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OHC reports regional 'people's referendum' results

The more than 8,500 Northwestern Ontario residents who participated in a 'people's referendum' on the privatization of hospital services nearly unanimously oppose the Ford government move, organizers report.
A reported 8,568 people participated in a 'people's referendum' campaign organized by the Ontario Health Coalition last week. (Ian Kaufman, TBnewswatch)

THUNDER BAY – Organizers with a provincial ‘people’s referendum’ campaign against the Ford government’s health care privatization plans have reported results showing near-unanimous opposition among those who participated.

The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) solicited votes across the province on Friday and Saturday, with well over a dozen polling stations in communities across the region.

The group also collected some votes in advance through workplace polls held in partnership with labour unions.

The campaign responds to the government’s passage earlier this month of Bill 60 — also known as the Your Health Act — which expands the already substantial role of the private sector in Ontario’s health care system.

The bill will allow more private clinics, to offer publicly-funded procedures like cataract surgeries and hip and knee replacements, a move the government says will help reduce long wait lists at public hospitals.

Opponents, including the Ontario Nurses’ Association, have called the plan a step toward further privatization of the province’s health system, and warned it could worsen existing staff shortages in public hospitals.

The Ford government has defended the legislation as a way to reduce long wait lists, and promised patients at private clinics will not have to pay out of pocket.

The OHC referendum asked participants, “Do you want our public hospital services to be privatized to for-profit hospitals and clinics?”

On Tuesday, the organization reported 382,647 people cast a ballot in the campaign province-wide, with over 98 per cent voting no.

While that fell short of a goal of one million votes OHC leaders had cited in the lead-up to the campaign, Jules Tupker, the co-chair of the Thunder Bay Health Coalition, said it remained an impressive figure that demonstrated the importance of the issue to Ontarians.

“It’s very clear, the general public in the province of Ontario is not interested in Doug Ford’s plan to privatize our hospital services,” he said.

“This is something that is deeply entrenched in people’s minds in Canada – our public health care system is a huge part of our life. We brag about it.”

The vote total included 8,568 ballots registered in Northwestern Ontario, with over 98.5 per cent voting no.

The Thunder Bay area accounted for 2,216 of those votes. A large portion of the remainder came from Fort Frances, Rainy River, and Atikokan, with over 1,800 people from those three communities participating.

While Tupker acknowledged there’s little the OHC can do to immediately stop a majority government from implementing its will, he said the issue could prove to be a decisive one in the next election in 2026.

The health coalition will make sure people remember the issue when that time comes, he said.

“I’m hoping it’s going to have a huge impact on the PCs, because politicians are politicians – they have to be reelected, and if they do things that people don’t like, it’s going to cost them votes.

“If Doug Ford had been up-front during the election and said, ‘We’re going to privatize hospital services,’ … I don’t think he would have won the election, I think it’s as simple as that. It’s so important.”

Members of the OHC, which represents over 500 member organizations including unions, patients’ organizations, and seniors and student groups, will deliver ballots cast in the campaign to the Ontario legislature on Wednesday.

Tupker said that will serve as a potent visual illustration of the sheer number of Ontarians who took the time to register their opposition to the plan.


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