Official Opposition health critic France Gélinas has added her voice to the growing demands that the government take steps to ensure that public health care is protected from the owners of family health clinics in the province.
At Queen’s Park on July 19, Gélinas demanded accountability and transparency from the owners of the Owen Sound Family Health Clinic and the Port Arthur Health Centre, where workers have been on strike for weeks.
“These are health care professionals,” said Gélinas. “They shouldn’t have to be on strike to protect public health care, to stop nursing cuts, and to demand respect and dignity on the job. What will this government do to help these front-line health care workers and to ensure that people, not profit, come first in our health care system?”
In response, Health Minister and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott said her government is unwilling to act, calling it a “private matter” between the clinic owners and the front-line health workers.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas took issue with that response.
“It’s public money that pays these owners and it’s our public health care system at stake,” said Thomas. “This is far from a private matter, and these owners must be held to a higher standard.”
Here the Hansard transcript of the exchange between Gélinas and Elliott:
Mme France Gélinas: Merci, monsieur le Président. Ma question est pour la ministre de la Santé et des Soins de longue durée. Primary care providers at the Owen Sound family health organization and the Port Arthur Health Centre in Thunder Bay have been on strike for weeks.
In two different communities, in two different family health clinics, patients lost access to their primary care providers because these workers cannot continue to put up with the toxic working conditions that undermine their ability to provide good care: low pay, precarious contracts, favouritism, bullying and extremely high turnover.
Minister, on behalf of the patients of Owen Sound and Thunder Bay: How can they count on quality care when their primary health care providers face these working condition
Hon. Christine Elliott: Thank you to the member for the question. Patient care and safety, of course, are a primary concern for all of us. I am aware of the situation in both Thunder Bay and Owen Sound. I think it’s reflective of the situation that has grown up over 15 years of Liberal neglect and mismanagement, but we are going to try and fix that.
Having said that, this particular situation in these two locations is a private discussion between the operators of the clinics and the support staff. I am very hopeful that they will be able to reach a decision soon. I’m very confident in the bargaining process that they’ve entered into. We are following it closely, but it is a private matter between those two organizations.
Mme France Gélinas: At the Port Arthur Health Centre in Thunder Bay, there are lifelong employees. We’re talking of somebody who’s worked there for 30 years and makes less than $15 an hour. In Owen Sound, the talks have broken off because the owners want to lay off their nurses. These are health care professionals. They shouldn’t have to be on strike to protect public health care, to stop nursing cuts, and to demand respect and dignity on the job.
What will this government do to help these front-line health care workers and to ensure that people, not profit, come first in our health care system?
Hon. Christine Elliott: As the member will know, the ministry is not a party to these negotiations. This is a private matter between the clinics and their employees. We know that there is great dispute resolution that happens in Ontario. We are hopeful that they will be able to come to a conclusion very soon. We cannot interfere in that process. It is not appropriate for us to do that. We are monitoring the situation because patient care and safety are of course of paramount concern to us.