“Stay focused on the fight,” we are told, as now is “not the time” to ask why we are so woefully unprepared as a health care system nor is it the time to demand fundamental policy changes.
In fact, now is exactly the right time to demand change that advocacy groups and community leaders have been asking for long before elected officials suddenly remembered marginalized and vulnerable communities. We should refuse to be silenced or told to wait until this is over.
First, some facts to think about:
- Ontario and Canada have one of the lowest number of acute beds per 1,000 population (1.4 and 2.2, respectively) compared to many OECD countries, with Ontario the lowest among provinces.
- Between 2012 and 2019, Ontario had the lowest increase in hospital expenditure per capita, 5.4 per cent compared to a non-Ontario average of 12.9 per cent. In Ontario, there was no increase in base hospital funding between 2012 and 2016, effectively representing a funding cut given inflation and increased operating costs.
- Long-term care facilities (sites of the largest number of COVID-19 outbreaks and related deaths) are woefully underfunded and understaffed as clearly outlined by the Ontario Health Coalition long before the pandemic. Personal support workers are working under “disturbing conditions” and are paid little over minimum wage while having to incur significant debt to pay for high education costs.
- Cuts to public health funding were outlined in November 2019, only three months before the pandemic, by the same elected officials that today demand doubling of efforts by front-line staff whose roles they recently argued were not even worth the funds they were allocated (by most standards inadequate anyhow).
- Aboriginal communities, living in crisis conditions for decades, now find themselves yet again most vulnerable when funds for policing them and for buying pipelines are readily available, yet much smaller funds for clean water require parliamentary debate, budgetary number-crunching and reassessments.
These are but a few of the many facts on the front lines, where the battle against COVID-19 is being fought, which have had a devastating impact on the health of Ontarians, especially the health and resilience of the most vulnerable communities.
This is the time to demand that governments implement policies that definitively and adequately fund all aspects of the public health care system that has been chronically underfunded thanks to the mantra of “efficiency.”
This is the perfect time to call out these same elected officials who only a few months ago initiated cuts to funding of public health, social assistance programs and hospitals and now feign concern for communities most affected by these cuts and policies.
These federal and provincial politicians are part of a bipartisan succession of a “proud tradition of cutting deficits” by simultaneously cutting taxes to the wealthiest and cutting healthcare funding and social programs for the most vulnerable. They now pay lip service to front-line workers. They call on them to be heroes (which they are) in an attempt to ask them for more sacrifices, yet still chronically deny them the policies that empower them to execute their jobs in adequately resourced and safe work environments or compensate them appropriately.
It is imperative that with every question asked about the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths and number of masks during the daily news conferences, a question is asked about responsibility for regressive policies and demand change now.
Make no mistake that these same politicians will go back to their regressive agendas and policies once this is over and the attention goes elsewhere.
*Najib has no conflicts of interest.