The provincial election may be slightly less than eight months away, but the hyperbole is already building.
At a nursing lobby day earlier this month, Health Minister Deb Matthews slammed the Tories for not explaining how they will find $3 billion to replace the health tax. Matthews suggested that a $3 billion shortfall would mean either closing every hospital in the north or ending drug coverage for seniors.
Tory leader Tim Hudak initially responded that the Tories had no plan to do away with the much complained-about tax. A statement from his office said: “Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak has been very clear. If elected premier, he would not cut the health tax or Ontario’s health care budget.” PC MPP Sylvia Jones went further, saying Matthews “was clearly lying.”
A few days later Hudak was less clear about his support for the health tax. “We are considering all tax options and how to give families a break,” he told the media.
Hudak told the lobbying nurses that they would increase health care spending, “but it doesn’t mean we will spend every penny in the same way.”
The Tories have repeatedly said they would scrap the Local Health Integration Networks, which would save about $80 million on a $46 billion health budget.
However, Hudak has not said what his government would replace the LHINs with.
Matthews said eliminating the LHINs would see all local health care decisions made in Toronto.
Matthews also resurrected the spectre of former Premier Mike Harris, reminding the nurses that Harris had suggested they were no more than a fad, comparing them to the Hula Hoop.
In fact, Harris was talking about all workers impacted by hospital closures. In 1997 he said “just as Hula-Hoops went out and those workers had to have a factory and a company that would manufacture something else that’s in, it’s the same in government, and you know, governments have put off these decisions for so many years that restructuring sometimes is painful.”
While the health minister talks about dire consequences of having $3 billion taken out of the government’s revenue stream, the irony is the McGuinty Liberals are sticking by their plan to reduce corporate taxes by $2.4 billion per year. They are also substantially reducing the rate of funding increases for health care despite the fact that Ontario already has among the lowest per capita funding in Canada. It would take $3.5 billion just to bring Ontario hospitals up to the Canadian average in funding.