Referendum: 98% against private, for-profit health care

GUELPH – The Guelph and District Health Coalition is pleased with the results of the referendum on health care the group – in conjunction with the larger Ontario Health Coalition – held last weekend.

The coalition is hopeful the government will hear the message that people value public health care and don’t want to see it privatized.

“This is an awareness campaign,” Barb Hogg, co-chair of the local health coalition, said in a phone interview after the referendum.

“We talked to so many people who are not aware of the what the government is doing and when they heard, they were shocked.”

In early May, the province passed Bill 60, legislation that allows some surgeries and diagnostic testing to be done in private clinics.

The reasoning behind the move is to address the backlog of surgeries as a result of COVID-19 and its impact on hospitals.

Many healthcare organizations say the move won’t address the backlog and will merely shift health professionals – already in short supply – out of hospitals to more lucrative private health care organizations.

“Bill 60 was passed so fast, most citizens didn’t know what was happening,” Hogg said in a follow-up email.

“Now as the news is getting out, people are astonished that this is happening.” 

The referendum asked the question, “Do you want our public hospital services to be privatized to for-profit hospitals and clinics? Yes or no.”

In Guelph and Wellington County, 11,085 people voted online, with 10,895 (98.2 per cent) voting no and 158 (1.4%) voting yes, while 32 (0.3%) of the ballots were spoiled.

“I’m very happy with that,” Hogg said with respect to voter turnout. 

“Volunteers led the referendum, and we didn’t have much time and much of that was spent arranging voting stations.

“With more time, more money, and more volunteers, we could have got the message out to more people.”

The local ballots were rolled in with the votes cast across the province on May 26 and 27 and on May 31, the ballots were delivered to the government at Queen’s Park.

The province-wide numbers mirror the local ones.

Of the 386,068 votes cast, 378,726 (98%) voted no and 7,001 voted yes (1.8%). There were 341 (.08%) spoiled ballots.

“We are unalterably opposed to the gutting and dismantling of our public hospitals and the privatization of them,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

“This is the beginning of what will be a relentless campaign to stop them from privatizing our public hospitals.

“We have no choice because once we lose them, I don’t know how we will get them back. It will be very difficult if not impossible to get them back.”

Mehra added, “They can dismiss, make fun, and suppress the actual ability of the people to vote.

“We know they are worried about this … If they try to ignore this, we will ratchet it up. We will not stop until they stop.”

Hogg said the local health coalition is seeking volunteers to help spread the message.

“You don’t have to work in healthcare to participate – you just have to care about the issues,” she said, adding the coalition is non-partisan.

“Whatever the government of the day, if they try to deplete our healthcare, we’re on it.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the Guelph and District Health Coalition on their Facebook page or by emailing