The Ontario Tories may want to look further than Tim Hudak for reasons behind their by-election losses over the summer. True, the PC leader consistently ranks behind the other two major party leaders in leadership polls, but give the voters credit for recognizing some glaring nonsense in the recent party platform.
Remarkably, over the summer the Tories decided that they would blame hospital cuts on the fact that the Liberals were overspending on health care. Yes — overspending.
Yet the PCs actually say they plan to spend even more than what the Liberals are projecting in their budget forecasts for health.
Oddly, last month PC Health Critic Christine Elliott told the Ottawa Citizen that spending increases on health care should be closer to three per cent annually. That’s much more than the Liberals have been projecting, not less.
Confused? You should be.
The Tories further risk credibility when they continually speak about six and seven per cent increases in funding when Ontario hospitals are going into their second year of a base funding freeze and overall health care funding increases have been limited to about 2 per cent.
That’s far from being frank with voters.
It’s true in the days when the Liberals were actually running consistent balanced budgets that health care spending was running in the six per cent range. But as Elliott and Hudak should have noticed, things have changed.
Even more lame is their threadbare argument that somehow all the funding woes could be solved by simply dissolving the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs). The cost of maintaining all 14 LHINs is somewhere between $60-70 million per year. That’s about 0.2 per cent of the provincial health budget.
Yet the Tories also want to appoint dozens of regional hospitals as new administrative hubs that will replace the LHINs. Do they really think these hospitals can do regional planning, community consultation and enforce accountability without additional cost?
The Tories would like us to conveniently forget that they also said at one time they would implement all of Don Drummond’s recommendations, which included enhancing the LHINs, not giving them the boot.
For Ontario resident who can remember the Harris government, they may have been gob smacked by the recent interest the Hudak Tories have shown regarding staff cuts at The Ottawa Hospital (no doubt linked to polls in the Ottawa by-election). Hudak can talk about saving jobs, but he was part of the Harris government that closed 28 hospitals and axed 6,000 nursing jobs digging out of the previous recession in the 1990s.
Before painting the McGuinty/Wynne Liberals as big spenders when it comes to health, the Tories may want to look at what’s happening in the rest of the world. Among OECD nations, Canada has done far better than most at restraining health care costs over the last decade — often at a cost to quality. Within the Canadian federation, Ontario remains among the stingiest when it comes to per capita health spending.
When the Tories misrepresent the situation to voters and flip-flop on their promises, they also raise key questions of trust.
The McGuinty/Wynne government certainly has many weaknesses when it comes to the health file. Spending too much is not one of them.