Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Romanow backs Ontario health care slashing

By Pauline Tam
Ottawa Citizen 
December 20, 2011

SUN left their duty shoes at the Legislature 1999.
Roy Romanow, the former Saskatchewan premier who slashed medicare in an effort to save it, has fighting words for Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose minority government is seeking ways to rein in skyrocketing health-care costs.

No matter how the McGuinty Liberals decide to cut spending and reshape Ontario's health system, they should act decisively, move fast and brace for political heat, said Romanow.

"What you have to do is implement the reforms as quickly as you can and as effectively as you can in order to get the population to understand that it isn't all bad," Romanow said in an interview. "In fact, it's probably the right thing to do."

The Ontario government, crippled by a $16-billion deficit and weakening economy, is contemplating spending cuts and changes to the health system that broadly resemble those of deficit-plagued Saskatchewan in the 1990s. As premier of the province that invented medicare, Romanow enraged many people by closing hospitals, slashing public drug spending and reorganizing the way health services were delivered.

Rural residents grumbled about losing their hospitals - and the jobs that went with them. Scores of nurses were laid off. Doctors complained about their diminished clout.

Voters and labour unions were particularly shocked that the austerity measures came from an NDP government that styled itself a guardian of Tommy Douglas's medicare legacy.

The Ontario Health Coalition, a pro-medicare group, has warned that this province faces a similar fate, which would jeopardize the quality of patient care.

Yet despite fierce public opposition, Romanow's reforms allowed Saskatchewan to balance its budget three years into his term and won his party a second majority government.

Romanow said he tried to remain faithful to medicare's core values of fairness and compassion. He indicated, for example, that his government avoided privatizing certain health services or introducing user fees, which would only have shifted costs from the public purse to individuals who had to pay out of pocket.

Such an approach would have done nothing to reduce the overall share of provincial wealth devoted to health spending - a situation that McGuinty also understands, said Romanow. "In my judgment, I think Premier McGuinty has recognized the traps of false economy. I would say Premier McGuinty is making all the right overtures."

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