TORONTO –The recent cost-cutting report of the Drummond Commission which offers many failed ideas from the Mike Harris era including shrinking, cutting and merging hospitals and other health services through a restructuring commission, poses an enormous credibility challenge for the Premier if the advice is followed, says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).
Should the Liberals heed privatization commissioner Don Drummond and cut health funding considerably until 2017-18, about $4 billion would be carved out of health spending increases over the first three years alone.
“The funding cuts that Drummond is pushing will be much deeper and last longer than the Harris era. It begs the question: Can Dalton McGuinty be more destructive than Mike Harris?” asks Hurley.
While proposing deep cuts to health funding, Drummond also asserts that the health system be put through another torturous round of restructuring. To shepherd this downsizing, he proposes a government commission similar to the Harris Health Services Restructuring Commission (HSRC) which was given statutory powers from 1996 to 2000 to expedite hospital mergers, closures and program cuts. Opposition leader Dalton McGuinty railed against the Harris commission for closing hospitals, cutting nurses and distancing the Harris government from the unpopular policies.
“Everyone but Drummond seems to have regretted the expensive and destructive restructuring of health care by the HSRC, which wound up spending four billion dollars to achieve one billion dollars in savings. The Harris-style health service restructuring being argued for by Drummond will compromise patient care. An arms length commission is just a political device for the government to dodge responsibility for deep cuts to health services,” Hurley says.
Excerpts from Ontario Hansard directed at the then health minister and Harris the Premier show McGuinty vehemently opposing HSRC hospital cuts.
On February 20, 1997 McGuinty says: “Minister, it’s your hospital cuts that are the problem. Will you stop cutting dollars from Ontario hospitals?”
On March 6, 1997, McGuinty says: “Today the Premier closed 11 hospitals in Metropolitan Toronto and 14 emergency departments… Premier, I understand this legal fiction that somehow there’s a commission out there over which you have no control, but the people of this province understand that when it comes to any locked door of any hospital in this province, it will be your fingerprints on that door, nobody else’s.”
OCHU represents over 30,000 hospital workers and is the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ontario.
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