Ontario moving public health labs out of public service

'Will hinder accountability, not help it.' - Leah Casselman


Toronto (13 Dec. 2006) - The Liberal government of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty plans to move the province’s public health labs out of the Ontario Public Service (OPS).

The government tabled a bill in the legislature Tuesday to create a new Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion.

It will operate at arm’s length from the ministry of long-term care and become the new employer of approximately 600 Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) members who currently work in public health labs.

Apart from lab work, the agency will be responsible for surveillance, epidemiology, research and knowledge exchange. It will also play a supporting role in the province’s emergency management system.

The government says it plans to pass the legislation by the spring and have the agency up and running by the 2008-09 fiscal year.

“It is not at all clear how moving our public health labs out of the OPS will in any way solve the biggest problem they face, which is years and years of underfunding,” says OPSEU president Leah Casselman.

“The various reports that have come out over the last few years have made it crystal clear that the public health labs are drastically short of people and equipment. That’s the problem that must be solved. Otherwise, the government is just shuffling deck chairs, not steering a new course.”

Casselman added that moving public health further away from ministry oversight would not increase democratic accountability.

“We support the integration of public health functions and the creation of the new agency as recommended by several blue-ribbon reports,” she said.

“That being said, moving the agency out of the Ontario Public Service will hinder accountability, not help it. We have seen with previous divestments – the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation comes to mind – that when things go wrong, the minister responsible has no way to take corrective action. Too often, ‘at arm’s length’ means ‘out of reach.’” NUPGE

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