Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has fired back at 10 former health ministers who wrote to her urging the government halt cutbacks to public health.
In a statement released Thursday, Elliott said Ontario’s auditor general has found that “public health units are poorly co-ordinated and duplicating work,” and “not delivering consistent service.”
“Worse yet, the auditor general reported that since 2014 about one-third of public health units have undertaken research on a number of common topics, including sugar-sweetened beverages, energy drinks, e-cigarettes and alcohol,” Elliott also said.
“All told, it’s clear that there are significant opportunities to more efficiently deliver public health while protecting and improving vital programs.”
The letter from the former ministers warned that clawbacks to public health put the “prosperity of our communities and of our entire province at risk,” adding such cuts “make no sense … This cutting of public health services cannot go forward.”
Dr. Helena Jaczek, a former Liberal health minister who also served as the medical officer of health in York Region, said at Queen’s Park on Thursday that “public health has been the backbone of preventing acute infectious disease, chronic disease” and saves money down the line.
Toronto Councillor Joe Cressy, who chairs the city’s board of health, said the government announced the cuts “without warning, without consultation and without any notice they’re retroactive” when public health units are already mid-way into their fiscal year.
The Ford government changes make Ontario “the only province in all of Canada, the only one that doesn’t fund public health at 100 per cent — the only one,” Cressy said. “In the wake of SARS and Walkerton, based on expert panels the cost share by the province for public health was increased… And so, this is very simple: If you do not want to see another Walkerton and SARS, you don’t cut public health.”
Dennis Timbrell, the only former Progressive Conservative health minister of the 10, said he felt compelled to weigh in because public health is “bedrock” for the medical system in terms of ensuring wellness for the population and shouldn’t be cut retroactively.
“I have nothing but sympathy for the fiscal mess the Ford government inherited,” Timbrell, also a former head of the Ontario Hospital Association, told the Star. “Having said that, it didn’t happen overnight. It took 30 years to get to where it is and resolving it isn’t going to happen overnight, either.”
Timbrell was health minister under former premier Bill Davis from 1977 to 1982.
With files from Rob Ferguson
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy