Ontario opposition calls on government boost health spending in light of ER closures

Ontario 'has consistently had among the lowest levels of per person health spending in the country' since 2008

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in Toronto

As Canada’s premiers call for more health funding from Ottawa, Ontario’s opposition parties are also urging the province’s Progressive Conservative government to spend more on health services in light of continued strain on emergency rooms.

Premier Doug Ford is in Victoria, B.C., this week, where Canada’s premiers have called again on the federal government to increase their share of health-care spending.

And while the provincial NDP and Liberals said they support those efforts, they say the Ford government must also commit to spending more within the province to sustain critical health services. 

“We need increased federal health care transfers — but Premier Doug Ford needs to promise to start spending a workable amount on health care,” Interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns said in a written statement. 

In a news release, the Opposition New Democrats pointed to a recent fiscal watchdog report that found Ontario spends less on health per capita than other provinces. 

An April report from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario on fiscal results during the first year of the pandemic found that the province’s total per person program spending in 2020 was the lowest in Canada, with the least amount in health spending. 

That report also noted that Ontario “has consistently had among the lowest levels of per person health spending in the country” since 2008, when the earliest comparable data is available. 

Tabuns said the province should be spending more on health as emergency rooms report temporary closures due to staffing shortages and patients face long wait times for services.

The provincial Liberals issued a similar call on Tuesday, saying the government should be spending more resources on recruiting and retaining staff, as well as sending more resources to community health centres and primary care so people don’t turn to ERs as a last resort when they can’t access care. 

Liberal House Leader John Fraser said his party is criticizing Ford for not taking action on health spending over the last four years, not for his advocacy for more federal support.

The politicians’ calls come after municipal leaders also raised an alarm over temporary hospital emergency room closures in Ontario. Hospitals have said the shutdowns are being brought on by staff shortages and health-worker groups have blamed the situation on workers leaving the field due to burnout after years of pandemic workloads. 

Recently elected Toronto Liberal Adil Shamji, who is also an emergency room doctor, said the government hasn’t articulated a clear plan to respond to the dire emergency room situation.

“We are calling on Doug Ford and his government to work as hard as Ontario’s health-care workers to solve the crisis that is currently unfolding in our hospitals,” he said. “We know that a long-term strategy is needed. But patients and families need a relief valve right now, this summer.”

A spokesman for the health minister said the government has an “ambitious plan” to rebuild and repair the health system, pointing to spending plans for adding more hospital beds and recruiting more health workers, including internationally trained professionals.

Stephen Warner also accused the previous Liberal government of neglecting the health system, which was “stretched to its limits during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Health-care funding has dominated talks at the meeting of Canada’s premiers. The group called this week for the federal government to boost its share of health-care funding to 35 per cent from the existing 22 per cent. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2022.

Feature image – Paramedics push a gurney towards an ambulance outside a hospital in Toronto on Wednesday, January 5, 2022. Ontario’s opposition parties want the Progressive Conservative government to spend more on health services as emergency rooms come under strain. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young.