It was sometime before Christmas and I was headed to a meeting at Queens Park when I saw the large bus shelter ad promoting how much money Ontario’s physician’s had saved the province. I knew immediately that it must be contract negotiations time again. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not cynical at all. It’s just that as a former Minister of Health and as a former union negotiator, I understand the dynamic only too well ….from both sides of the table.
But when, a couple of nights later, I saw the TV spot that is part of this ad campaign, claiming that doctors were responsible for increased funding to children’s mental health programs , I have to say I had a pretty strong reaction.
Let me be clear. I am not doctor bashing or painting all physicians with the same brush. I am reacting to what I think is an outrageous claim on the part of the OMA.
I understand positioning when it comes to negotiations but two things about this really bother me. Firstly, in my view, this statement is a misrepresentation. I am not as close to these things as I used to be but my understanding is that a parliamentary committee made up of MPPs from all political parties made a tremendous contribution to charting the future direction of enhancing mental health services. The government then made the spending priority decision to move tax payer dollars to fund the enhancements.
At any time, let alone during a period of deficit financing, for one group to unilaterally claim that changes in their delivery of public services, caused and funded changes to other areas of public services, is stretching the truth of how public policy, programming and funding decisions are made.
Secondly, we are collectively facing difficult times with respect to government finances and probable service cuts and attendant job loss, across a large part of government, as Don Drummond’s work reinforces. Again, in my view, these times call for a spirit of “bigger picture” problem solving…..not using sharp elbows to guarantee growth in one’s own piece of the pie.
I am particularly sensitized to this as a result of my current role with the Commission to Review the Social Assistance System in Ontario. We are charged with building recommendations to improve outcomes for the poorest people in our province. From a Social Determinants of Health perspective, improved Social Assistance outcomes will mean improved health outcomes in a range of health conditions that can be correlated with living in poverty.
In tough fiscal times, the ideal would be if we could drive a social consensus about the priorities in government spending. Maybe a lot of us could figure out how to give a bit to ensure that priorities could be met. For example, maybe we really could make more progress on reducing poverty and/or we could make further expansions to children’s mental health services…just saying…
So this is not really about only the OMA and their upcoming contract negotiations. It is about all of us with our particular issues and interactions with government. What I think we really need to do, is drop the elbows, come to the table prepared to help and understand, that particularly in times like this, the bigger public interest comes first.