Posts Tagged ‘politics’
Torontoist’s Desmond Cole writes about a proposal by Toronto city council to give medically uninsured residents–most notably immigrants–improved public health care coverage. In a country where public health care is part of the national identity, this is serious stuff. There have been a few interesting things have been afoot with citizenship and immigration into Toronto recently, incidentally, including proposals to give non-citizen permanent residents the vote in municipal elections. Will these things take off?
Toronto city council wants to improve health care for medically uninsured residents, especially those who avoid treatment because they lack immigration status in Canada. They can’t do it all directly, but on Thursday night, councillors voted 21-7 to ask the provincial government to strengthen access to basic health care programs for residents ineligible for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
Many refugees, undocumented residents, people who have lost their identification, and even permanent residents of Canada do not qualify for OHIP benefits. Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, says that expanding health care access is both humanitarian and practical. “Early intervention is almost always less costly than dealing with a more advanced illness later in its course,” he told council.
According to a Board of Health report on the medically uninsured [PDF], the most vulnerable of them are undocumented residents, many of whom avoid hospitals for fear of deportation. When these individuals do access emergency medical services, they are routinely billed several times more for services than insured residents. That too needs attention, say some. “The billing system needs an overhaul so that anyone can access health care at a fair price,” maintained Denise Gastaldo, associate professor at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, after council’s vote. “Today’s decision is a step in the right direction.”
Also among those who can’t access services: permanent residents, who are eligible for OHIP benefits, but only after a three month waiting period. Council has asked the province to eliminate this gap in service, citing the fact that permanent residents spend years going through the application process before being accepted, and that by the time they arrive here they have already met immigration requirements.
What is overwhelmingly evident is the leadership vacuum at City Hall. Throughout the debate, Mayor Ford wandered in and out of the chamber wearing his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, and seemingly more interested in how the hockey game might play out than a vital debate. (At one point the debate paused momentarily to the sound of whooping—it was the mayor, behind the scenes, responding to the Leafs’ first goal.) But he didn’t even have much to do with De Baeremaeker making a complete fool of himself, and compromising both truth and any sense of responsible transit planning (though he certainly is glad to trumpet subways any time anyone mentions them).
For her part, TTC Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence), having launched the whole process by backing De Baeremaeker’s pipe dreams, sat silently while the debate drifted further and further from any coherence and, by extension, possible support for any “plan” including her own ill-fated One City scheme from a few months ago. Rather than controlling the genie she let out of the bottle and getting three well-chosen wishes for her transit efforts, Stintz is revealed as a sorcerer’s apprentice who cannot control the blind forces she has unleashed.
Procedurally, there is one hope: any formal change to last fall’s LRT-based agreement between Toronto and Metrolinx would require a two-thirds majority of council to be reopened. This may block some of the more outrageous schemes for a time, but won’t undo the damage of a divisive, if-I-don’t-get-a-subway-I-won’t-play attitude on council, and on the residents across Toronto who are watching them spin out of control.
At Queen’s Park, the Tories must be rubbing their hands with delight at yet another chance to embarrass the Wynne government. Meanwhile, the NDP, utterly incapable of actually making a decision without weeks of polling and “conversation,” shows no coherent leadership, and the Liberals have to deal with a fifth column of anti-Wynne Scarborough MPPs.
Also writing at Torontoist, David Hains was critical of the entire process.
By a vote of 27-13, council voted to seize the revenue-tools file from Ford’s executive committee. The vote was very close; had the Ford team stalled for Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) to get back from a doctor’s appointment, they would have won. (Responding to this lapse in strategy, one City Hall staffer said, “Strategy? They couldn’t spell cat if you spotted them the ‘c’ and the ‘t’.”)
All of a sudden, De Baeremaeker’s idea to slap on a different transit line seemed grand to many councillors. So they added their own motions. James Pasternak really likes the idea of a subway on Sheppard Avenue, so he put that forward. Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) had his own ideas for the best transit routes. Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park), perhaps to prove a point, asked Milczyn about resurrecting the Jane Street light-rail route. Even Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), a world away on a trip to Rome, had a raft of motions introduced on his behalf.
Council had plunged down the rabbit hole, and was more than eager to add squiggles on maps. This was far from the rational, coordinated discussion about transit funding that Metrolinx had requested. In fact, it was up to the most quiet and mushy councillors to remind the room of its responsibilities. Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East) and Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) argued for sticking with the plan and following through on funding it. Ana Bailao (Ward 18, Davenport) spoke about the economic benefits of alleviating congestion, while the typically soft-spoken Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) expressed righteous indignation, which was refreshing, coming from her. By the time they were all done making pleas for reason Matlow had put together and distributed a fact sheet comparing the Scarborough options, distributing it to media and councillors alike.
But the bright spots were overshadowed by the silliness. Doug Ford falsely claimed light rail costs more than subways. The mayor referred to a dedicated transit fund as a “slush fund.” Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) claimed 80 per cent of people along Finch Avenue don’t pay their transit fares. Anthony Peruzza (Ward 8, York West) and Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre), carrying the NDP banner for Downsview, dismissed dedicated revenue tools in favour of asking the province to raise corporate taxes. Adam Vaughan jokingly proposed a levy on vinyl labels, which would hurt the Ford family business. Doug Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) clipped his nails on the council floor.
It was chaos, filled with self-serving and short-sighted politics, and it offered confirmation to any cynical viewpoints on City Hall. What was supposed to be a mature conversation about how Toronto must get to the next step in building public transit was, instead, the strongest possible evidence that oversight from Metrolinx is needed.
Livejournaler jsburbidge‘s post on the need for revenue tools of some kind to fund transit in the Greater Toronto Area is still a must-read, even after yesterday’s disastrous debate in Toronto city council.
I’m seeing pushback on the issue of revenue tools for public transit in the GTA which seems to boil down to “2 billion a year is a small part of the provincial budget. Surely they can find it through efficiencies or reallocation?”.
Well, they can’t. Maybe in a world in which no Harris tax cuts had taken place, but not here and now.
Most of the Ontario budget is tied up with education (mostly schools, some universities — 18.9%), health care(38.3%), Children’s Services(11.2%) and interest on the debt (10.6%). Much of the rest is tied up in fixed costs and programs such as welfare (Ontario Works, in newspeak). Even the courts take 4.1 Billion (3.2%).
When I look at the news, I see signs of all these areas being under considerable financial stress. Hospitals are struggling to meet their budgets; the TDSB has just been fingered as diverting most of a flow of funds intended to help disadvantaged children into general revenues to make ends meet, and universities are strapped for funds; the courts have unacceptable backlogs. It has been big news that the most recent budget has made the first structural improvements to Ontario Works since the Harris years.
Plus, the Ontario economy is still faltering, relative to the strength it had for decades, so revenues are not as high as they might be.
There are, of course, always inefficiencies, though fewer than some people might think. Some “inefficiencies” provide needed redundancies to allow systems to be able to handle variations in need that can surge unpredictably. (How much do we have to provide in the way of space capacity in case H7N9 starts to spread? How much would it take to clean up after a tornado hits some not-too-sparsely populated area, as one does every few years?) And some are one-time items: it’s all very well to point at ORNGE and E-Health, but (a) they’re in the past and (b) they’re over. (And E-Health was small change compared to the really big computerization / health care fiascos, like the one in the UK).
But even if a magic Revenue Fairy were to drop 2 billion dollars on the Ontario Government via “efficiencies”, how much would go to transit? Is transit more important than all those other underfunded areas?