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More than 1,800 people died of COVID-19 in Ontario’s long-term care homes. The botched pandemic response of these homes and the Ford government have left over 1,800 families anxious for answers.

If you haven’t already, I recommend you read about the military report that first exposed the horrific conditions in these nursing homes.  Cockroach infestations, soiled residents left screaming for hours, and under-staffed facilities where workers are forced to reuse masks. The details are sickening.

On Wednesday, the Ford government launched the official investigation into what went wrong in our long-term care system. Many are under the impression that this probe is a public inquiry, but it is far from that and here’s why it matters.

The “independent commission” initiated this week has some key differences from a public inquiry. For starters, the commission’s hearings are not required to be public, they can be held in private. The commissioners are also not required to come up with any recommendations. Most importantly, the commission is prevented from making any conclusions on criminality – meaning no one responsible will be held accountable.

While the commission will be empowered to compel people to testify, those hearings will likely be held behind closed doors. The recommendations, if any, will likely be timid. Most importantly, no politician and no corporate executive will be held criminally accountable.

The commission is nothing but a show trial, where no one is responsible, and everyone is to blame. The result of the commission is all but a foregone conclusion: a return to business as usual for the players in the province’s troubled long-term care industry.

Much of the worst outbreaks in Ontario took place in the for-profit nursing homes scattered across our province. In Ontario, 57 per cent of nursing homes are for-profit – the highest rate among all provinces. The COVID-19 death rate at for-profit homes has been four times that of public ones.

The corporations behind these for-profit homes have been accused of neglect and inadequate response measures in lawsuits filed by family members of deceased residents. Many of the worst hit homes had not been keeping up with modern building codes, and you guessed it, most of them were for-profit.

These corporations say they were caught off guard by the pandemic, but anyone who is familiar with Ontario’s long-term care largely privatized long-term care could see something bad was coming.

The horror was only compounded by the Ford government’s policy choices. At the height of the outbreaks, it was revealed that Ford had scrapped practically all full inspections of nursing homes last year. Nursing home corporations were left to operate as they wished with little oversight.

As the long-term care outbreaks raged on, the Ford government used emergency powers to grant for-profit nursing home companies their policy wishlist – suspending rules meant to protect seniors in long-term care. The emergency order removed training requirements, permitted homes to bring in volunteers and eliminated complaint reporting requirements.

The culpability of for-profit nursing home corporations should be at the forefront of any investigation. How the Ford government contributed to this mess should be as well.

I’m doubtful, however, that these parties and the relationship between them will be sufficiently investigated by this “independent” commission. Even if it is investigated, we may never know or hear about it and the commission does not have the power to do anything about it.

More than a thousand kilometres away in Halifax, the families of those killed in the Nova Scotia massacre celebrated a victory. The federal government has finally committed to a public inquiry, instead of a commission, to investigate the deaths of their 22 family members.

Even Walkerton, where 7 people died, resulted in a public inquiry. 

Meanwhile, here in Ontario, Doug Ford does not view the deaths of 1,800 of our seniors as worthy of a full public inquiry. The real question is, what’s he got to hide?

Tell us what you think!

Every week we’ll be including a question for you. We want to hear about your thoughts on the issues we’re discussing. The top responses will then be included in next week’s newsletter.

POLL: Should Ontario be conducting a public inquiry or is a commission sufficient?

While you weren’t looking.

The over-looked news of the week.

  • A migrant worker who sounded the alarm about massive COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario farms has been fired. The worker’s bunkmate died in that outbreak, however, his whistleblowing has exposed the hidden pandemic among migrant workers. The whistleblower now faces being deported back.
  • The Ford government has released its back to school plan. Teachers’ unions had estimated that a safe re-opening would require $3.2 billion in new funding for more staff and supplies. The Ford plan only adds about $300 million for these measures. Parents and teachers say the plan abandons students by prioritizing frugality over safety.  

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