You may recall that after Doug Ford called the MPPs to open a new session under the new Conservative government that I said in this column we are all in for a ‘wild ride.’ Well, it didn’t take long for this prognostication to become reality, did it?
Now after sitting for 2 weeks, Ford has decided to extend the summer session a few more weeks. I guess he is enjoying being in control, and now that his bulldozer is in motion, its full speed ahead.
The reason I characterized Doug Ford’s actions as operating a bulldozer is that that is precisely what he is doing to our healthcare system. Ontarians will readily recall that the Conservatives campaigned on the promise to fix our broken healthcare system simply by looking for efficiencies and not having to make cuts. Ford repeatedly stated as far back as March that funding cuts would not be necessary. He was quoted in the Toronto Star March 14th edition stating, “Let me be clear: No one is getting laid off.” Despite these promises, during Question Period this week NDP Health Critic France Gélinas said, “Less than a month since he was sworn in as premier, jobs are being cut at Sudbury’s hospital. At least 51 incredibly hard-working and dedicated health care providers are set to lose their jobs at Health Sciences North.” She pointed out that these jobs rest entirely in the Premier’s hands and that he has the power to prevent these layoffs by funding hospitals well enough to maintain the staff they need.
Just as medical professionals have been warning us for years, our hospitals here in Northern Ontario are on the brink of financial crisis. The last thing our northern hospitals need is more cuts, more layoffs, and longer wait times for the families in our communities. Cutting funding and eliminating over 50 jobs in a Northern hospital that services many of us in the Northeast is clearly wrongheaded and shows a lack of concern for the people in our region.
But as frustrating as those cuts are to Northerners, they are small change when compared to Ford’s slashing of $330 million to mental health funding in the province. As I stated last week, Ford is dragging us further and further backwards.
Today, there are over 12,000 children waiting up to 18 months for mental health supports. In fact in just Toronto alone there are 13,000 people who have been waiting up to five years for supportive housing. Addictions and Mental Health Ontario says $2.4 billion in new funding is needed over the next four years. Mental healthcare workers were expecting to receive $2.1 billion in funding over a 4 year period. But now Ford has bulldozed this funding promise and will now only commit $1.9 billion and is spreading it over a ten year period – more than twice the time frame!
Mental health and addiction issues are acute in communities across the province, leaving front line care workers and first responders struggling to handle complex cases without appropriate tools. Ontarians struggling with mental health and addiction issues often end up at overcrowded emergency rooms — or without treatment at all. For us here in the north, the reality is that we don’t have any phycologists or psychiatrists who have established permanent practises within our region. Patients must rely upon a handful of travelling doctors instead.
Northern Ontarians have been struggling to access better mental healthcare for many years. Just months ago we received a glimmer of hope for improved funding and support. We have made great strides in changing attitudes toward mental health issues. Just as people are beginning to understand and accept mental illness is just like any other health issue and the stigma is breaking down, along comes Doug Ford’s bulldozer to drag us back in time and attitudes. It has literally gone from bad to much worse!
We need a government that will make mental health a priority, instead of putting it on the back burner. For all those struggling and feeling alone and hopeless, and for all our communities, it’s just the right thing to do.
I must say that after meeting with our new NDP caucus how impressed I am with the strength and depth of our new team. Andrea Horwath is demonstrating that she is more than ready to challenge the Conservatives as the Leader of the Opposition. This week I had the honour of being chosen by my fellow New Democrat MPPs to be the Caucus Chair for this incredible new team. As caucus chair I will be responsible for setting meeting agendas, ensuring meetings run efficiently and effectively and making certain that all members are included and heard. Given the makeup of this team, this is an honour that I am excited about and look forward to fulfilling.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député