Parties Outline Vision For Healthcare During Debate

On May 22nd, Steve Paikin moderated a debate between Christine Elliott (PC), France Gélinas (NDP), Deb Matthews (Liberal) and Mike Schreiner (Green). While the debate was initially focused on health promotion and chronic disease prevention, it quickly expanded to health care generally. Much of the debate focused on the Liberals’ record in government and the PCs’ potential spending cuts. Liberal and NDP budget numbers were both questioned. Gélinas and Elliott focused their criticism on the Liberals, rather than each other.

Below, we’ve summarized some of the key exchanges from the debate.

What do you think of Ontario’s overall state of healthcare?

  • Deb Matthews, Ontario Liberal Party: Matthews feels Ontario is doing well in terms of overall health and pointed out several positive metrics, such as cancer survival rates; however, the province can do more around health promotion.
  • Christine Elliott, Ontario PC Party: Elliott cited the need for a chronic disease prevention strategy.
  • France Gélinas, Ontario NDP: Gélinas said that she is worried given the youngest generation is, for the first time, less healthy than people her own age were as youth.
  • Mike Schreiner, Green Party of Ontario: Schreiner called for more focus on health promotion, the social determinants of health, and how the built environment contributes to healthy lifestyle.

How would your party address the social determinants of health?

  • Deb Matthews, Ontario Liberal Party: Matthews pointed to the government’s basic income pilot and said Liberals would look at homelessness prevention.
  • Christine Elliott, Ontario PC Party: The PCs would introduce dental care for those who need it. They support OHIP+ but won’t make further spending commitments, including pharmacare expansion, until they have looked at the books and know we can afford it.
  • France Gélinas, Ontario NDP: Gélinas talked about the NDP’s promise to add 65,000 social housing units, and touted her party’s own pharmacare and universal dental care commitments.
  • Mike Schreiner, Green Party of Ontario: The Greens would look at primary care reform and an historic investment in mental health, as well as more long-term care beds.

Should Ontario implement a sugar tax?

  • Matthews (Liberal): Matthews said this was seriously considered by the government’s Healthy Kids Panel, whose recommendations led to menu labeling, but the panel concluded that a sugar tax would effectively be a tax on the poor.
  • Elliott (PC): Elliott agreed with Matthews, saying a sugar tax would disproportionately impact northern fly-in communities where sugary beverages were often the only affordable drinks.
  • Gélinas (NDP): Gélinas said the NDP would look at all health promotion priorities, including mental illness, with a health-in-all-policies lens. She feels tax clearly has a role to play – in alcohol and tobacco consumption and, someday, in incentivizing healthy eating. However, she said we’re not ready yet for a sugar tax because healthy alternatives often don’t exist.
  • Schreiner (Green): Schreiner advocated a four-step process: first, teach kids about healthy eating in schools; second, raise social assistance rates to address social determinants of health; third, use policy and legislative tools to support local healthy food to make it cheaper; then, finally, consider tax options.

What makes your party’s health platform the best?

  • Matthews (Liberal): Matthews said the Liberal platform looks at the whole health ecosystem, supporting people outside of hospital. Asked if the government is playing catch-up with its hospital funding promises, Matthews insisted the government increased hospital funding every year, but with demographic changes has shifted focus from episodic care in hospital to chronic care in other settings.
  • Elliott (PC): Elliott said we need more beds in hospital, and that home care supports and new long-term care beds will be critical to addressing the alternate level of care (ALC) challenge. Elliott said the PCs have a five-point, fully-costed platform (which she acknowledged will be released before election day), and one of those planks is ending hallway medicine.
  • Gélinas (NDP): Gélinas quoted the Ontario Hospital Association, saying the hospital system is “on the brink.” She blamed four years of frozen base hospital budgets and inadequate increases in the years following, then promised the NDP would “undo the damage”.
  • Schreiner (Green): Schreiner said the Green focus would be upstream – not just treatment, but mental health, poverty and social determinants of health, affordable housing, and dedicated funding for infrastructure supporting cycling, walking and safe streets.

How are we going to pay for it all?

There was a lengthy exchange between Matthews, Elliott and Gélinas about how each party would pay for their promises. Matthews questioned the NDP’s competence, given the $1.4 billion accounting error in their platform. Gélinas acknowledged the mistake but pointed out that the Auditor General has accused the Liberals of hiding an even bigger deficit. Matthews also accused the PCs of promising $10 billion in cuts (adding Ford’s savings commitment to unfunded campaign trail promises); Elliott insisted they would find efficiencies and avoid Liberals’ wasteful spending. She said that PCs would bring in auditors after the election to determine how deep a hole the province is in before making further spending commitments. Elsewhere in the debate, Gélinas said that the NDP would introduce a modest tax increase on corporations and the wealthy to pay for their promises.

With the NDP pulling into a dead heat with the PCs, a lot of questions remain to be answered after June 7th.