Much left on health care agenda by prorogued parliament

The decision by Premier Dalton McGuinty to step down and shut down the provincial parliament leaves many questions about the future of Ontario’s health care.

With no parliament, there will be no review of the Local Health Integration Networks, a commitment that the McGuinty government wrote into the original Act that created the Crown agencies.

When the government wrote the Local Health System Integration Act in 2006, somebody forgot to calculate that a five year mandated review would take place just prior to a fixed date election. Whoops! McGuinty did suggest that such a review might not be necessary at all until someone reminded him that it was written into the legislation.

There was no way the government was going to undertake a review of the unpopular LHINs just prior to going to the polls. In recent months we had heard that such a review was finally going to go to committee. Now that won’t happen. That means it could be seven years before the five-year review happens.

That’s too bad. Even the LHIN boosters now appear to admit that they are in need of reform. We have our own long list of changes we would like to see, including the need for greater transparency, the opportunity for community participation at the board level, and more democratic governance. There also is a need for resolution around the relationship between primary care providers and the LHINs.

Just prior to the last election the McGuinty government also promised regulation for the patient transport industry. The Ontario Ombudsman had raised concerns last year ranging from a lack of infection control to unsafe vehicles and poorly trained staff. Faced with stories of patients put at risk, Health Minister Deb Matthews and Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne promised in June 2011 that legislation would be introduced “at the earliest opportunity.” That “earliest opportunity” has now clearly come and gone. No parliament, no regulation.

While the Harris government opened the door to the rapid expansion of private for-profit patient transport, surely even a minority government wouldn’t oppose regulations to ensure that patients are kept safe. So why was it never introduced?

Shutting down parliament also avoids questions in the legislature about ORNGE, about the sale of the Shouldice clinic, about bed closures resulting from a freeze on base hospital funding, and about the government’s plan to build more privatized health care facilities at what we now know to be an inflated cost.

It is curious that a party with a minority of seats in our provincial parliament would have the ability to simply shut it down.

Some newspaper columnists suggest that the McGuinty government has run out of ideas. Clearly there was much work left to do in this parliament – especially in health care.

Now it won’t function until a new leader and Premier is elected from among the Liberal hopefuls. For those of us who prefer parties with martinis to those with speeches, it means a lengthy wait. You can bet that when a new leader is elected, she or he will waste little time before taking the province back into election. That means the Provincial Parliament will have likely gone through two full years with very little to show for it. Is this how democracies are meant to function?

We wish McGuinty well – public service in this kind of pressure cooker is never easy. It just would have been better if he hadn’t taken our democracy on the way out the door.

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