Questions about Prime Minister Doug Ford’s relationship with developers and the expansion of private healthcare will dominate the return of the Ontario legislature on Tuesday, when it resumes after the winter break.
The first order of business is expected to be a new piece of legislation with health reforms promised. This includes allowing community clinics and diagnostic centers to perform more procedures and tests, allowing health care providers from other Ontario provinces to work without registering right away, and allowing nurses and paramedics to expand their responsibilities.
“It’s a great plan,” Ford said of the upcoming legislation last week. “We have consulted with the sector time and time again. They think it’s a great plan.”
The new legislation will expand cataract surgery in private clinics and allow hip and knee replacements by private organizations. The province said it will introduce legislation that will protect hospitals from losing staff at these clinics.
Critics concerned about a greater role for the private sector in health care
The new plan is aimed at accelerating healthcare, but critics are concerned it will entail a greater role for the for-profit sector. While Ford has vowed the procedures and tests will still be funded by the government, opposition parties have said it will open the door to private clinics pressuring patients to pay out of pocket for services in excess of what Ontario Health Insurance Plan covers.
“People come to hospitals only to find there are not enough staff to help their loved ones,” newly minted NDP leader Marit Stiles told her caucus last week as they discussed their legislative priorities.
“At the same time, Doug Ford is cutting wages for healthcare workers and sending more money to private companies looking to make a profit.”
Stiles, who will officially act as NDP leader on Tuesday for the first time since being confirmed earlier this month, said she is also working on a new complaint to the integrity commissioner about Ford, developers and the removal of protected Greenbelt lands for housing.
Ford says he did nothing wrong when developers, who are family friends, attended his daughter’s bachelorette party for $150 a ticket last summer. Media reports quote sources saying lobbying and government relations firms were asked to buy tickets.
The Office of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario, based on the information provided, said that Ford was not aware of any gifts his daughter and son-in-law had received and that there was no discussion of government affairs at the summer event.
But Stiles said there are still many questions Ontario residents want answered.
“This Prime Minister continues to put the interests of wealthy developers first, even if it means tearing up and cobblestones our vital Greenbelt,” she said.
“We have learned a lot over the past week about how that cozy relationship with these developers continues to exist. It goes even beyond those private gatherings we’ve become accustomed to and there’s growing evidence that the line has really been crossed.”
Integrity Commissioner, Auditor General investigates the Greenbelt decision
The integrity commissioner is already investigating another of Stiles’ complaints about the government and developers. She sought to investigate Steve Clark, Secretary of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and what she calls “strange timing of recent purchases of Greenbelt land by powerful landowners with donor and political ties to the Ontario PC Party.”
Media reports say some developers have bought that land in recent years, despite Clark and the Prime Minister previously publicly saying it would not be developed, with one purchase two months before Clark announced he would open the land.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said his party would also target health care and Ford’s connections with developers.
“We are going to work with other opposition parties, as we have, to get to the bottom of it,” Fraser said of the controversies between the developer and Greenbelt.
“The whole thing, it just smells… The Prime Minister is too close to a lot of people who really benefited from his decision to open the Greenbelt.”
The Auditor General is also conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the financial and environmental implications of the Greenbelt decision.
The leader — and lone member of the caucus — of the third opposition party, the Greens, will also be the center of attention when the House resumes. Mike Schreiner has said he will “consider” a plea from a group of liberals to seek that party’s leadership.
Since he said last month that he was considering their arguments, Schreiner has given no indication as to which way he might go.
Critical minerals, boosting specialist trade as one of the government’s priorities
The Prime Minister’s office says the government will focus on critical minerals and boosting skilled occupations alongside health legislation.
The government will also soon submit its budget, having promised to submit it by March 31.
Ontario has made major improvements in budget deficits this year. The district’s third-quarter financial update, released last week, estimated the deficit for this fiscal year at $6.5 billion, more than $13 billion lower than last year’s budget forecast.
But Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy has indicated that the cabinet does not see this as extra spending space.
After unprecedented investments during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said last week that it is time to change course.
“Now is the time for governments to exercise restraint, act prudently and responsibly,” he said.