Photo Credit: Vlada Karpovich via Pexels

Canada had a relatively low COVID mortality rate compared to other OECD countries, but residents in Long-Term Care (LTC) died in disproportionately high numbers. To be clear, it’s not that COVID killed LTC residents in greater numbers here than it did young people because older people were more susceptible. It’s that LTC residents in Canada died in vastly higher percentages than LTC residents in other OECD countries.

Canada’s long-term care problems extend beyond Ontario, but our country was uniquely dangerous for seniors in LTC compared to other similar nations, and Ontario was and is a particularly dangerous province. In Ontario, seniors in for-profit LTCs were substantially more lethal.

Doug Ford’s ministers didn’t do much for LTCs when the virus hit in 2020. The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Long-Term Care submitted their reports, memos, and briefing notes concerning COVID-19 and long-term care to the CBC, which determined it sat back and was ill-prepared.

By May of 2021, 70% of all COVID deaths in Ontario were in LTC settings. This number has only gone up.

Doug Ford promised an “iron ring” around LTCs on March 30, 2020. He did not create one. A 2021 report by the Canadian Armed Forces led to widespread outcry as a picture emerged of seniors dying preventable deaths in “horrifying” conditions. Think cockroaches, dehydration, patients with ulcers neglected in beds, staff wearing contaminated gear. The backlash was so intense even Doug Ford promised an investigation and accountability. He had said the investigation was already underway, when in reality it had never begun and would never begin.

Instead, Doug Ford rushed to create a law protecting privately-owned LTCs from lawsuits. He claimed the law would protect all businesses from unnecessary lawsuits that could bankrupt them. That explanation seems a little convenient given the conservative connections to privately-owned LTCs.

For example, the former Conservative Party leader Mike Harris has sat on Chartwell’s board since 2004, and has made great piles of cash by reducing regulations and oversight. IE, cuts made prior to COVID resulted in LTCs being so deadly when the pandemic struck.

For-profit LTCs hire lobbyists with conservative ties. Current MPP Melissa Lantsman was a registered lobbyists for Extendicare. The list goes on. The revolving door between the conservative party and for-profit LTCs is such that the LTC’s failures are Ford’s failures, too.

The Liberals also deserve blame for overseeing the privatization of LTC for 15 years. This isn’t all on Doug Ford, but this is a story about governments deliberately sacrificing elderly Canadians’ quality of life for shareholder profits, a pattern that Doug Ford repeats so often, it’s about the only approach he knows.

Abandoning seniors was just the first stroke.

The federal government donated COVID tests to Ontario that somehow people never received unless they were students in private schools, and instead, for months, people paid Shoppers Drug Mart and other pharmacies $30 or $40 for a rapid test countries like the UK, US, and Germany made free or inexpensive (say, $4). (Ontario Pharmacies only began handing out boxes of free rapid tests weeks before the provincial election.)

By approaching the pandemic as a money-making opportunity for government insiders instead of treating it primarily as a public health crisis to solve, the Doug Ford government ended up relaying COVID tests to the very communities least likely to get COVID, and neglected communities that needed support the most.

This is a mutually reinforcing cycle: COVID initially spread in poorer, non-white communities because people there were more likely to work in-person jobs that couldn’t be done remotely. Existing systemic injustices made “frontlines heroes” more susceptible to getting the disease. But because Doug Ford governs primarily for the wealthy, poor people had to fend for themselves, which inevitably resulted in them getting COVID in higher rates while getting no to little government support.

Doug Ford refused to give working people paid-time-off, which experts said was required so workers with COVID symptoms could stay home rather than risk spreading the disease because they couldn’t afford to not work for a day. Ontario workers had more paid-time-off before the pandemic than during it.

Vaccination rates were initially lowest in communities where spread was highest. This pattern repeats itself and has done so throughout the pandemic.

It may sound like a cliché or oversimplification to say Doug Ford repeatedly put profits above people’s lives. I am confident that the more you read about his failings, the truer it will seem. This, despite his platitudes about representing ordinary people.

The idea that “frontlines heroes” were so actively neglected by this government, left to fend for themselves while the premier essentially handed over control to lobbyists and tycoons…it’s heartbreaking and unconscionable.

I half-joke that the media backlash was fiercer when a few young people tweeted “OK, boomer” in 2019 than when seniors died in appalling conditions under Doug Ford, who reacted by changing nothing except to further cement the dangerous conditions. We need to reckon with the underlying lethal economics behind our lethal long-term care centres. Indeed, conservative ministers were buying stocks in for-profit long-term care centres during the pandemic, while Doug Ford handed out millions of tax dollars to upgrade for-profit LTCs and changed laws to let LTCs increase their rates for rooms and charge extra for private ones.

The profiteers are already inside the government; they must be voted out in June.