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August 22, 2011

Oct 6: Ontario should go NDP

The Canadian Charger

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There are things not to like about Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty. Perhaps the most worrying are his unconstitutional G20 legislation, the cruel application of that law, and his refusal to institute a public inquiry into the events surrounding the conference. Then there are the financial constraints imposed on the Children's Aid Societies without any guidelines as to where to cut back. Thus, when things go wrong, all the blame can be shifted onto the CAS's. His bail-out for corporations but not for workers' pensions is another strike against him. One could go on.

In the case of Tim Hudak and the Conservatives, we are dealing with open class warfare against working people and the poor.  As for the Greens, they have expressed only vague generalities.  What, then, about Andrea Horwath and the New Democrats?

Horwath demonstrated her courage in reaction to the “unanimous” vote in the Ontario legislature condemning Israeli Apartheid Week.  The vote was taken with only 30 members of the legislature present, including one New Democrat, Cheri Di Novo.  Horwath’s reaction was swift and pointed.  She called the vote divisive.  More, she said that the solution of the Israel-Palestine controversy should be a two-state solution, with the settlements removed.  No pussyfooting for Horwath.

Their platform contains some interesting positions.  An NDP government would cap the pay of heads of provincial agencies and hospitals. Currently, some of these officials have salaries well in excess of a million dollars.

Adam Radwanski of the Globe and Mail pointed out that Horwath’s pledge to provide an additional million hours of home care amounts to only an additional three per cent.  France Gélinas, the NDP health critic, said that it would be the intention of an NDP government to overhaul the home care system, eliminating the competitive bidding process for provision of services which creates a race to the bottom in quality and lack of stability and continuity for clients.  In effect, the three per cent is a starting point.  As well as home care, she emphasized the importance of home help for people who need help with such things as shopping, house cleaning, and meal preparation.  “Let’s give the support needed to keep frail people in their own homes,” she said.

The NDP also pledges to cut hospital wait times in half.  Gélinas explained that this would be done through making primary care more accessible, as many people who go to hospital emergency departments do not have an emergency.  There is just no alternative service available.  They would emphasize greater use of multi-disciplinary community health centres.  The idea is attractive, but it is not clear that Ontario has access to the manpower to pull it off.

Improving access to home care and long-term care would save hospitals money and make them more efficient.  According to Dr. Jeff Turnbull, President of the Canadian Medical Association and chief of staff at the Ottawa Hospital, speaking to the Ottawa Citizen, in his hospital “there is 147 patients in acute care who are waiting for long-term care,” while they cost $1,200 a day in hospital.  Dr. William Dalziel, a prominent geriatrician, contends that the home care option is, whenever it is possible, cheaper, more effective, and more comfortable even than long-term care. 

Their platform calls for elimination of the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), which exist to coordinate health care over their areas.  In many cases ‘local’ means an extremely large area, and some kinds of specialized services may require consideration of needs over large areas. Gélinas complained that LHIN’s, which are supposed to provide local control, find the local voice overridden by the provincial government in some cases.  She was asked about a hypothetical case in which a new, more friendly coordinating body, decided to reduce home care and give more resources to hospitals instead.  Gélinas could not imagine such a thing happening.  In reality, their new-style LIHN’s might also end up in a conflict situation with the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.

Moving from health to social assistance, the NDP promises to update Ontario Works rates according to cost of living.  While, at the point that Mike Harris cut welfare rates by 21.6% the NDP was vigorously opposed, it is not now pledged to reverse that cut.  It wants to wait for the report of the committee appointed by McGuinty to examine social assistance, which will appear next year.  This is being overly cautious.  The evidence on social determinants of health is in. Ontario Works rates simply do not cut it.

Let us turn to two other subjects, provincial “Buy Ontario” procurement policy and gradual elimination of the HST for gasoline.  Suppose all Canadian jurisdictions adopt such a procurement policy.  In Canada Ontario is the manufacturing hub and would probably be the loser in such an environment.  And costs all around would be higher.

As to the tax on gasoline, we hardly need policies that make it easier to travel by motor vehicle.  Many European cities are busy making travel by automobile more difficult.  Former mayor of London Ken Livingston instituted a special fee on cars coming into central London.  A number of European cities have banned cars from many streets and cut down on parking spaces.  We need to be making life more difficult for automobile drivers to get them to use mass transit, bicycles, and other less energy-consuming and less congestive alternatives.

In spite of reservations about what Horwath, Gélinas, and the NDP platform say, over all they are clearly the preferred choice in the next Ontario election. 

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M. Elmasry

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