[Ontario] North takes share of hits from budget – by Brian MacLeod (Sudbury Star – March 29, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper and Brian MacLeod is the managing editor.  [email protected]

A few hours before Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan boasted in a release that his government’s budget had made a commitment to health care, six ambulances and 12 paramedics were kept waiting at Health Science North’s ER department in Greater Sudbury because there was no one to take control of their patients.

“We choose strong health care, with the lowest wait times in Canada . . . and better access to doctors and nurses,” Duncan said in his release.

Tell that to the doctors and nurses in Sudbury’s ER, where the head of the department recently warned that long wait times, often due to lack of available acute-care beds, are causing doctors to leave the city and nurses to transfer elsewhere and may be compromising patients’ health.

Tuesday’s budget didn’t make that situation any worse, but neither did it do much to help.

A freeze on hospital base funding doesn’t bode well for the problems facing northern hospitals. A 4% increase for home care might free up some acute-care beds, but it will not resolve overwhelming problems such as the one Sudbury faces.

Still, Northern Ontario survived Tuesday’s austerity budget intact, with the exception of the province’s decision to dismantle the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, leaving the status of 950 jobs in question. The ONTC provides rail, bus and communications services in the North. Some services will be contracted out, others privatized.

That announcement came Friday, leaving jaws dropped all over Northern Ontario, especially in North Bay, which has the ONTC’s headquarters and where about half the commission’s staff are based.

Reactions there ranged from shop-worn rhetoric ( “the loss of even one job will be one job too many,” Mayor Al McDonald said), to columnist John R. Hunt’s assertion that the Liberals were being “vindictive” over the Conservative takeover of the riding at the provincial and federal levels.

Curiously, Nipissing Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli who heaped scorn on the budget, avoided the ONTC in his budget response. Might well be because the Harris Conservatives were going to axe the commission until Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty appeared in the riding during a 2002 byelection and signed a pledge not to kill the ONTC. The North Bay Nugget helpfully published a photo of that pledge-signing last week to remind the Liberals of that promise.

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