Governing on the sly

While the speed of the news cycle these days means perceptions may change by the time this is published, news early this week of leaked documents that appear to show the Ontario government is well on its way to massive restructuring of the health care sector, without any sort of public consultation, bears watching.

On Monday, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath revealed new documents she claims show the province has essentially signed off on leaked health-care legislation that the Progressive Conservative government dismissed as “just a draft” last week.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Christine Elliott held a news conference to accuse the NDP of “fear mongering” and stated the material consisted of non-partisan public service documents that she had never seen. 

In the wake of this, an as-yet unnamed bureaucrat allegedly responsible for the leak has been fired and the government has called on the OPP to investigate.

This is just one of many befuddling moves from Queen’s Park of late, but with a government like this one, it appears wisest just to focus on the most potentially disruptive measures.

The bottom line is if the document breach has caused the government to backtrack on its plans (Elliott’s denials aside, these documents seem pretty legit and indicative of a process fairly far along) then the civil servant in question should probably have been promoted, rather than ousted.

Among the most ominous items contained in the documents were references to “outsourcing” of inspections, laboratories and licensing services.

Privatizing of laboratories during the Mike Harris era of Conservative government is, of course, one of the factors that led to the deadly Walkerton e-coli outbreak in 2000. 

In a rush to save cash through privatization, the Harrisites privatized lab testing without ensuring public health threats would be reported to the public health unit. The private lab, assuming they reported only to their ostensible employer, the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission, didn’t sound a wider alarm and seven people died and thousands got sick. 

It’s a bad idea to rush this kind of reform, especially when cost-cutting is the primary motive. Private labs were later required to report dangerous results to medical authorities, but that’s of little solace to the victims of the Walkerton debacle.


The one advantage to having Doug Ford as premier is that he can be cowed by strong public reaction. He’s had to climb down twice from indications he would allow for development in Ontario’s Greenbelt, claiming ironically each time that the Tories would never touch the protected tract. 


Ford also backed down and delayed the appointment of a questionably-qualified crony as commissioner of the OPP. 

Lucky for him and the OPP, as it turns out, because it’s hard to imagine how the force could credibly investigate a document leak by an opposing party with the premier’s personal pick at the helm.

As is often pointed out these days, elections have consequences, and there are many actions the Ford government will take that opponents will ultimately accept. 

But careless dismantling or partisan disgracing of institutions designed to protect public safety is not among them.