Three out of four Ontarians think Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are on the “wrong track” due in part to unpopular budget cuts to public health, a new poll suggests.
The Environics Research survey found 75 per cent of respondents believe the PC government is on the wrong track with 24 per cent saying the Tories are on the right track and 2 per cent unsure.
“It took a few years for the Wynne government to get that high on the wrong track number and even that was at the end of 15 years in government,” Environics vice-president Derek Leebosh said Monday.
That was a reference to the previous Liberal administration of former premier Kathleen Wynne, which was defeated by Ford’s Tories in last June’s election.
Using interactive voice response telephone calls, Environics polled 1,332 Ontarians between last Tuesday and Thursday. Results are considered accurate to within 2.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The poll was commissioned by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and CUPE Local 79.
Its findings echo those in recent surveys by Pollara Strategic Insights and Corbett Communications, which found budget cuts have not been well-received.
Environics asked the right-track/wrong-track question first in the poll.
Even among respondents who voted Conservative in the last election, 37 per cent said the Ford government is on the wrong track with 61 per cent saying they are on the right track and 2 per cent unsure.
The poll found the Tories’ decision to streamline Ontario’s 35 public-health units to 10 and cut $200 million in spending remains controversial.
Some 80 per cent of those surveyed said the units are “very important” to Ontario with an additional 14 per cent saying they are “somewhat important” and 5 per cent unsure.
Among Conservative voters, 60 per cent said the local public health agencies are very important with 27 per cent saying they are somewhat important and 12 per cent uncertain.
“It’s a bit of a motherhood issue,” said Leebosh, noting 83 per cent were aware of the announcement that came in the April 11 provincial budget.
Similarly, 83 per cent oppose the cuts with 16 per cent in favour. Among Tory voters, 56 per cent oppose the changes while 43 per cent supported them.
More than two-thirds — 69 per cent — said the cuts would make them “less likely” to vote Conservative in the next election, which is scheduled for 2022, while 20 per cent said it makes no difference and 9 per cent said it would make them “more likely” to vote PC.
At the same time, 38 per cent of Tory voters said it would make them less likely to back Ford’s party while 38 per cent said it makes no difference and 23 per cent said it would make them more likely to cast Conservative ballots.
Councillor Joe Cressy, who chairs the city’s board of health, said the poll proves “this is not just a Toronto issue — this is in every corner of the province, that’s clear.”
“Measles is not a partisan issue,” said Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York).
“There’s an assumption out there that people didn’t know what public health is or what it does. That has proven to be a painful and drastic miscalculation,” he said of the Tories’ apparent hope the changes would have minimal political impact.
Cressy said it’s telling the government has yet to trot out “a single validator” to explain the rationale for streamlining public health. Meanwhile, municipalities and nurses’ and doctors’ associations have denounced the cuts.
“They’re feeling the heat from their own people,” the councillor said.
Health Minister Christine Elliott last week defended the changes.
“The modernization of our public health system is something that we’ve been working on for months. The change from the 35 units of public health to 10 is something that we are working on through the consultations that are necessary with the appropriate people involved,” Elliott said Tuesday.
“This is not something that has just been thought up in the last minute; this is something that’s very purposeful and has been thought about in great detail by many people. It’s something that is going to be subject to further consultations with the people who are going to be dealing with this on the front lines,” she said.
“We want to make sure that our local public health units are going to be able to respond to issues that are going to come up from time to time. There are outbreaks of certain diseases. That’s going to continue, so we need to be ready.”
But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wednesday the Tories are flying by the seat of their pants.
“This government has given regional public health providers no reason whatsoever to trust them because they have no plan. Cuts are announced by the day around here,” said Horwath.
“Schemes are drawn up on the backs of napkins with zero consultation. And in the midst of all of this chaos, organizational structures and transitional plans are nowhere to be seen,” she said.
“Instead of plowing ahead with reckless cuts and plans to eliminate 25 out of 35 health units, why doesn’t the government reverse these cuts and work with public health units to keep Ontarians healthy and safe and actually contribute to the end of hallway medicine?”
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie