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March 31, 2003

Ontario groups campaign against health privatization


A coalition of 300 Ontario groups opposed to any privatization of health care is launching a province-wide pre-election campaign with a distinctly anti-Conservative government flavour this week.

The aim is to make increasing private-sector involvement in hospitals, cancer treatment and long-term and home care front and centre in the upcoming provincial vote, which could come within months.

"We will campaign relentlessly to make this a critical election issue," Irene Harris, of the Ontario Health Coalition, said today.

"We will oppose any political party that will not expressly oppose the privatizations of our hospitals and clinics."

Among the coalition's plans are rallies and marches to be held in cities and towns on Saturday.
The aim is also to collect at least 100,000 "pledge" cards from people opposed to privatization.

The coalition argues that profit-driven companies are siphoning off millions of health-care dollars.

They say for-profit companies now control the majority of long-term-care beds in the province and at least 90 per cent of the laboratory sector.

In last Thursday's budget, the government said it planned to increase health-care spending by $1.9 billion in the coming year to a record $28.1 billion in the coming year.

"Let's come clean about what percentage of that budget goes to profits," said Harris.

The Tory government argues the private sector has always played an integral role in the delivery of publicly funded health-care services.

Expanding that role benefits patients by reducing waiting times for, and improving access to, advanced diagnostic equipment, such as MRIs and CAT scans, the government says.

The government has also announced pilot projects in which private developers will build hospitals although clinical services will remain within the public system.

"The people of Brampton never voted for a private funding model for our new hospital, said Dora Jeffries of the Brampton Health Coalition.

"The people of Brampton were not consulted. We were given an ultimatum by (Health Minister Tony) Clement: `Accept this experimental funding model or wait another 10 years for a public hospital.' "

Despite arguing its non-partisan status, the coalition said it would not support Tory candidates given the party's stance on privatization.

The New Democrats have been emphatic in promising an end to all privatizations if elected.

However, the Liberals have not been as clear when it comes to questions surrounding home care, for example, the coalition said.

The Ontario Health Coalition comprises a variety of organizations, including faith groups, unions and women's groups, as well as individual members