Ontario Premier Doug Ford rejected his own government’s analysis that Bill 124 has impacted the province’s ability to retain nurses, calling the document written by provincial staffers inaccurate.
Ford, who held his first news conference of 2023 at a pharmacy in Etobicoke on Wednesday, was peppered with questions about Bill 124 after Global News obtained internal government documents admitting the impact of the controversial legislation.
The documents were contained in the transition binder for the minister of health, which is designed to inform an incoming cabinet minister of the inner workings of the ministry, decision-making frameworks and key issues the politician may be expected to handle. One portion of the minister’s binder that dealt with “retention issues” in the health-care system stated that “concerns about wage disparity via Bill 124” were a contributing factor, along with wage disparities.
Ford said the findings by officials within the Ministry of Health — created by the civil service to inform his government — were “not accurate” because of the record number of nurses who registered for their licenses in 2022.
“We’ve seen a record amount of health-care workers hired in the province,” Ford said.
“There are no numbers (on the impact of Bill 124), but I’ll tell you, (if the documents had) anything negative, that must not be accurate,” he said, again citing the number of nurses hired in Ontario.
He said the province could not keep “dishing it out” and “can’t be out there spending willy nilly” because people are “taxed to the brink.”
While just over 6,000 new nurses filed a registration in 2022, according to the College of Nurses of Ontario, briefing materials given to the minister of health acknowledged that those health-care workers are choosing to leave the front lines, meaning their licenses are being retained, but the individuals are staying away from practical nursing work.
“Attrition is around five per cent per year and has not increased,” the internal document reads. “Nurses are not leaving the profession but are leaving front-line positions.”
Premier Ford also claimed multiple times that Bill 124 has lapsed, despite the province’s active legal battle to reinstate the legislation, after an Ontario court struck it down at the end of 2022, calling the law unconstitutional.
The legislation applies to public sector unions for a three-year period capping their wages at 1 per cent per year for the life of the contract.
According to Ontario‘s financial accountability officer, while 70 per cent of public sector employees have already been subject to Bill 124, 30 per cent, including more than 100,000 health-care workers, have yet to have their increases capped.