Whoever shows up to the polls tomorrow may determine Ontario’s next Premier and whether she or he enjoys a majority or minority government.
The question is, will that be decided by a majority of Ontarians, or will it reflect a different set of values decided upon by a much more motivated minority?
We do know that turnout to the advance polls was six per cent lower than last time, when the current minority government was decided by less than half of the eligible voters.
Worst still, according to ThreeHundredEight.com, only about one in four eligible voters admit that they have been following the election closely.
All you have to do is look around your community to observe so many fewer election signs.
That’s frightening given what is at stake.
Curiously after months of saying they’ll do away with both the Local Health Integration Networks and the Community Care Access Centres, both direct promises are conspicuously absent from the formal Tory election platform. That doesn’t mean they will stay in place either.
They do say they’ll instead place decision-making in the hands of “health hubs,” which will bring together “front line local experts from every aspect of health care together at the same table.” Elsewhere they define these local experts as “front-line professionals.”
“We think your nurses, doctors, community care organizations and hospitals know best what care you need,” the platform document states.
So what’s a health hub? Previously the Tories had described these not as some kind of broad-based panel of front line health professionals, but instead 30-40 large central hospitals which would run the health system within their sub-region.
The Tories may be massaging that pledge given it would strike at the independence of mostly local rural hospitals — which is where much of their electoral base resides. The first round of hospital consolidation under the Harris government created a lot of friction as smaller community hospitals found many of their services consolidated in larger urban sites. If the “health hubs” idea is to be implemented according to their earlier “white paper” it may be a vote loser in many smaller communities across the province. Nobody wants to see their hospital services taken away.
The platform is remarkably vague on how these “health hubs” would now be constituted. Watch for a possible name change, some new signs and a coat of paint applied to the Local Health Integration Networks.
Premier Kathleen Wynne probably had the best line on PC Leader Tim Hudak’s promise to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, suggesting he was “turning paycheques into pink slips.” Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn said the pledge to cut jobs reminded him of the Vietnam war-era aphorism “that suggested a Communist-held village must be destroyed in order to save it.” The CBC reports NDP leader Andrea Horwath as being somewhat less succinct – asking “how does it make sense, when you have an economy that is struggling, when you have a lot of families already out of work, to say you are going to throw a whole bunch more families out of work.”
Responding to the announcement on Friday, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas pointed out that Hudak just turned three million voters against him.
It’s hard to believe the PCs have a hidden agenda when their leader is so willing to put his extreme views out there for all voters to examine.
What got missed in all the incredulity and analysis of such a massive cut in public sector jobs – nearly eight times what Mike Harris had promised to slash – was who Hudak would carve out from the devastation: doctors, nurses and police.
Tomorrow two provincial by-elections are taking place in Niagara and Thornhill.
Thornhill, the vacated seat of Peter Shurman, is expected to remain Tory blue despite criticism by the departing MPP of his former party. He recently described the Hudak Conservatives “where a plan without a vision is a nightmare.” For the record, the cantankerous Shurman believes none of the three major party leaders are fit to lead, including PC Leader Tim Hudak.
More media attention will likely be spent in Niagara where the Tories risk embarrassment should the polls be correct and the New Democrat’s Wayne Gates emerges as the victor. Shurman raised eyebrows among his own party by predicting an NDP win in this riding.
Since the poll showing Gates with a slight lead over former Tory MPP Bart Maves, the Tories have been slinging mud non-stop. It’s the opposite of most political campaign strategies – start negative and finish positive – likely indicative of how desperate the Tories have become.
Probably the worst thing the Tories could have done is send Monte McNaughton to Niagara. McNaughton is the PC’s labour critic who has a penchant for over-the-top hyperbole demonizing the labour movement.
For a party that was suddenly soft-pedaling their plan to end the Rand Formula fearful of the labour vote in the riding, sending McNaughton appears to be a miscalculation.
