Ontario’s deficits have more to do with unsustainable tax cuts than they do with public spending says Dr. Reuben Roth, a Laurentian University sociologist.
Roth was speaking Tuesday night in Oshawa as part of a province-wide series of town hall meetings hosted by the Ontario Health Coalition.
“Ontario is no Greece and no Spain,” says Roth, “but we inherited two structural deficits from the Harris government.”
Roth explains that tax cuts and high unemployment have contributed to the current deficit – neither of which are the result of spending on health care and public services.
Roth says the government even brags that Ontario spends the least on program spending than any other province in Canada.
“If we are the lowest, then why cut more?” he asks.
Roth says the current austerity budget has more to do with an ideology than evidence.
“What we have is a Republican-lite budget.”
Natalie Mehra, Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, says the town halls were organized to warn communities of impending cuts coming to the health sector.
She says the government’s talk about making trade-offs does not ring true. The proof is in the share of health care funding home care consumes. While the province repeatedly says it prefers to provide community-based services, home care has actually shrunk relative to other costs in the health system over the last decade.
“I work for the CCAC (Community Care Access Centre) – the money’s not there,” said Diane Leclair, a vice-president with the Ontario Nurses’ Association.
Cuts to more than 18,000 hospital beds have not been offset elsewhere in the health system.
Mehra discounts banker Don Drummond’s warnings that health care spending is the Pacman about to eat up the entire provincial budget.
“Health care spending is declining as a percentage of program spending,” she says. Ontario is eighth in overall health spending, and ninth in spending on hospitals.
She said Ontario also has amongst the fewest beds per capita amongst the OECD. Only Turkey, Chile and Mexico are lower.
That means patients are kicked out quicker and sicker while waits in ER are long.
Mehra asked why this level of austerity was never raised in the election campaign, noting the Ontario Auditor General had raised red flags last summer over the potential impact of a 3.6 per cent increase in funding for health care. Instead the McGuinty budget allocated 2.1 per cent average funding over the next three years.
“Canadians will always answer they value and will pay taxes for a good health care system,” says Roth, “but government has been deaf.”
“They can hear a corporate pin drop, but are deaf to the pleas of 10 million Ontarians.”
Responding to one community member who said the problem with the government’s approach is they are treating health care as if it were a discretionary service, Roth said “it’s not about dollars and cents – it’s about the kind of society we want.”
Roth said the budget was targeting a recession on public sector workers.
Audience members criticized local MP Jim Flaherty, who as federal finance minister has been bashing Ontario as a place to invest.
The meeting ended with commitments to get petitions signed, write letters and an appeal for community members to get more politically active.
Tonight the Ontario Health Coalition moves to London, where the forum will take place 7 pm at King’s College, Labatt Hall Rm. 105, 266 Epworth Street. Speakers include Michael Shapcott, the Wellesley Institute’s director of housing and innovation, OPSEU’s Sandi Blancher, ONA’s Vicki McKenna, CAWs Peter Bergmanis and Natalie Mehra, Director of the Ontario Health Coalition.
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