I bet that headline caught your attention! Yup, hold on to your hat because, in some areas, I believe the Premier of Ontario is getting a bum rap.
Sometimes I think we expect our political leaders to be squeaky clean, above any kind of human frailty, immune to the realities of life that affect us all, and able to solve almost any problem, as if they possessed a magic wand.
We hold them to the highest level of perfection and then yell like hell when they turn out to be mere mortals, like the rest of us.
Certainly, perfection is not a word one would apply in describing Doug Ford. In many ways, he is an atypical premier. He is a little rough around the edges. He doesn’t always get high marks for diplomacy and yes, at times his proposals for solving difficult political problems are outside of the box.
But last June, Doug Ford, after four visible years in the catbird seat, through good and bad, won re-election with more seats than he and his government had in their previous term. They earned a solid majority that many people believed would not be achievable. Under our electoral system, they were handed a strong mandate to make tough decisions.
Two of the major commitments Ford made during that election campaign were to take serious steps toward fixing our healthcare system and to dramatically increase the number of new homes built to meet the looming housing crisis in this province.
Now that he is working to accomplish those objectives, it astonishes me (although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised) how many people from all sides of the political spectrum are up in arms because he is doing just that. Sure, in both of these areas, he is taking steps that may not have been anticipated, but the status quo is not working, and different, bolder, approaches need to be taken.
In relation to health care, Martin Regg Cohn, certainly not a fan of Doug Ford, wrote an excellent article in the Toronto Star this Saturday and put it this way. “But the contradictions, among critics is glaring. The system is broken, yet we dare not tinker with it, just do more of the same with more money.”
Martin Regg Cohn’s article “More of the same won’t fix health care” is well worth reading. He points out that “Canadian Medicare is more costly than ever and more expensive than in other countries with universal health care, and yet less responsive to patient needs.”
That brings us to Doug Ford and his intention to allow private for-profit surgical centres in Ontario to reduce the strain on over-burdened hospitals. Critics are screaming that it is against the principle of universal health care which is embedded in Canada’s ethos.
But as Martin Regg Cohn points out, that is not so. Two-tier medicine, (that is health care provided by non-government private agencies,) has been part of our health care system for decades. One example he uses is that during the pandemic, the overwhelming need for COVID-19 vaccinations was in part farmed out to private pharmacies to minimize timelines in getting needed vaccines out, and to reduce lineups, stress, and anxiety for millions of people.
The important thing here though is that it was the government that paid the price for these private services and not the individual. That does not threaten universal care.
The same principle will apply to outsourced surgery. Premier Ford has said Ontarians will only ever have to use their OHIP card, never their credit card. Government cannot always be all things for all people. Sometimes they have to reach out to the private sector to provide necessary services.
The Ford government has also taken steps to ease the burden on the delivery of health care services in Ontario by allowing pharmacists to provide prescriptions for minor ailments, thus easing the pressure on physicians and decreasing wait times for people who really need to see a doctor.
Finally, in relation to health care, Premier Ford, unlike the premiers of several other provinces, has opted out of the bun fight between the Feds and the provinces and said he would accept conditions laid out by the Federal government for the health care funding they provide to Ontario. With that said, there is now no excuse for the Trudeau government to further delay getting down to business with the Ford government and correcting the continuing deterioration of federal funding for health care services in Ontario.
While I agree that provinces should be held accountable for funds provided to them by the Federal government, I cannot help but see a double standard here. I recall that when the Justin Trudeau government first took office, they repealed legislation passed by the Harper government requiring First Nation communities to account for the intended use of federal funds provided to them by submitting annual financial statements. Thanks to the Trudeau government they are no longer accountable. In my view, everyone should be held accountable for the proper expenditure of public funds that they receive.
Turning briefly to another major issue, the Ford government has also moved on its promise to provide substantially more housing in this province, much of it badly needed in urban areas.
I recognize and understand the anger and concern about the Ford government taking land out of the greenbelt that surrounds the GTA. I am not in a position to know whether that was necessary to meet the required housing needs in that part of the province.
What I believe has received scant media attention, however, is that substantially more acreage than that which was taken was added by the government to the greenbelt, making it larger than it was previously.
The Ontario government has also passed legislation that supersedes some municipal zoning bylaws and eliminates some development fees for lower-cost housing. Certainly, this is not popular in some areas, but again, to build badly needed housing, especially lower-cost housing, you need to have land that is accessible to workplaces and you need to have fewer administrative costs.
And so, in spite of all the hooting and hollering, I believe the Ford government is thinking outside the box and doing what it can to resolve difficult issues as it promised it would. To me, that is somewhat refreshing.
Doug Ford is not perfect. But given the alternatives, I am quite content to have him as my Premier.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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