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Desperation Is Setting In For The Ontario Liberals

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"Oh mischief, thou art swift to enter in the thoughts of desperate men!"
- William Shakespeare

On March 24, 2016, Eric Hoskins held, what his chief of staff said was an update on the "Patients First" action plan the Ontario Liberal government has been promoting. While the video of his talk has been taken down, certainly the initial part of his presentation started off with an update, but rapidly degenerated towards the end with a bitter volley launched at Ontario doctors, who the government has been at odds with for over two years now over a Physician Services Agreement (PSA).

Two things immediately happened as a result of this, both of which, I would argue, were easily predictable by anyone with a modicum of political sense.

First, the media, via a Canadian Press article, picked up Hoskins blasting doctors, in a story that showed up in newspapers as far away as Winnipeg. In doing so, they focused solely on the attack on physicians, and completely ignored the rest of what was in his speech.

The real question then becomes, knowing what the inevitable consequences of launching a such a brazen attack on physicians were, why would he do it?

Good thing too from Hoskins' point of view, as the first part of his speech was pretty bland, uninspiring and easily refutable stuff (summarized here). We're spending more on addiction treatments you say? Then why are addiction clinics closing? Oh yes, and you're spending more on mental health? But then why are mental health units closing? Lather, rinse, repeat for just about every other point he made in the first ten minutes.

The second thing that happened was that there was a torrent of refutations, condemnations, and outright insults on twitter, internet posts and other media by angry physicians, and the OMA. I simply don't believe that Hoskins and his political team would not have anticipated both of these outcomes from his speech.

The real question then becomes, knowing what the inevitable consequences of launching a such a brazen attack on physicians were, why would he do it? At a time when relations between government and physicians is at an historic low, and something like 70 per cent of new graduates are considering leaving the province when they finish their training, what possible benefit did Eric Hoskins think would come of this?

The answer, as always with this government, is purely political. The Liberals are aware that there is a groundswell of dissatisfaction with their government. Even the normally pro-Liberal Toronto Star commented on this regarding the resounding defeat the Liberal's suffered in the Whitby Oshawa by election. They even wrote about Premier Wynne's exceptionally low (21 per cent) approval rating.

On top of all that, there are numerous health-care crises that are popping up all over the province. Whether it's hospital after hospital after hospital cutting staff and laying off nurses, delays to much needed orthopaedic surgery, closures of clinics or even dermatologists leaving areas of need, the list of health-care fires can only reasonably be expected to grow, with each passing day that the Liberals don't agree to a deal with their physicians.

So, the Liberals were faced with two choices. First, they could agree to return to a negotiation with their physicians with binding arbitration (an option given even to prison guards!) as a back up, if negotiations failed. They would perhaps have to eat a little bit of crow if they did so, and there would almost certainly have been an increase in the physician services budget, but at the very least there would be willing partners to help with the transformation agenda Hoskins' espouses.

Or, they could revert to the old political trick of identifying an adversary and "othering" them. Try to divide the doctors ("hey you, family docs, you'd make more if it wasn't for those high billing ophthalmologists"). Frame the argument to the public that you can either pay doctors, or have other health care services (eg. Home Care) but not both. By doing so, create the impression that doctors are the enemy, and that their pay directly robs the public of other needed health services.

Sadly for the people of Ontario they chose the latter approach. Rather than show real leadership and work with physicians, the Liberals, desperate to increase their popularity and to cover up their mismanagement of the health-care system, have chosen to vilify the one group of people that could reasonably have helped not only them, but the people of Ontario, in improving the health-care system.

It's true that this type of American attack politics works in the short term. I noticed that none of the newspapers that picked up the Canadian Press article bothered to dig deeper into Hoskins' speech, and ask him any tough questions about all his erroneous facts in the first ten minutes of his speech. The mainstream media got it's one note story "Hoskins blames doctors over billing for health care woes" and ran with that, saving Hoskins the embarrassment of being proven wrong on his assertions that the health care system is improving.

However, in the long term, it will only be the people of Ontario that suffer, as this type of desperate political gambit will do nothing to improve their health care.

Hoskins (and Premier Wynne) need to stop with the petty politics and work constructively with all the front line health-care workers (remember, they are laying off nurses too) to run the health care system. That's what they were elected to do. It's about time they started to do it.

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