SUDBURY, Ont. — Ontario New Democrats are making a health case for northern voters, promising faster medical travel reimbursement and more local health centers in their communities.
On Monday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath spoke about the region’s ‘highway health care problem’, accusing previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments of neglecting local health infrastructure needs. .
“You haven’t gotten your fair share on so many fronts,” she said during a campaign stop in Sudbury, Ont. “We are here to say you can get your fair share with a government that pays attention to your needs.”
If elected in June, the NDP said it would ensure residents won’t have to wait more than 14 days for reimbursement after health-related travel.
Horwath pledged to further “clean up” the Northern Health Travel Grant process, including increasing the amount of money people can claim, given that the cost of living is rising and is often more expensive in northern communities.
“Anything we can do to make life more affordable for northerners, we will,” she said.
Currently, residents traveling outside their community for health services can claim reimbursement at a rate of 41 cents per kilometer when traveling to a medical appointment and can claim $100 per night for a stay. two nights at the hotel.
France Gélinas, the party’s candidate in Nickel Belt and a former health critic in the Legislative Assembly, said the travel subsidy program is a source of weekly complaints to her office.
She said civil service cuts have led to wait times of up to six months for reimbursements, forcing some people to consider dropping their treatments, and claim amounts have not kept pace. inflation.
“The whole system fails people every day, and when you fail someone who needs medical treatment, you put their health and their recovery at risk,” she said. Gélinas said appropriate changes to the program could likely be made within a year of the NDP forming the government.
The party also made several promises to strengthen local health services and make health-related travel less necessary for people.
The NDP’s plan includes a promise to establish community health centers in Kenora, Cochrane and Sault Ste. Marie with services for Aboriginal and Francophone communities.
There is also a promise to “immediately” hire 300 doctors in the region, including 100 specialists and 40 mental health practitioners.
Another section on mental health and addictions promised to speed up approvals for more supervised consumption sites in the North and to fund mental health crisis centers in Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout and Sudbury.
The party also promises to expand French-language health services, restore and expand a midwifery program in Sudbury, and work on incentives to bring health care workers north.
Horwath said withholding health care will only work if the area is made more livable and affordable. His party also promises to invest more money in education in the North, make high-speed internet available by 2025, and build 6,000 affordable housing units and 3,600 supportive housing units in the region.
The party also promised to restore Northlander rail service. The rail line between Timmins and Toronto was canceled by a previous Liberal government in 2012 which cited the high costs of its subsidy.
Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford also this week repeated a 2018 campaign promise to bring the Northlander back, touting its importance in boosting the economy and helping people get to medical appointments.
Ford spent the weekend up north with stops in Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, and he is due in North Bay on Tuesday with the other party leaders for a debate on northern issues.
On Monday, flanked by four of her party’s northern candidates – including three incumbents – Horwath said she was not worried about Ford’s campaign in the territory where her party holds incumbents.
“I think Doug Ford is trying to experience the north for the first time,” she said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 9, 2022.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press