Queen’s Park and Ottawa are on the same page when it comes to the “urgent” need for health-care reform, insists Premier Doug Ford.
Emerging from a one-hour meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Ford emphasized the two levels of government recognize improvements are required for a system run ragged by the pandemic.
“We agree that the status quo is not working,” the premier told reporters outside his office.
While Trudeau did not speak to the media after the meeting, he emphasized beforehand how much his federal Liberals have co-operated with Ford’s Progressive Conservatives throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
“I know Canadians want to see the orders of government working together,” the prime minister said during a brief photo op.
“And I’m always looking for that, and I really appreciate your welcome here,” he said, congratulating Ford on his June 2 re-election.
Sources privy to the meeting, speaking confidentially in order to discuss the talks, said the two leaders did not discuss the Canada Health Act, which forces provinces and territories to provide publicly available services “without direct charges” in order to receive billions in federal health-care transfer payments.
Trudeau, who was in Kitchener earlier in the day, had requested the meeting this week.
The confab comes against the backdrop of the Tories’ controversial Bill 7, which is expected to pass Wednesday.
It is aimed at freeing up hospital beds for an expected winter surge of flu and COVID-19 by sending more elderly hospital patients who are well enough to be discharged into nursing homes that are not on their preferred list of five facilities.
Ford defended the speed with which his government will pass the “More Beds, Better Care Act” — just 13 days after it was introduced and without public hearings or detailed study by a legislative committee.
It’s the first phase of Tory health reforms that could eventually see more private delivery of publicly funded medical procedures.
Critics warn Bill 7 will force seniors away from their families in the last months of their lives or into homes without proper resources to care for them, with anyone refusing to leave hospital potentially facing uninsured fees of $1,800 a day.
“We’re in such urgent need to make the change,” Ford said of the legislation, noting there are 6,000 patients occupying hospital beds who no longer need acute care, including almost 2,000 waiting for nursing home beds for which there are long waiting lists.
The government is hoping to free up those beds to make room for COVID-19 and other patients that are crowding emergency rooms or waiting for surgeries backlogged in the pandemic.
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But after almost a fortnight of questions about fees, Ford signalled for the first time that hefty uninsured charges for people who refuse to consider nursing homes or other post-hospital care are too high, saying “$1,800 is absolutely ridiculous.”
“We’ll have to work on the cost,” he admitted.
Interim provincial Liberal leader John Fraser said Ford’s contention that the hospital crunch is “urgent” enough to warrant the measures in Bill 7 ignores the facts.
“We’ve known about this for four or five months … and now there is a crisis, and they’re using a very blunt instrument,” Fraser said, noting the average length of stay in a nursing home is 18 months.
“Can you imagine being sent to a place that you … don’t know about or you’re not comfortable with or you haven’t checked? They don’t have enough staff? They don’t have a good record?”
Ford, who has been asking for increased federal health transfers, praised Trudeau because “he’s always wanted to work with the premiers.”
“I was very upfront with him. I said, ‘I’m only one of the 13 premiers.’ We have to get buy-in with the 12 other premiers from provinces and territories,” he said.
“And there’s always a deal to be had … we’re all focused on delivering the best health-care system for the people of Ontario and in Canada to the best of our ability. I’m very, very confident after a great meeting.”
The premiers, who maintain Ottawa only funds 22 per cent of health care, are seeking that raised to 35 per cent.
But the federal government says its share is closer to one-third of costs when increased taxing powers given to the provinces are factored in.
Along with health-care pressures, the premier and prime minister discussed labour market shortages, immigration and housing.
While the two leaders have met numerous times in the past four years, it was Trudeau’s first official visit to Queen’s Park since 2018.
It was in sharp contrast to that partisan-charged time — Trudeau essentially ran against Ford in the 2019 federal election — with the premier acknowledging the two leaders share the same voters.
“In Ontario, we’ve always had this balance,” he said, referring to the long-standing political tradition, known as the Underhill Balance Theory, that posits that Ontario voters prefer different parties in power provincially and federally at the same time.
Ford said a voter once told him that’s because “they keep an eye on each other.”
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