A photo of Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
A photo of Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Credit: Premier of Ontario Photography Credit: Premier of Ontario Photography

Fighting over health care privatization is a familiar Canadian sport, but Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s current privatization push feels different.

It’s more ambitious and forthright. And, in a new twist, commentators seem to be piling on his bandwagon, insisting that we gotta do things differently, ridiculing the Canadian reverence for public health care, even suggesting that it amounts to some sort of cult.

Our public health-care system is struggling, and we’re told that the only way to fix it is to boldly, innovatively expand the role of the private sector.

Another possibility is that our public health care system is struggling because the Ford government is starving it of funds, and the way to fix it is for Ford to inject those funds.

Ontario is one of the richest provinces, but it spends less per person on health care than any other province. Please explain why, Premier.

If Ontario just spent the average of what the other provinces have spent on health care per capita over the past five years, we’d be spending an additional $7.2 billion this year — more than enough to properly pay our beleaguered nurses, lure thousands more nurses to Ontario and bring back into use countless hospital operating rooms all over the province idled by years of budget cuts.

Why opt for new private surgical clinics when we’ve got ample surgical facilities sitting empty in our hospitals?

Instead, Ford bizarrely insists on capping nurses’ pay increases at a punitive one per cent, denying reasonable compensation to people who hold the key to reviving the system.

Ontario is in relatively good financial shape and could easily invest more in health care, says Sheila Block, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Instead, Ford squanders money on tax breaks, giving up $8.2 billion in revenue annually from tax changes since 2018. And, when he gets additional health care funds from Ottawa in the upcoming federal-provincial deal, he could use those funds for further tax cutting, unless strings are firmly attached, Block notes.

Allowing more private health care won’t solve this underfunding. It will simply mean more health services are carried out by profit-seeking entities that will pocket a share of the public money.

We know about the profit motive — it permeates the business world, driving corporate managers to slash costs in evermore innovative ways so they can deliver ever-larger profits to shareholders.

Presumably we can expect a softer, gentler version of the profit motive in the health care field — right?

Oh, but wait, no!

It turns out Ontario has carried out what amounts to a real-life experiment on the impact of the profit motive in health care — in the case of long-term care homes, where private equity and other innovative forms of cutthroat capitalism have had free rein.

This real-life lab reveals that the profit motive operates pretty much the same in health care as in the corporate world: it has transformed nursing homes into lucrative businesses and, during the pandemic, into killing fields.

Indeed, given that COVID death rates were four times higher in profit-making long-term care homes, it’s odd that commentators aren’t crying: “we gotta do something different!”

Public health care has a deep intrinsic value; it isn’t just one possible option, to be considered along with private health care.

Rather, public health care is the goal — just as public education is the goal when it comes to education — because these two public systems organize vital parts of our lives around the profoundly important principle of equality and accessibility for all.

It’s that commitment to equality — utterly lacking in the marketplace that increasingly dominates our lives — that elevates these public systems to places of honour in our society, that makes them sources of inspiration of what we can achieve together as a nation.

Instead of protecting our precious public health-care system, Ford wants to let the profit motive rip through it. We don’t so much have a health care crisis as a Doug Ford crisis.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...