On April 19, hours before the start of the long weekend, the Ministry of Health notified Ontario’s public health agencies of the government’s decision to put citizens in danger by cutting 50 per cent of their funding, starting immediately.
Buried deep in the Ford Government’s first budget, released April 12, it indicated its intent to collapse a strong network of 35 public health agencies into just 10; a week later, agencies learned their budgets would be gutted.
“Cutting 40 and 50 percent of public health budgets with no warning to municipalities isn’t just irresponsible, it puts the health of millions of Ontarians at immediate risk,” said John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council. “The deaths and widespread illness at Walkerton remain a sad reminder of the correlation between investment in public health and health outcomes. We don’t need another tragedy to prove that public health is a crucial government service.”
Public health agencies are the only government bodies that explicitly focus on health prevention initiatives, from ensuring clean drinking water to delivering vaccinations to monitoring food safety in restaurants. Toronto Public Health has been an innovator in the field, setting standards and best practices that are recognized world-wide. The agency serves a population of over 2,700,000 with a budget of close to $250 million and a staff complement of over 1,800. Toronto Public Health fully funds the City’s portion of the Student Nutrition Program, which provides healthy food to 208,000 students in over 600 schools across the city. The continued funding of all of these programs is at risk.
“Our members are front-line public health nurses, technicians, social workers, and infection prevention and control professionals who provide a world-class standard of care. Our members fear for the vulnerable members of the public to whom they deliver life-changing interventions like pre-and postnatal care, seniors’ dental care, and overdose prevention,” said CUPE Local 79 President Dave Mitchell.
The cuts will impact York Region Public Health differently, as the unit is one of 35 required to merge with other units, losing its ties to local government altogether. In 2018 York Region Public Health supported a population of 1,110,000 with a budget of over $71 million. It currently employs over 500. Just yesterday, the public health agency confirmed a measles outbreak.
“Our members pride themselves on working toward regional healthcare goals alongside their community,” said CUPE Local 905 President Katherine Grzejszczak. “It’s easy for the Ford government to say that they’re saving taxpayer dollars by making cuts across the board, but our members are frontline staff who know that public health programs prevent illness and save lives. That’s why public health decision-making needs to remain in the hands of the government that’s closest to our communities.”
While the provincial government has yet to adequately respond to concerns about the impacts of these deep cuts, Toronto & York Region Labour Council and its membership will continue to proactively champion adequate and local funding for public health agencies.