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Ontario Hansard - 09-March2020

PUBLIC HEALTH


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My first question is to the Premier. The COVID-19 virus is posing a serious challenge to public health all over the world. Ontario’s public health professionals are rising to the challenge, and we thank them for their hard work. They’re working incredibly hard to keep people safe and informed. At this crucial time, what they need from us is resources and unwavering support.

Why is the government moving ahead with consultations on eliminating health units and implementing budget cuts at exactly the time when our public health units should be focused on the important work that they have to do here for the people of Ontario?


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: Thank you very much for the question, but the health and well-being of all Ontarians is our government’s top priority, and we are putting all of the necessary resources into making sure that the people of Ontario are safe. We do thank our front-line service providers, who are doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances, for their timely response and their commitment to making sure that people remain healthy. We are implementing an enhanced pandemic response that formally brings together a wide range of service providers.

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Our goal is to make sure that we have comprehensive response planning that includes effective surveillance, prompt laboratory testing, appropriate care and treatment, evidence-based public health measures and transparent communications.

But I will have more to say in the supplementary.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The supplementary question.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: We’ve now learned that last week, public health agencies wrote to the Ford government asking them to stop their plan for cuts and forced amalgamation of public health units.

In a letter, the president of the Association of Local Public Health Agencies asked the government to “provide official direction to pause the modernization process at least until the COVID-19 emergency is declared over, a full analysis of the response has been conducted and the lessons learned have been applied.”

In fact, this letter went to the Minister of Health—in case she hasn’t seen it, I’ll send it over to her via a page so she can have a look at it. My question is: Will the government do exactly as they’ve asked?


Hon. Christine Elliott: We certainly appreciate the work that our public health units are doing across the province. They are doing a remarkable job. They are working in concert with what we are doing provincially and what we are working on with our federal partners as well. It’s really important with COVID-19 that we have that collective, comprehensive response to make sure that our system continues to work. If it does not, we have enhanced planning, as I indicated before, to make sure that we can take it to the next step.

But as you will know, Speaker, speaking through you to the leader of the official opposition, Mr. Jim Pine is conducting his consultations with our public health units. And recognizing the extra work that they’re under right now in response to the coronavirus, we are ensuring that Mr. Pine’s consultations are stepped back to allow those public health units to be able to do their work.

So yes, we are responding to their concerns. We are taking a longer period of time with those consultations, because this is a higher priority right now for the people of Ontario.


The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: I think what they’ve asked for is a formal directive to ensure that those consultations are completely stopped during this time and a reversal of the cuts that the government has already made to public health units.

Now more than ever we know that our public health officials need to focus on that incredible work that they are doing, not spend time fending off the Ford government’s latest cuts. In their letter, public health agencies note: “The chronic inadequacy of resources to meet our daily obligations is regrettably brought into stark relief when they need to be diverted to emergency response duties.”

They implore the government to reverse their funding cuts, at least until this crisis is over. Will the Premier and the Minister of Health listen to public health units, reverse the cuts and merger plans, and just give them the support they need as they work overtime to keep Ontarians safe?


Hon. Christine Elliott: Speaker, very regrettably, I have to say, through you to the leader of the official opposition, that it is very unfortunate that you would choose to raise these political considerations at a time when it really is important for all of the people of Ontario, for the health of the people of Ontario, that we remain a strong, cohesive unit.

We are working in concert with our public health units. We are working with our federal counterparts. Our goal, as I would say through you, Speaker, again to the leader of the official opposition, should be your goal as well to make sure that the people of Ontario are protected.

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