‘People’s referendum’ finds 98% of KFL&A against health care privatization

Volunteers with the Kingston Health Coalition revealed the results of their people’s referendum at the corner of Princess and Concession Streets today. The final tally? 98 per cent of voters are opposed to privatizing public hospitals. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Asked if they supported a private health care system, Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) residents answered a resounding “NO.”

Organized by the Kingston Health Coalition (KHC), the “people’s referendum” campaign began six weeks ago on April 18, 2023, and culminated with a final weekend of voting on Saturday, May 27, and  Sunday, May 28, 2023. The final tally? A whopping 98 per cent of voters are opposed to privatizing public hospitals.

The KHC revealed the results of the referendum at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, at the corner of Princess and Concession Streets in Kingston — an intersection often referred to as “the old traffic circle” — which has been the site of information pickets throughout the campaign.

“It’s been a fabulous consultation. It’s one of the biggest in Ontario ever. We informed people of what was going on. We asked what they thought,” said Joan Jardin, co-chair of the Kingston Health Coalition, when announcing the results to a group of around 15 supporters, mainly seniors, as more supporters drove by honking their car horns.

A total of 17 voting stations were located in Kingston, Napanee, Sydenham, and Verona, and a total of 10,394 residents voted at the polls, which were staffed by 119 volunteers. The combined results were 10,256 votes no to privatization, 138 votes yes to privatization, and 10 spoiled ballots. Over 98 per cent of people said ‘no’ to for-profit clinics and hospitals.

“People were calling me at night, finding ways to be involved. So it’s been fabulous. And all in all, the result is 98 per cent voted ‘no’ to private, for-profit clinics and hospitals… People love our health care system, they know there are solutions, they know that what we need to do is build up what we have, and they’re on our side,” Jardin detailed.

“We heard the Ford government was going to do privatization before the election. So we asked and we said, ‘hey, this is a problem,’ and [the people] said ‘WE WILL NOT DO THAT!’” she continued, raising her voide to a loud, clear staccato as she relayed the words of the voters.

“This is our way of having a say from the people.”

Jardin turned her attention to what the results really mean, and what she feels the results reflect are the necessary next steps.

“We ask that the government, all parties, listen to the people and support our public health care system,” she urged.

“The local results show that our community is united in opposition to the government plans to move work out of our public non-profit hospitals into for-profit corporate clinics. Our community understands that there is space in the public system to improve care for patients. There are many innovative ideas, great staff, and wonderful communities and volunteers that can be mobilized to support non-profit care. The real problems start with a lack of government will, systemic underfunding, and a 30-year push to for-profit corporations to deliver health care, while causing staff reductions in the public system. Further privatization will only make the problems worse”.

Joan Jardin, co-chair of the Kingston Health Coalition spoke to a group of around 15 supporters as more supporters drove by honking their car horns. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

The local referendum effort was part of a province-wide vote organized by the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC). There were 1,000 voting stations across Ontario in addition to an online voting option.

In a press release May 29, 2023, the OHC provided background information stating, “in January, the Ford government announced plans to move forward with the privatization of the core services from our local public hospitals. Among the plans: three for-profit clinics (essentially day hospitals) to be opened in Windsor, Waterloo, and Ottawa to do 14,000 cataract surgeries to start, as well as diagnostics; expansion of existing for-profit clinics to do surgeries and diagnostics currently provided in local public hospitals; and expansion of the scope of privatization to include more surgeries, including a plan to privatize hip and knee surgeries by next year.”

Fact-checking provided by the OHC found that despite the claims of the Ford government, these are not temporary clinics to deal with a backlog — They are long-term contracts that start at five years and can be longer, at the government’s discretion, according to the OHC. Once for-profit clinics are in and have taken over our public hospital services, it will be extremely difficult, if at all possible, to get them out, the organization expressed.

Further, despite claims that patients will not have to pay out of pocket, the OHC stated that existing private clinics in Ontario already extra-bill patients illegally and upsell medically unnecessary services to patients, often using manipulative tactics. Patients are being charged thousands of dollars for cataract surgery – far in excess of the $550 cost under OHIP – and they are being charged on top of OHIP for these services, and they are doing so with impunity.

Despite claims that the goal of this privatization is to reduce wait times, the OHC points out, that all across Ontario, local public hospitals have operating rooms that are closed every evening, on weekends, and sometimes permanently due to underfunding and staffing.

“We already have the infrastructure in our public hospitals,” the organization stated in its release. “The choice not to use public hospitals’ operating rooms to their capacity, and instead to rebuild operating rooms only under the ownership and control of for-profit clinics and hospitals, is a political choice to privatize.”

OCH will announce the province-wide results outside Queen’s Park in Toronto on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, at 10 a.m. A massive pile of ballots from the people’s referendum will be brought in from across Ontario and piled in front of the Legislature to be delivered to the government.

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