With the exception of a few heated moments, Sudbury and Nickel Belt candidates managed to find plenty of common ground when it came to health care issues during a town hall on seniors’ issues Wednesday.
The meeting, hosted by the Sudbury chapter Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), asked candidates questions on topics that matter most to older adults in the region, with a particular focus on health care.
CARP’s Sudbury chapter represents the more than 30,000 people aged 65 and over across the region, a portion of the population that comes out to vote in huge numbers every election.
Noticeably absent were Conservative candidates Marc Despatie for Sudbury and Randy Hazlett for Nickel Belt, following the recent trend of PCs of skipping public debate in favour of “knocking on doors.”
Green candidate Glenys Babcock for Nickel Belt was also absent.
Without the Conservative candidates present to shake up the discussion, candidates agreed on a solution, even if they couldn’t agree on an approach: invest, invest, invest.
Despite the general consensus, candidates questioned whether the other parties were actually willing to commit.
NDP candidate France Gelinas — whose name is on the Nickel Belt ballot for the fifth time — opened the debate portion of the meeting with a pointed question to the Liberals about their last stint as Ontario’s ruling party.
“How can you or any Liberal candidate reassure people that publicly funded healthcare is a priority for your government when, for seven years, you refused to fund hospitals?” she asked.
The question set off a heated debate about whether each party’s past transgressions should be overlooked, or if it’s better to simply look towards the future.
But within that debate was a general agreement about the need to address overcrowding and wait times at Health Sciences North.
“The hospital was built too small from the beginning,” said Liberal Sudbury candidate David Farrow. “But frankly, we can’t wait another 10 years to build a hospital here. We need to look at partnerships for alternate level of care. We need to take the pressure off our hospital immediately.”
Gilles Proulx, the Liberal candidate for Nickel Belt, also emphasized the need for preventative measures to take the pressure off, including investing in solutions to homelessness, the opioid crisis, and mental health.
Gelinas said one of the major barriers that the NDP want to address is overwhelming privatization in healthcare, which she said has led to underfunding in public medicine, and an increase in private clinics that handle tests like mammograms.
“Every time you go, there will be a fee,” she said. “I’m from the party of Tommy Douglas. We believe that care should be based on need. There’s a crisis of people waiting in our community for the care they need and that is by design, so that people will get tired of waiting and go to a private clinic. That is what the Liberals and Conservatives want to do.”
The need to reduce privatization was also emphasized among candidates in a discussion about their commitment to funding public non-profit home care.
Sudbury NDP candidate Jamie West, who is seeking re-election in the riding, said his party was committed to making home care public.
“When you have shareholders, when you have a for-profit model, the goal is to make profit,” he said. “It’s putting money in shareholders pockets. Two years ago, we committed as New Democrats that we will stop this.”
He also emphasized that personal support workers who largely provide home care have been set up to fail. “We’ve got to rethink home care. (A PSW) said she has a workflow she can’t accomplish. She doesn’t have time to sit with people who she knows are going to die and hold their hands. That is shameful.”
Gelinas, West’s NDP colleague, said returning dignity to PSWs was an essential part of improving home care.
She said PSWs needed “full-time, permanent jobs, well paid with benefits, with sick days, with a pension plan, and with a workload that a human being can handle.”
Green Party candidate for Sudbury, David Robinson also said his party was committed to rethinking home care. “We’re going to need a whole new system, in which we genuinely support more than half the population in their own homes. It means reforming our housing system. It means shifting huge amounts of work out of hospitals. But the biggest thing is employing a hell of a lot more people.”
Candidates also spent considerable time discussing how to improve long-term care, which has been a topic of concern throughout the pandemic.
Robinson called the current LTC system a “corporate slaughterhouse” for its failure to regulate and meet healthcare and inspection standards that led to hundreds of deaths due to COVID-19.
“We know the Conservatives hid under the bed for too long,” the Green candidate said. “What we have to understand is that the long-term care system we have is out of date. We need a situation where people are living closer to communities in smaller settings with more support.”
Both NDP candidates agreed with this assessment, with Gelinas stating her support for more, smaller facilities with only six to eight beds instead of hundreds.
West said the NDP was committed to ensuring LTC residents had a minimum of four hours of care daily.
Proulx referred to the pandemic as a “wake up call” for LTC.
“We’re promising to invest heavily in long-term care,” he said of the Liberals, stating investment needed to include hiring more nurses and expediating the recertification process for immigrant healthcare workers.
He added the Liberals wanted repeal the law that prevents long-term care facilities from being sued, which the Ford government introduced in October 2020.
CARP interim chair John Lindsay said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting, even if the absence of the Conservative candidates was a disappointment.
“These are all issues that affect a large portion of our population,” he said. “I think (governments) have to start talking to the seniors, who have been an almost silent group. There’s a new group of seniors coming up, which are the Boomers … They are not going to be as quiet as the former group of seniors. This may be a turning point in how we’re treating our senior citizens.”
The provincial election will be held on June 2. Advanced polls will be opening across the province Thursday for those looking to cast their ballot early.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star