Some updates on recent stories in the Diablogue…
We’ve been trying to assess in recent weeks how many of the 100 long-term care inspectors Health Minister Deb Matthews promised in June 2013 have actually been hired. The official word is now in: 89 – all of them temporary or “fixed term” contracts. January 13 we pointed out that the promise of having every nursing home receive a resident quality inspection in 2014 and annually thereafter will be difficult to fulfill if all these inspectors are intended to be on the job for only 12 months. It normally takes three inspectors – nursing, dietary and environmental — as long as two weeks to complete the full RQI inspection. This is on top of responding to more than 2,000 complaints each year from families and residents.
We’ve heard back from two more Local Health Integration Networks on their policy around making public board documents. The Welland Tribune tripped our interest in this policy after they suggested the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN was the least transparent in the province, posting board materials as long as six weeks after the actual board meeting. Our January 7 post noted that four LHINs were missing from the newspaper’s survey and we decided to send them e-mails that afternoon asking about their disclosure policy. This is important given it can be difficult to follow the discussion at a LHIN board meeting without access to the documents (ie. briefing notes, minutes, reports) board members are referencing. It raises the question how “open” is an open board meeting? Most of the LHINs post their documents well in advance of board meetings or at least make documents available during the meeting. The first to get back to us of the four LHINs missing from the Tribune survey was Toronto Central, but more recently Central West and Mississauga Halton checked in, both indicating that they too offered more than an agenda to citizens attending their board proceedings. Central West, responding to our question on January 21, posts all board material seven days prior to their meeting. They also typically post meeting notices 25-30 days in advance. Central West deals with disclosure by noting all materials are in draft form until approved by their board. Mississauga Halton is not as open. It makes available board materials to the public at the actual meetings. Those not attending the meeting can request materials after the board meeting is complete. Minutes are made available online up to 30 days after the board has approved them. They post their yearly meeting schedule on-line at the beginning of the year and notify of any changes within the 10-days required under the Local Health System Integration Act. Mississauga Halton apologized for the 10 days it took to answer our question. Their response came January 17. That leaves just the North West LHIN to reply to our January 7 survey.
To hear Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak speak about it, you’d think reducing the wages and benefits of Ontario workers was a good thing. When Hudak speaks in the legislature about “modernizing” Ontario’s labour laws, ironically he’s reaching back to anti-union legislation adopted in South Carolina and other southern States in the 1950s.
Should Hudak and his Conservatives ever come to power, this may be a major challenge to the stability of our health care workforce.
Recently OPSEU sent a video crew to the United States to look at the impact of such laws on both labour and economy. They found that workers in so-called “right-to-work” States earned less and their economies were among the worst performers. In South Carolina they heard from individuals who were afraid to speak out about conditions in their workplace for fear of losing their jobs. (To watch the OPSEU video, click here).
With the recent proposals by Ontario PCs around “modernizing” Ontario’s labour laws, our colleagues at CUPE put together this partially satirical video pointing out the logical endpoint of such anti-labour policies.
The Ontario PCs almost walked away from the brink this weekend.
Last year the provincial Tories introduced a white paper advocating U.S.-style labour policies that would undo the rights working people have had in this country for more than a half century.
Rather than float such radical policies as a trial balloon, MPPs defended the policy over the past year likely knowing that it would take them a far distance out of the political center. While former PC leader John Tory openly advised getting rid of it, the party convention instead formally adopted the policy this weekend, but only barely. Only 45 per cent of delegates voted in favour.
Taking a page out of the tea-party playbook, the Tories now approach a likely spring election with a glaring hard turn to the right.
The question is: will they be able to convince working people to vote against their best interests? Such radical U.S. policies have not only had a devastating effect on labour unions, but have done much to gut the middle class south of the border. As people fall down the economic ladder, it’s not difficult to convince them to resent those who are still hanging on to the rungs just above them. They can seldom see it is only those towards the top that still have room to climb.