The Ontario Health Coalition is urging people across the province to cast a ballot in favour of maintaining a single-tier publicly funded health-care system.
The OHC will be holding a citizen-run referendum May 26 and 27 at hundreds of locations across Ontario in protest of the Ontario government’s Bill 60.
The province says the legislation will allow private clinics to perform procedures such as knee replacements, hip replacements and cataract surgery to cut long wait-lists for care.
The question on the ballot will be: "Do you want our public hospital services to be privatized to for-profit hospitals and clinics?"
“It’s fundamentally undemocratic. Nobody voted for this,” said Al Dupuis, Blind River-based Ontario Health Coalition spokesperson for the Algoma District.
“Not only are we losing our single-tier health-care system with this legislation with the privatization of these services, but we didn’t ask that they be taken from us in this way,” Dupuis added.
Government officials, including Premier Doug Ford, have stated that Ontarians will be able to pay for procedures at private clinics with their OHIP cards and not their credit cards.
“This is misleading,” Dupuis said.
“We know by way of research that the Ontario Health Coalition has done and corroborated by other media sources that in many of these private clinics that already exist, especially in other provinces, that there is upselling, that there is queue jumping if people want to pay extra, that there is upsold services or extra user fees, there’s all kinds of this sort of thing happening," he added.
Dupuis said the OHC agrees with an April 2023 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in which the court dismissed an appeal by British Columbia Dr. Brian Day to allow patients to go to private clinics in the face of long wait-times for services.
While Day argued that long wait times for medical procedures violate Charter rights, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld universal public health care.
“We know that some people, some of the time, will be able to get their services with their OHIP card, but the premier knows very well that these clinics are very problematic and that we’ve never been able to properly regulate them and there are known to be many violations of the Canada Health Act because of it,” Dupuis said.
Dupuis said that the OHC has received reports of individuals in Ontario being asked to pay extra to receive services sooner.
“This is not supposed to be legal under the Canada Health Act because you’re not supposed to be charged for medically necessary services. So the claim that you’re going to be able to pay with your OHIP card is false because of the extent to which it’s been documented already,” Dupuis said.
The OHC says that measures such as implementing Bill 60 could be avoided simply by spending more money on the existing publicly funded health-care system.
“We don’t need these extra clinics to clear the backlogs,” Dupuis said.
“We have operating rooms in many — in fact, most — major hospitals in Ontario, that are closed at four o’clock in the afternoon or not open on weekends or are closed permanently because the province refuses to fund them and staff them," he added.
Dupuis said that as of last Friday, 100,000 votes had already been cast in the OHC referendum online and that other people had voted at advance polls.
Voters will be asked to prove they are 16 years of age or older, a resident of Ontario and to vote only once.
Information on the OHC referendum as well as voting locations can be found on the OHC website.
The ballots and total provincial results will be released in Toronto outside the Ontario Legislature at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, May 31.
“We’re doing this referendum to introduce a little bit of democracy where there hasn’t been any, to give people a chance to decide for themselves whether or not they think our hospital services should be privatized,” Dupuis said.
Voting hours will vary depending on the number and availability of OHC volunteers at the ballot boxes as well as the store hours where the ballot boxes are located.
“We just have to open operating rooms for a few hours extra, daily and on weekends, and we would get rid of the backlog in a fairly short period of time,” Dupuis said.
“The infrastructure is there but the government is choosing not to fund the infrastructure that is existing in the public system to deal with the backlogs, neither are they making the necessary steps to get the recruitment where it needs to be for nursing staff.”