What a difference a day makes. After months of pressure on the Ontario Government, Local 79 and the NDP teamed up and finally got results.
In June, Local 79 was shocked to discover the Province’s plan to cut preventive dental services for children in low-income families. By removing preventive dental care services from the Ontario Public Health Standards, the province would potentially make over 15,000 children and youth in Toronto ineligible for provincially-funded oral health services.
On Monday, Local 79 President Tim Maguire joined MPP France Gélinas (NDP) for a press conference at Queen’s Park to call on the Liberal government to end the proposed cuts to children’s preventive dental services. Just as the press conference began making news, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath stood in Question Period to ask Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to justify her government’s plans to cut dental care for thousands and thousands of vulnerable children across the province [read the transcript here].
And then good news. As soon as Question Period ended, The Toronto Star received an email from Health Minister Eric Hoskins’ office stating: “Our government will ensure that no child will lose access to preventive dental services that they are currently eligible to receive.”
While it is a victory – because the Minister’s email shows a major shift in communication – the language still leaves room for ambiguity.
But now the Province knows cutting preventive dental health services for children will not sit well with the public – and that’s precisely why we need to keep the pressure on.
Please sign and share our petition urging the Province to maintain its funding for dental health services. And read on for our backgrounder on how we got here.
Changing government direction takes work.
In this case, our work started at the June 30, 2014 Board of Health meeting, where Local 79 raised concerns over the Ontario Government’s intention to remove dental prevention services from the Ontario Public Health Standards (OPHS) by August 2015.
The changes to the OPHS would mean that as of August 2015, publicly funded services would only be available to children and youth in families who could establish financial eligibility under the new integrated dental program.
Local 79 tracked this issue through many meetings and deputations at the Board of Health. Local 79 enlisted the help of City Councillors and our many community allies to put pressure on the Ontario Government to restore access to these preventive dental services for vulnerable children and youth. We even started a petition that we advertised online to help raise awareness of the issue.
Local 79 also urged the Medical Officer of Health to press the Province to keep dental prevention services in the OPHS and to consult broadly on both the impact of the planned consolidation of provincial dental programs for children and the impact of removing preventive services from the OPHS.
“Local 79 would urge the City of Toronto to work with communities, key stakeholders and other municipalities to push the province to reverse its decision to remove dental prevention services from the OPHS. We must work together to pressure the Province to make dental health a priority for all municipalities.” (Local 79, June 30, 2014 deputation)
At the Board of Health meeting on August 18, 2014, Local 79 strongly supported the Medical Officer of Health’s recommendation that the Province be urged to not follow through on changes to the OPHS that could potentially make over 15,000 children (in Toronto alone!) ineligible for provincially-funded oral health services.
We asked that the Medical Officer of Health contact regional counterparts in Ontario to alert them of the issue and to ask them to join in urging the Province to reconsider. This resulted in a Motion being passed at the meeting, which would forward the Medical Officer of Health’s report to the Association of Local Public Health Agencies.
Local 79 joined the Medical Officer of Health in pressing the Province to retain this coverage and advised that Local 79 would be contacting other health and community organizations in the city to make them aware of the proposed changes to the OPHS.
The November 17, 2014 Board of Health Meeting had the upcoming 2015 Board of Health Operating Budget Request on the agenda. Local 79 asked about the status of keeping preventative oral health services within the OPHS. The Province had still not answered the many inquiries from the Medical Officer of Health and Board of Health on this issue.
Throughout this period Local 79 kept the pressure on by contacting our community allies, City Councillors, Ontario New Democrats and health advocates.
The breakthrough came on Monday, December 8th, 2014, at a press conference held by the NDP calling on the government to end the proposed cuts to children’s preventive dental services. Shortly after our press conference, NDP leader Andrea Horwath stood up in Question Period in the House at Queen’s Park and asked Premier Kathleen Wynne to justify her government’s plans.
Health Minister Eric Hoskins responded by stating: “Our government will ensure that no child will lose access to preventive dental services that they are currently eligible to receive.”
This is a victory but we still have to wait for a firm government commitment on this issue – until then we will keep up the pressure.