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

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The Ontario NDP is calling on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to fire his health minister over suggestions the province is struggling to recruit or retrain primary care physicians.

Speaking to reporters in Queen’s Park on Monday, NDP Leader Marit Stiles accused the government of “trying to pretend” there were no problems with the province’s health care system.

“When an administration tells you it’s not a major concern, the state of our health care system, they’re trying to pretend there’s nothing going on here,” she said.

“The government must take action today. And I would say it should be done under a different Minister of Health. The Prime Minister should fire that minister.”

The call comes after Health Minister Sylvia Jones and her ministry suggested Ontario was having no trouble retaining or recruiting primary care physicians, comments that emerged during ongoing negotiations.

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As part of recent discussions 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 department was not saying retention is not a major problem, nor that there is not a shortage of doctors.

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“What we are saying is that Ontario physicians are a very important part of our health care system, and we will continue to work with them to grow the workforce,” she said after question time on Wednesday.

The department’s arbitration proposal, which contained the controversial suggestion, cited several data points to support its arguments. The supply of doctors grew by 8.9 per cent between 2019-20 and 2023-24, while the population grew by 7.1 per cent, the report said.

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

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

“Are you going to remove this Minister of Health from her role because of these insensitive comments?” she said during a question, referring to physician recruitment and retention.

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

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“We’re making sure we build medical universities that none of your parties have ever built in 30 years,” Ford said.

“York University – they’re going to graduate primary care physicians. The University of Brampton – they’re going to focus on primary care physicians. (The) University of Toronto will focus on primary care physicians.”

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 “cut residency positions, laid off nurses and closed hospitals” in Ontario.

“When faced with the choice of supporting the growth of our healthcare workforce, connecting more people to primary care and building new hospitals, the NDP remains ideologically opposed to any innovation in the healthcare system,” the spokesperson said.

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

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

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

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

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

– with file from The Canadian Press

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