It’s time for Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones to come together to publicly address the crisis in Ontario’s health care system.
What they had to say over the past two days will obviously not solve all the problems or ease all the anxiety. There is no miracle solution to such vast and time-consuming challenges. People understand that.
But it was good, in the end, to see the Prime Minister and his minister behave as if they really recognized the crisis.
Until Wednesday, Ford had remained largely invisible since winning his second majority government in June. Jones, also out of public view, eventually deigned to show up for media interviews to deliver bland remarks that were more or less getting used to.
Ontario has seen temporary closures of hospital emergency departments and intensive care units due to staffing shortages. Patients and frontline workers have been affected as essential public institutions deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and long-term underfunding.
At that, Jones seemed to shrug.
“It’s a national and international shortage,” she told The Star’s Rob Ferguson.
The minister got rid of comments so generic that they could be kept and applied to almost any situation.
“There have been many, many meetings, conversations, hearing feedback, hearing from organizers on the ground to say, what can we do today, three months from now and six months from now that will make a difference in your organization?”
The net effect was so useless that Ford apparently felt compelled to do damage control on Wednesday, with mixed results.
On the one hand, he said his government was throwing “everything down the kitchen sink” at the problem. He said the province is accelerating the accreditation of internationally educated nurses. On the other, he seemed to deny that it was really a problem.
“Ontarians continue to have access to the care they need, when they need it,” he said.
Provincial indolence would be exasperating at the best of times. But that’s infuriating after an election campaign in which Ford’s slogan was “Get it Done.”
Additionally, Ford emerged from a first ministers meeting in July promising that Queen’s Park had an “ambitious” plan to rejuvenate and rebuild the health care system.
In times of crisis, leadership bears a special responsibility. It’s about showing off, demonstrating competence and building trust.
It’s about being accountable, about being seen to be responsible, about restoring trust when trust wavers.
Another leadership responsibility could, as Liberal health critic John Fraser pointed out, be called “knowledge”.
Health care chaos did not happen overnight. It is a crisis that is unfolding in slow motion.
“There are actions the government should have taken by now,” Fraser said.
Among those, he said, was the repeal of Bill 124, which limits most public sector wage increases — including nurses — to 1%.
It wouldn’t fix everything, he said, but it would send a positive signal to nurses and “plug the hole in the boat.” (Ford says this measure will not apply as new labor agreements are negotiated.)
Signals and symbols are all part of crisis management while many solutions are long term. Ford or Jones could certainly show more transparency, clarity and empathy in the face of growing concerns.
It is time for the Ford government to prove that it is appropriately seized by the urgency of the health care crisis and take responsibility for addressing public anxiety about it.
Doing so requires nothing less.