Ontario Premier Doug Ford visited areas around Muskoka, addressing some hot topics while also drawing a crowd of protesters in Bracebridge on March 1.
Ford went to Kimberly Clark in Huntsville to talk to them about job creation with Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller. Ford also spoke to local media for a short period during a stop at Westside Fish and Chips. He addressed questions about healthcare, the Bala Falls hydro project, the school board hiring freeze and the promised passenger rail included in the Plan for the People of Northern Ontario from Ford’s election campaign. Ford later attended a sold-out spaghetti dinner at the Bracebridge Legion from 6 to 8 p.m.
During the question period with media, he addressed the government announcement of major changes to Ontario’s healthcare system through the merge of 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and six provincial health agencies into one organization called Ontario Health.
“The number one issue I heard right across the province traveling and talking to doctors and nurses and front line healthcare workers is get rid of these LHINs, get rid of these silos,” Ford said. “That’s what we’re doing and why we’re getting rid of these silos.”
He refused suggestions that the consolidation was the start of healthcare privatization and said that the government will ensure to maintain and invest in the hospitals in Huntsville and Bracebridge.
Ford said that despite promises to stop the Bala Hydro project, they were unable follow through as the work was too far along and it would cost penalties of over $20 million. However, he said that $5 million will go toward flood prevention in the area.
He also answered questions about the Ontario Ministry of Education’s recommendation that school boards institute a hiring freeze prior to the announcement of the provincial budget. Ford said the government is in contact with school districts and the minister of education and that school boards would get an update soon.
As for a passenger rail through Muskoka, the premier said that the government is doing everything possible to make sure the project is sustainable this time around, but Miller said he does not expect the passenger rail to receive much funding due to the government budget deficit.
During the spaghetti dinner that evening, witnesses said that about 25 people were protesting outside the Bracebridge Legion during the event. A Facebook event called “Urgent! Call to action Bracebridge” was made by Bracebridge resident Cait Cooke.
“Let’s show Doug and Norm that we are not okay with the direction this party is taking us,” read the Facebook event. “With the attacks on Workers, Labour, Healthcare, Education, Students, Children..the list goes on. It’s more important than ever that we all work together to stop this government from taking this Province backwards.”
Protesters said that Ford did not speak with them upon arriving at the dinner. Representatives from Women’s March Muskoka, Parry Sound-Muskoka Decent Work Network and teachers from the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario attended the protest. They stood across the street from the venue and when some protesters crossed the street to the Legion parking lot, they were ushered away, said Michelle Emson, chapter ambassador with Women’s March Muskoka, to Country 102.
“We were across the street,” she said. “We really chose not to engage with security. That was not our role. Our invitation was for Premier Ford to come out and have a chat with us and have a listen to our concerns and issues and unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
Earlier this week, Ford told CP24 that he was going to Muskoka ”to talk to the real people,” but Emson said she doesn’t believe he did so at the Bracebridge Legion.
See photos of the protesters below. Photos courtesy of Country 102.