'Have you talked to a nurse lately?': Health care at heart of Ontario election debate

WATCH: Ontario election: Green's Schreiner says nurses feel disrespected, overworked

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner took aim at Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, saying nurses felt “disrespected” and “overworked” under his leadership through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schreiner made the comments during the leaders’ debate Monday evening in Toronto.

“Have you talked to a nurse about how insulted they feel being called heroes and then essentially having their wages cut by having them frozen?” he said. “Mr. Ford, if you want to build capacity in our system you have to invest in the people that deliver our care and nurses are the backbone.”

Schreiner promised that, if elected, his party would scrap Bill 124, a piece of legislation that caps the salaries of public workers, including nurses.

“They deserve to have Bill 124 gone, they deserve to have the opportunity to negotiate fair wages and fair benefits,” he said. “You know, even their mental health care benefits were frozen, their entire benefit package was frozen.”

Both the NDP and Liberal Party have also vowed to repeal the bill if voted into power on June 2.

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Ford hit back, touting his party’s investments in hospitals, saying he doesn’t know where Schreiner was getting his “figures” from.

“We’re building new hospitals,” he said. “They want to work in a clean environment. There’s hospitals that were 80 years old, that were crumbling,” he said. “They want to work in a clean environment — and we’re building the hospitals.”

Ford also said his party would also fund nurses’ tuition fees if they work in an underserved area, and noted that his government gave personal support workers a $3-an-hour raise and are giving nurses a $5,000 retention pay bonus.

However, the other three leaders argued that repealing the legislation that capped the compensation increases of nurses and other public sector workers would help them more than giving them a one-time payment.

The remarks come on the heels of a report released by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario last week, which found that over 75 per cent of the country’s nurses are “burnt out.”

The survey also found 69 per cent said they are planning to leave their position within five years.

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Over 75% of Canadian nurses burnt out, RNAO survey finds

Ford also came under fire for his party’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca criticized Ford’s handling of the pandemic, including the decision to reopen in early 2021, and for implementing lockdown measures that limited access to outdoor parks.

“We didn’t get everything right, but every decision I made was with the best intention and best medical advice at the time,” Ford said.

He touted his government’s move to procure personal protective equipment for front-line workers.

“We’ll never rely on any other jurisdiction any other country in the world for PPE,” he said. “3M is manufacturing millions and millions of N95 masks, we have surgical masks, we have gown (and) we have face shields.”

Ford also hit back at Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, saying he worked on the province’s pandemic response “literally 24-7.”

“It’s easy to sit back from the sidelines when you didn’t have to make the tough decisions that I had to make and criticize,” he said. “You have the easiest job, to criticize.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said there are many people still suffering from COVID-19.

“Small businesses lost a lot, people lost loved ones,” she said. “We have to take care of folks mental health in this province.”

Horwath said her party has a plan to provide mental health care through people’s OHIP cards, “not their credit card.”

— with files from The Canadian Press.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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