Five provincial by-elections could be a referendum on changes to the health care system that are starving local hospitals. Two of these contests are in ridings where hospital cuts have been especially prominent on the public agenda.
Called for August 1st, the very short by-election campaigns are being held mid-summer, a time when voter turnout is expected to be low – generally an advantage to the government.
The most interesting contest to watch will be Scarborough-Guildwood, where the two urban hospitals are starting to talk about merging to deal with a collective $28.4 million impending shortfall next year.
The hospitals contend that their costs are rising by 5 per cent per year while their funding has remained stagnant.
Cuts have already begun – this year The Scarborough Hospital is eliminating close to 200 positions, has closed two surgeries and 20 surgical beds, and last week shuttered an outpatient clinic for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Most of these are not services likely to find their way to community-based provider agencies despite Health Minister Deb Matthews’ assertion that the funding freeze is an intentional part of her restructuring plan. Users of the arthritis clinic have already told the media they don’t know where they will go this month.