Eight long years of Tory cuts and privatization are finally over in Ontario, and the new Liberal government is promising renewed respect for public services and public hospitals. In his victory speech last week, premier-designate Dalton McGuinty assured the provinces public servants that they would get the recognition they deserve under his leadership. And in a press conference the next morning, McGuinty reiterated his desire to keep the provinces hospitals public.
The issue of hospital privatization became one of the hottest topics of the campaign, partly thanks to CUPEs efforts to force it onto the agenda. While leaders were touring the province, Tory officials and multinational companies were working frantically behind closed doors to seal two controversial hospital privatization deals: one in Brampton, and one in Ottawa. But when word got out about the plans, McGuinty and NDP leader Howard Hampton both denounced the Conservatives desperate eleventh-hour deal-making. Just days before the October 2 election, the campaign battle turned into a courtroom battle, with lawyers for CUPE and other anti-privatization groups trying to force an injunction to stop the contracts. For now, the deals are in limbo, as one government hands over the reigns of power to the next.
The question on the minds of everyone who cares about publicly-funded and publicly-operated hospitals is this: Will Dalton McGuinty keep his promise to tear up the Brampton and Ottawa contracts?
Heres what he has said:
The day before the election: Were going to move ahead with (Royal Ottawa Hospital) as soon as possible. But I am not going to do it in the form of a private hospital. I want a public hospital for our city.
The next morning, in answer to a reporters question about the status of the Brampton and Ottawa deals, McGuinty said he will insist that the contracts for both hospitals be made public, so that they can undergo proper scrutiny. Then he expressed his desire to move (the hospitals) into the public system as soon as we possibly can.
Sounds postive. But Liberal politicians in Canada dont necessarily have the best record on this issue. In BC, Liberal premier Gordon Campbell is on a mission to privatize every public service in sight, including hospitals. And in Quebec, Liberal premier Jean Charest has just announced that hes studying the option of hospital privatization. As for the new federal Liberal leader, Paul Martin, his views on privatization are becoming more and more well-known, as he promises more cuts to Canadian social services and chairs a UN committee on privatization in the Third World. Another question is whether the new government will ensure that vital support services – housekeeping, dietary and laundry included – remain in the public sector. Privatization of these services is bad for patients, workers and communities and on this issue, the new premier has been less clear.
Hopefully Dalton McGuinty will continue to take a strong stand against British-style P3 hospitals, which have proven to be a disaster – and support public delivery of support services. Just to be sure, if youre in Ontario, feel free to call your newly elected or re-elected Liberal MPP to remind them of their leaders campaign promises. And if youre in one of the seven ridings that kept their NDP MPP, phone your representative and tell them to keep the new Liberal government in check
And stay tuned to www.cupe.ca for further developments.