OTTAWA - Premier Dalton McGuinty has shifted his campaign focus to health care, saying Monday that he can find savings in the massive and expensive ministry without making cuts to hospitals.
"In a system this big, that costs this much, I'm absolutely convinced that there are all kinds of opportunities for us to better deploy dollars in a way that finds savings," McGuinty said after visiting the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, the second hospital he visited in two days.
The Liberal leader, who has long maintained the Progressive Conservatives would close hospitals if they are elected Oct. 6, pointed to his government's fight with pharmacists over a plan to reduce the costs of generic drugs as one example of creative ways to score extra cash.
"We got into a big fight, and I'm proud to say that we won and we cut the price of generic drugs by half a billion dollars," McGuinty said.
He also said that keeping seniors at home longer will save thousands — money that can help offset increasing hospital budgets and fund new promises without squeezing current programs, even in the event of another downturn in the economy.
"It's so much less expensive to provide home care, to provide house calls and to ensure that we help seniors with some of the costs of those renovations ... so that the home is more accessible and safe," he said.
The Tories have pledged that if elected, they'll boost health care spending by $6.1 billion by the end of their four-year term, create 5,000 new long-term care beds, and slash only the "bloated bureaucracy'' they say funnels millions of dollars away from those seeking medical treatment.
A big part of that plan involves dismantling the local health integration networks, known as LHINs, which have cost $300 million since they were established in 2007, and chop government spending by two per cent each year.
Critics say the Tories' talk of savings will translate into sweeping cuts like those seen under former PC premier Mike Harris — a claim current Leader Tim Hudak denies, pointing to his young daughter's undisclosed illness and the excellent treatment she received earlier this year as an experience that cemented his commitment to public and universal health care.
The New Democrats have promised to scrap LHINs and replace them with another local decision-making body, eliminate the wait list for long-term care or home care and forgive the student debt of new doctors who practise in underserviced communities, bringing 200 new doctors over four years to those areas.
"It's apparent that Mr. McGuinty doesn't have such a great track record when it comes to watching our precious heath-care dollars," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, pointing the he eHealth scandal which saw nearly $1 billion wasted and led to the resignation of a Liberal health minister.
When people consider who to trust in health care, Horwath added, they can look at the NDP — a party that introduced universal health care, or at the Liberals, who wasted millions when they were supposed to be establishing electronic health records.
"We want to bring back some if the things that were lost," she said.
All three parties have been urged to stop hospital cuts and privatization and make health care a campaign priority by the Ontario Health Coalition, which says the province has seen 18,500 hospital beds cut since 1990 and has 24,000 people on the waiting list for nursing home beds and 10,000 waiting for home care.
On Monday, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario also sent an open letter to all three leaders asking them to provide more information on the issues that will impact health care, including securing timely access to primary care and home-care services.