Nurses try to inject ‘visionary thinking’ into Ontario politics

TheStar.com – Ontario
Published On Fri Jan 29 2010.   By Jim Coyle

Pretty much since the days of Florence Nightingale, nurses have had a quality brand. Granted, Hot Lips Houlihan, Nurse Ratched and the crew from ER may have altered the image a little. But RNs still score near the top of most surveys ranking the trustworthiness of professions.

Ontario’s nurses spent a little of that credibility capital Thursday trying to ensure that skittish provincial leaders don’t make a fetish out of deficit reduction or do anything rash in their fretfulness about it.

In releasing Creating Vibrant Communities: RNAO’s Challenge to Ontario’s Political Parties, the province’s registered nurses association said it hoped to “kick-start” the 2011 election campaign.

The nurses have identified the current moment – and the first post-recession election, now just 20 months off – as pivotal for Ontario.

“Faced with our social and physical infrastructure badly strained and the manufacturing sector, formerly Ontario’s bedrock, fundamentally altered, voters have a crucial choice to make.”

Their report is a useful contribution to that deliberation, not least of all as a counterbalance to the rising chorus of voices demanding restraint and retrenchment.

It appears the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario is concerned at signals coming from Premier Dalton McGuinty that those will be this year’s themes.

For its part, it prefers “upstream, long-term, visionary thinking” to the false choices of social programs and public ownership versus deficit-cutting, it said.

In fact, there was a warning against many of the very measures – public-sector cuts, a sell-off of Crown assets – the premier has blue-skied about in recent months.

“Governing in a fiscally responsible way is imperative, but not at the expense of strong public services, social infrastructure and Crown corporations that are owned by the public and operated in the public interest,” the report said.

Nurses see the effects of public policy first hand, in all its often messy misery.

“One of the root causes of ill health is poverty,” they say. “Sadly, nurses know a lot about poverty because we see it.”

It’s a perspective different, say, than that contained in the latest report by some economist or academic with a catchy buzzphrase.

“We want to ensure the advice of nurses is heeded,” said RNA president Wendy Fucile. “We are providing ample time for all political parties to reflect on our advice and borrow freely.”

The premier did receive occasional nods of approval, followed quickly by the admonition that there’s much still to do.

“In a province as rich and as progressive as ours, it is alarming that in 2008, nearly one in 12 adults did not have a nurse practitioner, family physician or other health-care provider.”

The Liberal government’s poverty-reduction plan “was a strong start, but poverty remains a distressingly large and increasingly acute problem.”

Among other things, the RNAO recommended: immediately increasing the minimum wage to $13.25 an hour; fast-tracking the provincial housing plan “because safe affordable housing is essential to good health”; implementing both the poverty reduction plan and the Pascal report on full-day kindergarten and turning schools into community hubs.

“It is clear that social investment to eliminate poverty is good health policy, good social policy and good economic policy.”

What the association also made clear is that the legacy of Mike Harris is a series of calamitous decisions based on ideology and short-term imperatives. And that no philosophical heir of his is apt to be much of a favourite of theirs.

“We know from the mid-1990s that cutting deficits on the backs of nurses, other public-sector workers and necessary public services does not work,” they said.

“The decisions taken at the time were foolhardy.”

And don’t even get them started on hula-hoops.

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