Park as politicians continue to insist that the government is moving toward the expansion of the private delivery of health care which already exists in the current system.
“I’m not satisfied with their denials,” said NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns. “No, I don’t believe them.”
Liberal MPP Dr. Adil Shamji expressed surprise when he learned of the edited talking points and said the minister’s refusal to “unequivocally say privatization is not on the agenda” puts the government’s motives in question.
“It totally resonates with the fact that she will do nothing to regulate for-profit nursing agencies, there is no appetite for that,” Shamji said. “Privatization is on the agenda with this government.”
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner pointed to the minister’s calls for innovation in health care as an example of the government “opening up” the system to alternate delivery models.
“We need to the health minister and the premier to be explicit with the people of Ontario that they will not privatize further delivery of health care in this province.”
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As she defended her commitment to the public health care system, Jones pointed to the 2022 Ontario budget which, she said, included “a $5 billion investment” in the system.
“A $5 billion investment in Ontario’s publicly funded health care system sends a very clear message to our health care partners, our patients, our caregivers that we are investing and we are supporting public health systems in the province of Ontario and continue to do so,” Jones said.
In fact, the 2022-23 budget shows an increase of $2.1 billion in a planned spending increase compared to the $66.3 billion the Ministry of Health spent during the 2021-22 fiscal year.
A record of ministry spending shows just $65 million of the $66 billion budget was transferred to 800 Independent Health Facilities, 98 per cent of which are for-profit centres owned or operated by physicians. Services offered at independent health facilities include x-rays, ultrasounds and sleep studies.
In spite of that, Tabuns said the minister’s house binder containing the crossed out talking point revealed the government’s true position “to privatize the health care system.”
“I think that any other conclusion doesn’t hold water.”