02/26/2019 17:16 EST | Updated 02/26/2019 17:19 EST

Christine Elliott Dodges Questions About Layoffs As Ontario Merges Health Agencies

The government says it will eliminate “duplicative” teams as it merges 20 agencies into one.

TORONTO — Ontario's Minister of Health won't say how many jobs are at risk as the province merges 20 health agencies into one.

Minister Christine Elliott unveiled the Progressive Conservative government's plan for health care Tuesday. All the local health integration networks, known as LHINs, as well as agencies like Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario, will be combined into one agency, Ontario Health.

In a background briefing document, the government promises this will eliminate "duplicative" management and administrative teams.

Ontario Health will streamline the other agencies' functions and "provide more value for tax dollars," the backgrounder says.

But Elliott wouldn't say how much money she expects to save or how many administrators and managers may lose their jobs.

I think we have to look at this as a rearrangement.Christine Elliott

"That is something that we can't answer right now," she told reporters, after being asked how many fewer staff the government expects to employ.

"I think we have to look at this as a rearrangement."

The head of one union that represents about 45,000 health-care workers says he expects sweeping layoffs.

"Our members are the backbone of the public sector, and as frontline workers we know what is needed," Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union, said in a news release.

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"We need more frontline care and frontline staff, not another round of costly restructuring. I have no idea who [Premier Doug] Ford is consulting with, but it certainly isn't health care experts."

Elliott said the restructuring will result in more employees who provide care directly to patients. She said that local health teams will assess an area's needs and then decide how many staff are necessary.

"We promised that we would put more people on the front line. And that's what we are going to do," she said.

"What we are announcing today is significant," Elliott said in her speech. "And that real, meaningful change is never easy."