Public health squeeze is the unkindest cut of all from Ford

Posted on April 23, 2019 in Health Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorial
April 22, 2019.   By

Well, that didn’t take long.

The Ontario budget, pitched as the Goldilocks approach to provincial cuts and deficit reduction — not too fast, not too slow, but just right — is already feeling anything but just right.

Under the guise of the largest provincial budget ever, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have managed to deliver substantial cuts to public transit ($1.1 billion over 10 years for Toronto alone); education (larger classes, fewer teachers); library services (particularly crushing for small and northern communities); and legal aid (targeting some of Ontario’s most vulnerable).

The latest cut, to be lifted from the fine print of budget documents and brought into the light, is one of the dumbest: public health.

Two weeks ago, the budget cut the number of public health units from 35 to 10 across Ontario and the government dropped the other shoe — details of slashed funding — in a surprise phone call with officials on Thursday.

For Toronto it’s the loss of another $1 billion over 10 years, and Mayor John Tory called it a “targeted attack on the health of our entire city.”

It’s easy to see why he’d put it that way.

Toronto has been singled out for harsher cuts than other cities, with its provincial funding dropping down to 50 per cent of program costs from the current 75 to 100 per cent. In other communities, the provincial portion doesn’t fall below 60 per cent.

So this is just the Ford government enjoying another good round of Toronto bashing while relieving itself of health costs by downloading them onto the city — and hoping city taxpayers will pick up the slack.

Or it’s also the province’s attempt to force Toronto to pull back from public health roles it doesn’t much like, such as safe injection sites.

Either way, it’s such a penny-wise, pound-foolish sort of move that it’s impossible to fathom how the province can go through with it.

It’s cutting funding to programs that improve prenatal health and prevent diabetes, vaccinate children and give those who need it a healthy breakfast at school, make sure our drinking water is safe, and control deadly outbreaks like SARS. This will only result in more expensive medical interventions down the line.

That makes Ford’s promise to end hallway medicine harder to deliver. So in spiting Toronto, he’s spiting himself and, ultimately, all Ontarians.

If there’s a problem with the way health units are operating, let’s hear it. And then let’s fix them. That’s the normal, sensible way to govern.

But this government’s method is to initially claim there are no cuts and then create confusion about what cuts it’s making and why. It leaves people on the ground scrambling to figure out what it means and when they say it means something terrible, as they have in this case, the government promptly denies it.

Toronto officials are “fundamentally misinterpreting the facts” to “sow confusion,” says Health Minister Christine Elliott’s spokesperson. “Here’s the truth: our government is strengthening the role of municipalities in the delivery of public health.”

If only that were true. It’s the province that’s sowing confusion, acting without consultation and downloading its health responsibilities onto municipalities, particularly Toronto, in an effort to find provincial savings to fix a budget problem of Ford’s own making.

And that’s the truth.

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