Ontario Health Coalition bridges dozens of unions to protest privatization

May 30, 2024 | Headlines, News, Provincial News

Thousands gathered in Nathan Phillips Square on May 30, joined together by the Ontario Health Coalition to protest health-care cuts and regulations in Ontario.

Posters and flags flew through the air that read, Save our Hospitals, Profit is not a Cure, and Doug Ford: stop privatizing our public health care.

Alanna Kong, OHC research and campaigns coordinator, told Humber News the coalition was hopeful the turnout would be similar to the demonstration in September 2023.

“I think we had like about 80 or 100 buses come out from across the province and people were gathering in Queen’s Park to really just make a major show of strength to the poor government that, you know, they are privatizing our healthcare and we will not just stand aside and let them do that,” she said.

Members of different unions and organizations banded together with the help of the OHC to protest health-care cuts and privatization.

Members of different unions and organizations banded together with the help of the OHC to protest health-care cuts and privatization. Photo credit: Iqbal Alibhai

Last year’s protest, also organized by the OHC, was the first large-scale protest held by the coalition in Toronto. The second, held today, was to protest the privatization of health care and other actions the group said Ontario Premier Doug Ford has taken against public health care.

In May, the Ontario government passed a bill allowing private clinics to conduct more OHIP-covered surgeries. Bill 60 received Royal Assent on May 18.

The protests were being held province-wide, in Thunder Bay, Ottawa, Cornwall, Sault Ste. Marie, Dryden, North Bay, and buses will also transport supporters from Southwestern Ontario to Nathan Phillips Square before heading to Queen’s Park.

The crowd was composed of more than a dozen different groups, including health-care unions from across the province, the Council of Canadians, the United Steelworkers Union and individuals there to protest the bill and other initiatives by Ford’s government concerning health care.

Supporters flooded the streets, on their way to Queens Park.

Supporters flooded the streets, on their way to Queen's Park. Photo credit: Iqbal Alibhai

Executive Director of OHC, Natalie Mehra, addressed the sizable crowd of protestors who travelled to Toronto, and her mother for joining her on stage.

“She’s here with so many thousands of you to stop (Health Minister Sylvia Jones) from privatizing our public health care system. Thank you so much for coming,” she said.

Mehra said she was not only disappointed with the current state of Ontario health care but frustrated with the lack of support and care shown by public figures when addressing issues in the system.

“They’re driving the public system into the ground purposefully in order to privatize it,” she told the crowd.

Mehra gave a special shoutout to Durham health care workers. She said Durham Hospital plans to cut all inpatient beds and said she and the coalition will continue to fight against the closures.

Rachel Fleming, a nurse and member of CUPE 1943 in Peterborough, said she wants to see Ford put money back into the health and wellbeing of Ontario citizens.

“We’re working so short-staffed that patients don’t get seen for hours because we’re with another patient. When someone’s dying inside a bed, we can’t go answer the next call bell,” she said. “So hire more nurses who are specifically working in the healthcare system and pay us what we’re worth.”

Kelsey Bateman, a nurse and member of CUPE 1943, Peterborough region, said she and her fellow nurses are feeling burnt out. She said they need more support from the government or nurses will begin to look for jobs elsewhere.

“And with these events happening, people are realizing that it’s not just affecting nurses and it’s not just our quality of work and like wait times in hospitals, and that [healthcare] could actually be something that’s taken away from you with privatization and be something you can’t access anymore,” she said.

Members of other protest groups joined in the march, as a steelworker rights organization marched down towards the crowd chanting, “Who are we? Steelworkers. What do we want? Public health care.”

Keith Frost, a hospital secretary for a mental health and counselling floor, said he does not believe the Canadian health care system should allow those who have more money to receive better care.

“When people are not receiving the care they need it translates into greater problems such as homelessness, crime, all those things kind of go up when you’re not hitting the root cause of what people are needing at that time,” he said.

Frost said the purpose of the Canadian health care system is to ensure everyone is covered.

Mehra said she doesn’t believe Bill 60 will live up to the government’s promises of reducing wait times and allowing more people to good health care.

“Health care for people, not for profit,” the crowds chanted.