What happened to the priorities of Ontarians?
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Tue Sep 13 2011. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
It’s as if there are two elections going on in Ontario.
The visible election is a snarlfest between the leaders of the Liberal and Conservative parties that has produced an effusion of inflammatory rhetoric, half-truths and personal attack ads. It has nothing to do with the needs or priorities of most voters. It is orchestrated by party strategists who don’t care whom they smear to win.
The invisible election, which would make Ontarians feel better if they knew about it, is a discussion among concerned citizens about how to fix what’s broken and strengthen what works.
They have developed sensible — and in many cases, affordable — proposals to improve health care, stabilize the economy, mend the social fabric and create hope. They are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Unfortunately, neither the politicians nor the media are paying the slightest attention.
For those who would like a glimpse of the election they’re missing, here are some of the ideas bubbling up in the health profession, the universities, the think-tanks, the private sector and the non-profit agencies. They are the result of evidence gathering, analysis, experience and face-to-face consultations. All are fiscally responsible.
• Open 50 clinics led by nurse practitioners by 2015. This would give thousands of Ontarians who can’t find a family doctor access to basic health care and alleviate the strain on hospital emergency wards. Nurse practitioners are qualified to perform medical checkups, diagnose and treat minor illnesses, monitor chronic diseases and help people stay healthy. This would not require new spending; it could be done by redeploying money from less productive uses such as over-prescribed drugs, unneeded MRI scans, health administrators, gatekeepers and consultants.
• Give businesses in Ontario one clear set of operating rules. They can’t be globally competitive when they operate in fragmented city-regions with a patchwork of different regulations and programs. They can’t be efficient when they have to meet the demands of three levels of government. They can’t plan for the future when they aren’t certain where, or at what cost, the province will get the energy it needs or how it will improve its overtaxed infrastructure.
• Move people with severe disabilities out of provincially subsidized homeless shelters. There is no more expensive form of housing. It would cost taxpayers less to provide them with disability benefits to which they are entitled. The problem is that they can’t fill out the complicated application form, which requires identity documents, financial records and a doctor’s verification. By creating a small team of trained workers to do the paperwork for them, the province could save millions and improve their lives.
• Shore up the non-profit agencies that deliver most of Ontario’s social services. There is no better bargain. They operate more efficiently than private providers. They have a voluntary workforce of five million. They do everything from building low-cost housing to integrating immigrants into Canadian society. Letting them go under would mean shedding the province’s best stabilizer in hard times.
• Keep seniors out of nursing homes. Most want to age at home. Their families are willing to help. But Ontario provides so little home care that this is not a realistic option. It’s cheaper and healthier to care for seniors at home than institutionalize them. Again, there is enough money in the system. It just isn’t being used as effectively as it could.
These proposals — and many others — are being discussed in community forums and at local all-candidates’ debates and online. But at the provincial level, they’re being drowned out by hyperpartisan politicians and slick marketers.
If the two elections converge in the next 22 days, there is a chance voters will go the polls on Oct. 6 with renewed faith in Ontario’s resilience. If not, they’ll cast their ballots in reckless anger or sullen resignation.
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