Toronto Rally Defends Public Health Care

Bernie Robinson, Interim President of the Ontario Nurses' Association speaks at Toronto health care rally, December 12, 2022.

As part of the campaign by the Ontario Health Coalition in defence of public health care a rally was held in Toronto on December 12.

Natalie Mehra, the Executive Director of the OHC, welcomed people to the Toronto rally and began by denouncing the refusal of the Ford Conservative government to even acknowledge the health care crisis, let alone to do their duty to the people of Ontario who depend on the public health care system. Mehra highlighted that there have been more than 100 emergency room closures across Ontario and there has been a massive loss of frontline nurses and other health care workers due to the working conditions. She pointed out that more than 40,000 frontline health care workers are needed in hospitals, and 56,000 long term care staff to fill the shortages. She called on all Ontarians to continue standing with the health care workers and to defend the public health care system that is under attack by the Ford Conservatives.

Emergency physician Dr. Raghu Venugopal said that the determined fight of health care workers is for basic human dignity and for a properly functioning public health care system that meets the needs of Ontarians. Dr. Venugopal shared his harrowing frontline experience looking after patients at the Toronto General Hospital including elderly patients who have to wait hours and even days for care, in wheelchairs and in hallways. He also pointed out that as a result of the cuts to social programs, the number of homeless and mentally ill patients has increased and the staff and resources are so stretched that the nurses and other front line staff cannot properly address their complex needs.

Dr. Venugopal also spoke about the increasing incidents of violence against nurses and other workers in the conditions of a deteriorating health care system that has been pushed beyond its capacity. He praised the nurses in particular for their high level of social responsibility stating "Without nurses, you have nothing."

Bernie Robinson, registered nurse and Interim President of the Ontario Nurses' Association also spoke at the action to share the immense challenges that underfunding and privatization have created. She pointed out that for years, and particularly since the pandemic, nurses have been telling governments about the damage to public health caused through privatization, and made serious proposals to address these in a way that defends a publicly funded and well-resourced health care system. Government has not listened and the Ford government is busy privatizing more and more services to serve the rich. She noted that nurses' working conditions are so untenable that many are leaving to work for private agencies. The government pays the private agency the equivalent of three to four times the base salaries of the highest paid nurses in the public sector. This has to stop, Robinson noted, calling for the removal of the Doug Ford Conservatives from office. 

J.P. Hornick, president of the Ontario Public Sector Employees' Union (OPSEU/SEFPO) pointed out that the privatization of health care in Ontario must be ended. She noted that her union, the organized labour movement, and the people of Ontario are solidly behind the struggle of health care workers for their rights including the right to wages and working conditions that they deem acceptable. She also pointed out, as an example of the health care crisis, the use of Red Cross personnel to staff the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario because of staff shortages. She further decried the attacks of the Ford government on the labour movement and affirmed that workers will not back down in their fight.

Other speakers provided information on various aspects of the health care crisis, and pledged their support for the frontline nurses and health care workers. At the end, representatives of the Liberals and NDP at Queen's Park spoke, presenting themselves as the champions of public health care. They called on everyone to stand with the health care workers as if for more than three decades the workers and people of Ontario have not united to resist the anti-social offensive of the narrow private interests which have usurped the state power, no matter which cartel party has implemented it -- NDP, Liberals or Conservatives.

The OHC called on everyone to join the campaign to be a "Medicare Defender" by signing up on the OHC website here.

(Photos: TMLD)

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 60 - December 16, 2022

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