Battle over laid-off nurses reaches Queens Park

Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky at her constituency office, December 7, 2018. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

A local member of provincial parliament is demanding answers after a handful of public health nurses were laid off this week.

Windsor West MPP Lisa Gretzky rose at Queen’s Park Tuesday during question period, wanting to know what the PC government was going to do about nursing layoffs, such as the nine nurses given pink slips by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. Eight of the nurses had their positions cut, while the ninth was a job-share position.

Gretzky said the cuts in health care by the government were bad when the Liberals held power, and the PCs plan is only making matters worse.

“Our health care system was left hanging by a thread thanks to consistent underfunding at the hands of the Liberals, but now, the Conservatives are dragging us further backwards,” said Gretzky.

In response, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott said all public health units across Ontario are restructuring to ensure they are delivering vital services to residents in an efficient manner.

“This is something that goes back to several years to comments made by the Auditor General in a report in 2017,” said Elliott. “She indicated that our public health units were duplicating work and that they were not well-coordinated.”

Before asking a supplemental question, Gretzky accused Elliott of ignoring the fact that nurses were laid off. Elliott reiterated after Gretzky’s follow-up question that there are no changes in funding set until after January 1, 2020, but any funding increases would be capped at 10 per cent.

According to a statement posted on the official Facebook page of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) Local 8, which represents the public health nurses, the health unit confirmed to the union that the cuts were a result of decreased provincial funding.

“The funding was previously split 75-25 between the province and the municipality, but that funding equation is changing to 70-30,” said Barb Deter, president of ONA Local 8. “Our employer says it has been instructed to cut the budget by five per cent, and that means the loss of highly skilled and experienced public health nurses.”