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Ontario Politics, Propaganda And The Potential For Change

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ERIC HOSKINS
CP
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I used to believe the job of politicians was to represent. To give voice to the everyday person, especially the vulnerable and powerless. To set aside ego and serve the greater good.

But everyone says: politics is a dirty game. Honest folk become less so once they step into the ring. A recent survey showed that Canadians thought "in politics, being unethical is often what it takes to win."

I believe it.

I am completely disillusioned by the Ontario Liberals and in particular, Health Minister Eric Hoskins, the man who is supposed to champion health care in Ontario. And I mean all of health care, not just nurses and hospitals, but doctors too because we each play a vital role.

On March 23, Hoskins held a press conference that shifted blame, distorted facts and maligned doctors. The aftermath was worse.

In his speech, Hoskins adopted an absurdly bipolar attitude towards doctors: Ontario's physicians should be the best paid but they have "out of control" incomes. They should offer around-the-clock accessibility but they work too hard seeing too many patients and hence, cost too much for the system to support. Ontario's physicians are outstanding but they are the sole reason why the health-care system is unsustainable.

You can't commend and condemn doctors in the same breath.

Hoskins ended by pitting family doctor against specialist, targeting specifically the ophthalmologists.

Ophthalmologists. The guys who perform sight-saving surgeries. The ones who have been cut three times in three successive years. The ones who take out million-dollar loans to run surgical clinics that Medicare will not fund. Clearly Ontario, your eye doctors are robbing you blind.

My immediate reaction: buddy, you can't have it both ways. You can't commend and condemn doctors in the same breath.

My next: why is Hoskins obfuscating the truth? He knows full well that research ranks Ontario's doctors among the lowest paid in Canada.

Hoskins also knows that physician payment is via the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. Ontario's doctors do not and cannot control OHIP. The Ministry of Health regulates and monitors OHIP. Moreover, the Ministry audits physician billings. Hoskins has an army of bureaucrats to chase down cases of fraudulent billing. So why is he fanning flames when there is no fire?

In the hours following the press conference, articles denouncing "out of control" physicians popped up in several newspapers. Actually, it was one article by one journalist that ran in over 30 media outlets across Canada: small-town locals, large urban dailies, national newspapers and all the way up the chain to major conglomerates. Even the staunchly conservative Toronto Sun printed it.

In that moment, I lost faith in the Liberals ever redeeming themselves. Hoskins manipulated media to undermine public trust in doctors. I suspect he is setting the stage to justify more cuts to physician funding. The last Liberal cuts in October 2015 heralded disaster: clinic after clinic closed until patients slept on emergency department floors waiting for beds, or worse, died on waitlists.

So what can I do with a government hell-bent on a course that is clearly harmful to my patients?

I make noise. Ontario's doctors are holding a rally at Queen's Park on April 23 and I will be there. The last time the doctors rallied, the public listened and the riding voted blue. There is power in standing together and speaking out against the black hats.

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As for political leadership, I'm holding out for a hero. A white hat. The likes of Cincinnatus, a man who walked away from absolute power once the job was done. Someone who exemplifies civic duty.

Many wonder: is that man Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown?

In an unprecedented move, Brown shifted the authority to create party policy away from close advisors out to the general public. Think about it: ordinary folk, regardless of political affiliation, can influence the PC platform. This public referendum is a first in PC history, a first for any political party. Brown has set himself the task of reinventing the provincial PCs. And it sounds like he will keep his promise to represent the everyday voice.

Leaving a socially conservative platform in the past, Brown now seems intent on shaking things up. He matured his stance on carbon pricing, same-sex rights and the new sex-ed curriculum. Unlike other PC leaders, Brown even marched in the Gay Pride parade, first in his home-town in 2013, then in the massive one in Toronto in 2015.

As each month passes, he seems to be nudging the PCs closer to a more centered political philosophy.

Is this mere game-playing? Or have the PCs evolved a more nuanced approach to social issues?

"Whatever it takes to make Ontario work again" is a quote often-attributed to Brown, a quote that suggests potential for growth. He is now known for his energetic outreach and grassroots consultation. Every week, he tweets about time spent in discussion with someone else: refugees, visible minorities, police officers, firefighters, nurses, and even doctors -- folks that are relative unknowns, who haven't always been reflected by the PC party and who have traditionally voted red.

His promise: everyone gets a voice at his table. And after months of being steamrolled by the Liberals, this is a refreshing change. Brown's brand is transformation where the PCs are adopting liberal, socially-conscious policies.

Thirteen years of watching the provincial Liberals become synonymous with scandal, corruption and mismanagement have left me wanting a return to innocence. I want to believe in my government again.

I want someone who balances fiscal responsibility with social justice, "prosperity with compassion."

Will Patrick Brown be the kind of leader who finally holds himself accountable to us, the ordinary folk?

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