The retention bonus announced by Doug Ford is nowhere near what Ontario nurses deserve. It's an insulting election gimmick he's using at their expense.
Recently I had the pleasure of leaving all of the hubbub of daily life and incessant noise of politics behind me for a few minutes when I was in a friend’s home while their grandchild was visiting. That weekend they were celebrating the baby’s first birthday. The little girl was clearly already working on her skills used to charm people. I know because her smile and interactions with her Papa won me over in mere moments.
Papa was playing peekaboo with his granddaughter using a blanket over his head. Anyone who is or has been a parent knows the games. Throw a blanket over your head and, lo and behold, the child thinks you’ve vanished. It’s a game where everyone wins because the child is entertained, and the adult is rewarded with angelic smiles and heartwarming laughter.
The renowned Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget is credited with identifying the stages of child cognitive (brain) development. Setting aside all of the psychological terminologies, we’ll focus on one particular stage for a moment, referring to experiences that any past or current parent has had.
We’ve all played peekaboo with a young baby, pulling a blanket over our head. Or we’ve shown a baby a toy then suddenly hidden it from view. With the blanket over the toy or your head, a very young child will think the item or you has vanished and no longer exists. But at some point in time, the child learns that the object or person is not actually gone, just hidden. They show this by learning to look for it under the blanket. Piaget called this stage of psychological development “object permanence”.
However, I’m starting to wonder if Doug Ford believes that the average Ontario voter’s psychological development is mired at the pre-object permanence stage. From the looks of the Conservative’s strategy leading up to the June 2nd election, it seems to me that Ford is assuming Ontario voters themselves are stuck in this stage. He is banking on the fact that as the next election approaches, people are seeing the government coffers begin to open more in an effort to win voter approval.
As a father, I’m sure he had a barrel of laughs when he popped his head up from under the blanket, making happy, silly faces to make his daughters laugh with glee. Similarly, now he’s betting that if he dangles the shiny new political gimmicks in front of voters, they won’t have the ability to remember the hardship he inflicted on them over the last four years, nor his political missteps and flip-flops. He is counting on voters to be like babies and not understand object permanence.
After first being elected, Doug Ford initially displayed his tough, bullish side. As an example, in November 2019, his government passed Bill 124, the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act. The act limits wages and salary for public sector employees, including nurses, to just 1 percent. Public sector workers and unions felt that they were being targeted simply for the political gain of the government. No private-sector unions or workers were handcuffed in the same way. Ontario nurses were and still are among the lowest paid in the country. Nursing associations and unions predicted that workers would quickly start to check out horizons in other provinces where such wage limitations did not exist. A mass exodus was predicted and has since proven out to be true.
Then along came the pandemic. The years of cuts by successive Liberal and Conservative governments meant that hospitals were already working short-handed before the pandemic—a truly catastrophic decision by both governing parties. When COVID-19 set in, demands upon nurses became unsustainable. The result has been a mass exodus of healthcare workers and nurses who vow they have left the vocation permanently. No matter how much Doug Ford hit the airwaves and presses, hailing Ontario nurses as real-life heroes, the government demonstrated its true priorities by limiting the nurses’ current and future wage increases.
Now, in the eleventh hour before the election, the Ford government announced with great fanfare that it was offering Ontario nurses a one-time $5K retention bonus. Even more telling is that those who qualified for the bonus would only be paid half before and half after the June election.
Um, could Ford have been just a bit more obvious that this is an election gimmick?
Doug Ford thinks Ontario nurses and voters are still back in the object permanence level of Piaget’s sensorimotor stage like infants. “Oh, wow! Look here, kids! See, here is the money. It’s magic!” He hopes that all of those cuts to healthcare and hospitals and the slap in the face of Ontario nurses will vanish from voters’ minds. He is counting on them to just focus on what is in front of them now.
Ontario needs to get serious about recognizing the life-saving work that nurses and healthcare workers do. They have made incredible, selfless sacrifices to care for the sickest Ontarians during the pandemic. But unfortunately, too many nurses have already burned out and had to walk away for the good of their family and personal wellbeing because their working conditions are so bad. There are so few nurses on every shift that they’re always run off their feet.
Doug Ford must immediately revoke his low-wage policy, Bill 124, and show nurses the respect they deserve.
The job retention announcement by the Ford government is nowhere near what nurses deserve. On the contrary, it’s an insult that Doug Ford is turning a retention bonus into an election gimmick. And while it does little to retain nurses, it does nothing at all to recruit new nurses or return nurses who have already left. Nurses deserve the cheque Ford is sending them — but they also deserve a lot more. Ford fails to recognize that Ontario nurses care for patients and keep our health system functioning. Our nurses deserve recognition and better pay too.
A health care system without enough nurses is a broken system. It just won’t work! For decades the situation has been getting worse. Fortunately, however, the NDP has a plan to fix it.
Talking to the people of Algoma–Manitoulin, they tell me that Ontario needs universal, free healthcare, pharmacare and dental care. They know that quality care leads to quality of life, better health and overall prosperity and happiness. So my NDP colleagues and I will always work to improve and expand health services to people that need them most and respect the workers who deliver that care.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député