'An independent non-partisan commission is the best way to conduct a thorough and expedited review'
Ontario will be launching an independent commission into Ontario's long-term care system beginning in September that will provide the government with guidance on how to improve the system and better protect residents and staff from any future outbreaks.
"Our government has been clear that we will review the long-term care system to get a better understanding of the impacts and responses to the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Merrilee Fullerton, minister of long-term care. “We have been clear the long-term care system in Ontario is broken. We must act quickly and decisively, and that is why an independent non-partisan commission is the best way to conduct a thorough and expedited review.”
The government will be finalizing details of the commission – including terms of reference, membership, leadership of the commission and reporting timelines – over the next several months.
However, workers’ union SEIU Healthcare said that a full public inquiry is needed “now, not later” and that the families of frontline workers “deserve the truth that only a public inquiry can reveal”.
“The 1,400 families who lost loved ones in Ontario's nursing homes deserve better than a political process designed to hide the failures of Doug Ford's government and his friends like Mike Harris who run for-profit long-term care corporations,” said the union.
Earlier this month, the union called on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to immediately commission a public inquiry, pursuant to section 3 of the Public Inquiries Act, to investigate the deaths of residents and frontline workers in long-term care facilities in the province.
SEIU Healthcare also said that the commission “can be neither truly independent, nor effective if it is not structured as a full public inquiry.”
The union noted that the act contains clear provisions about the powers and independence of a public inquiry and the commission that oversees it, and notes that a commission is not independent if the government refuses to allow it to make its own rules and processes (Section 7).
A commission is also not independent if the government determines which information is relevant to its mandate (Section 8); if the government restricts its ability to compel witnesses to participate in the Public Inquiry and issue summons for witnesses to testify under oath (Section 10); and if the government removes its ability to use broad search powers, backed up by warrants, to collect information relevant to the inquiry (Section 13).
A public inquiry means a commission may hold public hearings, but only if authorized in the order creating the Inquiry (Section 14), according to the act.
“We need a public inquiry now, before a second wave of COVID-19 hits our communities,” said SEIU Healthcare. “Delaying a public inquiry puts lives at risk."
Recently, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) recommended the provincial government to return long-term and home care to the public sector as a publicly funded and integrated system.