Brampton Rejects Austerity in Health Sector

From People’s Voice

At a Feb. 15 People’s Voice public forum on the topic “Health Under Attack”, Brampton, Ontario residents spoke out strongly against austerity policies in the health care sector.

Among the speakers at the forum was Doug Allan, a researcher and board member of the Ontario Health Coalition.

Allan said that globalization of finance capital since the late ‘80s has created havoc worldwide, including accelerated privatization of the public sector. Private capital has systematically targeted the health sector to created a deliberate crisis, so that hospitals and related health facilities could be handed over to corporate interests. Both Liberal and Tory governments have collaborated to create a mess in Ontario’s health sector. These changes started under the social democratic NDP government of Bob Rae, Allan noted.

Provincial and federal governments are consistently working to withdraw various medical facilities from public hospitals, and shifting to private “for profit” facilities where users pay hefty fees. To implement these anti-people policies, the ruling class has consciously defamed workers’ unions. Allan said that governments have tried to cut MRI and CT scan facilities from public hospitals, but had to restore some services when the Ontario Health Coalition and related unions resisted this move.

Unfortunately, Allan said, the trade union movement is not as strong as it used to be in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Today, the offensive by big capital has to be confronted with strong unions, which need to devise new strategies by combining their efforts with the wider community. Trade unions must find ways to relate their activities with the communities, and create broad mass support to educate working people about the danger of the ruling elite’s plan for massive privatization.

Another speaker, Shamshad Elahee Shams, explained the economic scenario of Ontario which plays a vital role in the Canadian economy. Thirty-eight percent of Canada’s 33.6 million people reside in Ontario, including 6.55 million in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone. Ontario produces 37% ($695 billion) of the total Canadian GDP of $1.893 trillion. The GTA and Ontario are witnessing rapid population growth, but Ontario is the lowest province in terms of what it gets in services per capita.

The zero percent rise in Ontario’s health budget in the last three years is a testimony of a government that doesn’t want to carry the social responsibility of the state. Over 18,500 beds were cut from its public hospitals since the 1990s. Public hospital spending per capita in Ontario was only $1372 in 2012, way less than the $2519 figure for Newfoundland and Labrador. Overall, Ontario’s health care spending stands eighth among the ten provinces, an average $3963 per person, compared to $5399 for Newfoundland and Labrador. Allan called on the people of Ontario to fight for their basic human right, since health is a state responsibility, and no mature civil society can tolerate this passive attitude of government.

Community and communist leader Harinder Hundal gave a detailed example of the recently built hospital in Brampton. The government had promised a 600 bed hospital, but ended up with only 300-plus beds, and the cost of construction far exceeded budget projections. Hundal announced that members of the Communist Party of Canada, the Indo Canadian Workers Association, the Rationalist Society of Ontario and other organizations will hold a demonstration on April 12 in Brampton to show that people here will no longer tolerate the austerity measures of ruling elite. We will teach them a lesson, as the Greeks did in recent elections, he said.

Human rights activist from Nepal, Govinda Shivakoti, said there will be no difference between a third world country and Canada if the education, health and social welfare facilities are withdrawn. Canada’s social safety net, won by the hard work and sacrifices of the working class, is an achievement that cannot be compromised, he said.

Political activist Harparminder Gadri shared his personal experience of being billed for some blood tests which were earlier covered by OHIP. Now people are made to pay for services which had been free. Even sunglasses were covered in the 1960s by OHIP, but now vision care is left at the mercy of private clinics, where people are forced to pay over $200 for their reading glasses. Finance capital, he said, is on their high horses since the demise of the USSR, creating havoc in every third world country. Gadri cited examples from India, where new economic policies of various governments at the center systematically destroyed the public school system in the interest of the private schools. They have almost dismantled government hospitals which had a high reputation in the 1970s. Since then, the health sector is left to private, for-profit hospitals.

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