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‘Fire that minister’: Ontario NDP calls on Ford to sack minister of health

The Ontario NDP is calling for Ontario Premier Doug Ford to sack his health minister over the suggestion that the province is not struggling to recruit or retrain family doctors.

Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday, NDP Leader Marit Stiles accused the government of “trying to pretend” there weren’t issues with the province’s health-care system.

“When a government says to you it’s not a major concern, the state of our health-care system, they’re trying to pretend that nothing is going on here,” she said.

“The government needs to take action today. And I would argue it needs to happen under a different minister of health. The premier should fire that minister.”

The call comes after Health Minister Sylvia Jones and her ministry suggested Ontario was not struggling to either retain or recruit family doctors, comments that came out during ongoing negotiations.

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As part of recent talks with the Ontario Medical Association, the government claimed recruitment and retention were “not a major concern” in the province when it came to physicians.

After the comments were made public, Jones said the ministry was not saying retention is not a big issue, nor was it saying there is no doctor shortage.

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“What we’re saying is that Ontario physicians are a really important part of our health-care system, and we’ll continue to work with them to grow the workforce,” she said Wednesday after question period.

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The ministry’s arbitration submission, which contained the contentious suggestion, cited various data points to back up its arguments. The supply of doctors has grown 8.9 per cent from 2019-20 to 2023-24, while the population grew 7.1 per cent, it said.

Opposition politicians jumped on the submission, suggesting the government is trying to downplay problems in Ontario’s health-care system.

During question period on Monday, Stiles asked Premier Ford several times if he would stand behind Jones or if she should step down as minister of health.

“Are you going to remove this Minister of Health from her role for those insensitive comments?” she said during one question, referencing recruitment and retention of doctors.

Ford responded, discussing the previous Ontario Liberal government’s record on health-care and touting investments approved under his time as premier.

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“We’re making sure we’re building medical universities that, again, neither of your parties have ever built in 30 years,” Ford said.

“York University — they’re going to graduate primary care doctors. The Brampton university — they’re going to focus on primary care doctors. (The) University of Toronto is going to focus on primary care doctors.”

A petition started by the Ontario Union of Family Physicians calling for Jones to be fired had just over 2,100 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

A spokesperson for Jones suggested that under previous governments the NDP and Liberals had “slashed residency positions, fired nurses and closed hospitals” in Ontario.

“When the NDP are faced with the choice to support growing our health care workforce, connecting more people to primary care and building new hospitals they continue to stand ideologically opposed to any innovation in the healthcare system,” the spokesperson said.

While the Ontario Liberals called for more transparency and accountability from Jones, neither said she should resign or be fired.

“Sylvia Jones needs to be held absolutely accountable,” Ontario Liberal MPP, and health critic, Adil Shamji said.

“She needs to stand up in the legislature and answer questions properly, take accountability for her mismanagement. Once we get a sense of what she is willing to do and whether she’s willing to address the health care worker attrition, whether she’s willing to address privatization in her health care system, then we can have that discussion.”

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John Fraser, also a Liberal MPP, said Jones needed to step forward.

“Stand up and do the job,” he told reporters. “And if you don’t recognize there’s a problem, maybe somebody else should do it.”

— with file from The Canadian Press

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