Unions were central to the creation of our public health care in Ontario and Canada

Now we have to defend it

A hundred years of struggle and community-building are on the line

It has taken more than a century to build our local public hospitals in Ontario. Many of our hospitals date back to the Spanish flu pandemic (1918-20), World War I, and World War II. As the middle class began to use public hospitals in the early 1900s, and as hospital bills became difficult for them to afford, the movement for public hospital insurance and public medical coverage grew. When the Spanish flu pandemic ripped through communities, we set up hospitals to care for the ill and dying. As veterans returned from the wars, we built hospitals to care for them. Through the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the movement grew. The labour movement and farmers united together to push for universal public health coverage, against the businesses and physicians who wanted extra user fees and income caps. In Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Labour led marches along with farmers, veterans, suffragettes, and communities to build the pressure to create public medicare.

In hundreds of communities across Ontario, working people have donated, fundraised, and volunteered for generations to build up our local public hospitals. The struggle for public hospitals and public health care coverage were inextricably linked. In Ontario, we won public hospital insurance in 1957. We won public insurance covering physician care in 1969. When the fightback against extra-billing of patients by physicians occurred in the 1970s and 80s, we were again at the forefront of the struggle with our partners in the Ontario Health Coalition and the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens’ Organization. We won the Canada Health Act which requires public health care to provide hospital and physician care without charge and based on our medical need, not how wealthy we are. Patients cannot be charged extra user fees on top of OHIP. This is what we won when we won public medicare.

It isn’t perfect. Governments have purposely downsized public hospitals, cut services, privatized every service that is pulled out of public hospitals, and have denied coverage to a range of newcomers. But privatization is much worse. We work to fight the cuts, to improve public medicare for all, not dismantle and destroy it. 

Now we have to fight to save our public hospitals and our public health care

This week, the Ford government passed Bill 60 “Your Health Act”. Their new law privatizes the core services in our local public hospitals. Patty Coates, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, has already seen the effects of privatization first hand. “My daughter required a medically necessary treatment to keep her and her baby safe,” said Coates. “The doctor told her it could take weeks to get an appointment, but if she wanted to pay $1,500 she could get it done the next day at a private clinic.” 

Despite the claims of Doug Ford and his Ministers, this will be the dismantling of our local public hospitals and their services–unless we stop them. 

The Ontario Federation of Labour is supporting the province-wide Citizens’ Referendum to stop the privatization of our public hospitals as a matter of top urgency. The Ontario Health Coalition has set a goal of a million votes. Online and in advance in-person polls, the Coalition has already collected more than 120,000 votes. 

We are calling on all affiliates to help in every way possible. Let’s make it politically impossible for the Ford government to implement their plans to privatize our public hospitals and bring in user fees for surgeries and diagnostic tests.

This is what you can do. 

  • HOLD A WORKPLACE VOTE – Over the next two weeks, unionized and non-unionized workplaces across the province will be holding workplace votes. Ask everyone in your workplace to vote in the cafeteria, outside on the sidewalk, at the union office, or if possible, bring ballot envelopes or boxes around the workplace and collect votes. All you need are the leaflets, ballots, and a pledge form where people commit to only voting once. Here is a list of local health coalitions and key contacts from whom to get the materials you need for the workplace votes. Please return the filled ballot boxes/envelopes by May 23 so they can be counted. 
  • VOTE ONLINE – You can also vote online anytime up until the end of the day Saturday, May 27. It is quick and easy. Here is the link: PublicHospitalVote.ca 
  • VOLUNTEER – The Health Coalition has organized 1,000 or more voting stations across the province for the referendum on Friday, May 26 and Saturday, May 27. They need between 12,000 and 20,000 volunteers to staff the voting stations. Over the next few weeks, the Coalition is also leafleting across the province, door-to-door, in every community group possible, in busy locations. They are putting up lawn signs everywhere possible. If you can help get volunteers, please let us know. 
  • JOIN US ON JUNE 3 – We have to do everything we can to stop this attack on public health care. Follow up your vote at the ballot box by joining the Enough Is Enough Day of Action on June 3. Actions are taking place in over 20 locations across Ontario. Find an action in a community near you.
  • DONATE – Please help if you can. Here is the link to donate. 

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