A photo of Premier Doug Ford unveiling his cabinet on June 24.
Premier Doug Ford unveiling his cabinet on June 24. Credit: Ontario Premier Photography / Flickr Credit: Ontario Premier Photography / Flickr
My question about the Doug Ford health carePlan to Stay Open” is whether it’s a plan or an exercise in gaslighting, à la the 1944 flick where Charles Boyer contrives special effects to convince Ingrid Bergman that she’s nuts. “The status quo is not working, folks,” says Ford. But which status quo? The current system, or the old one of privilege for the rich and dread of illness for everyone else that existed 50-60 years ago and just won’t die? What do most “bold” challenges to the status quo like Ford’s consist of? Privatizing and other reversions to the status quo ante! It was never fully ditched; think dental care and pharmacy costs. It took a war to get what we have, and those who want to “innovate” all over it are still on mission — albeit in new scrubs, with a new ardency for public money filling their private pockets. They’re like the Bourbon Restoration in France (1814-1830) after the Revolution and Napoleon, out to reinstate the ancien régime, with some adjustments. As for gaslighting: take Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail. He says “it’s time to start shattering some sacred cows.” Like? “Australia offers a private option which gives a person the right to choose their doctor and the hospital in which they want to be treated.” But, er, so does Canada. Maybe that light isn’t flickering after all. He could’ve said they haven’t the same forms of privatization we do, but that wouldn’t make you feel you might be crazy and rigid for doubting the Plan. Or: “one thing catches your attention” — as if Mason’s been carefully ingesting press releases that came his way — “In almost every case, the private sector has at least some role to play.” But every family doctor here is private sector (in the U.K., docs are employees of the National Health Service). So are pharmacies and testing clinics, and many surgeries. So it’s not about having a private component, since we do. This is gaslighting because you start worrying about an issue that’s nonexistent. Businessman Erik Johnson, also in the Globe: “What is universally different among these models is that they don’t ban private care or private health insurance.” Oh c’mon. Raise your hand if you have Blue Cross and you need it because dental and drugs aren’t covered by the public system. Those are flagrant areas where what we need is less privatization and more public action. Practically speaking, what should be done? The usual: try different stuff, listen to front-line people, compare what others have tried. But that isn’t the purpose of the current interventions. They’re trying to make the large majority feel like gutless wimps for distrusting privatization and fearing for the health of their health system, while painting Doug Ford and the Gary Masons as brave innovators who fear nothing. Screw that, would be my prescription. And additionally, feel free to be paranoid because they are indeed claiming the lights are flickering and trying to make you believe it. Paranoia is in order because regressions occur and the ancien régime still lurks close at hand. Unions were quite recently healthy; now they’ve been decimated. They are one of the great incubators of democratic process, and their decline isn’t unrelated to the sickliness of electoral institutions occurring widely. Higher education was virtually free and is now reverting to a class privilege. In the U.K., water was privatized under Margaret Thatcher, most profits were siphoned to shareholders, filtration was cut back, sewage dumped into the sea, infected seafood led to disease. Privatization in areas of health is rarely benign. I admit a soft spot (bad word choice) for the private Shouldice hernia clinic, since they’re kind of adorably obsessed. But a doc friend reminds me they also make you stay some days and bill you for it — unlike hospitals, where at this point people often go home the same day they give birth. Word to the wise, eh?

Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.