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The Maple recently presented research showing that board members at Toronto hospitals are largely wealthy and Conservative. Out of 668 board positions, more than 25 per cent of the individuals involved are donors to Ontario’s governing Progressive Conservative Party, compared to 7.7 per cent who are Liberal donors and just 2.6 per cent who are NDP donors.
Similarly, 16 per cent are donors to former Toronto mayor John Tory (from 2018 to 2022) compared to less than one per cent who were donors to progressive challengers during that same period.
Why are the political affiliations of these board members important, and how might they impact the healthcare system? We explore this in more detail in today’s article.
How Hospital Boards Work
Hospital and hospital foundation boards operate under Ontario’s Public Hospitals Act. While the Ministry of Health has oversight of hospitals, the government is not responsible for appointing board members.
The composition of boards falls to each institution’s governance bylaws under Ontario's Not-for-Profit Corporations Act. Despite the boards themselves being officially non-partisan, board members skew Conservative, as our research shows.
In fact, we found just one board in Toronto that did not have a Progressive Conservative donor.
A Time For Scrutiny
Canada’s health system has attracted international scrutiny in recent years.
In particular, prominent global health experts called for a public inquiry into Canada’s inequitable response to the COVID-19 crisis. A scathing editorial from The British Medical Journal recently said that “The picture that emerges is an ill prepared country with outdated data systems, poor coordination and cohesion and blindness about its citizens’ diverse needs.”
The editorial outlined how poor government responses and jurisdictional squabbling led to unnecessary deaths and other dire outcomes.
In Ontario, rates of COVID-19 hospital admissions and deaths were three times higher in the province’s lowest-income neighbourhoods. In Toronto, 69 per cent of individuals who reported having COVID said they belonged to a racialized group. The majority were Black or South Asian.
The hospital board members who hold power over how healthcare is delivered are overwhelmingly made up of people who continue to finance the parties and individuals who run the same governments that oversaw these negative outcomes.
While hospital board members have largely stayed quiet instead of demanding accountability from the Ford government, it has fallen to health worker unions, community advocates and professionals to speak out against the damage caused by cuts and privatization.
Donations are only one type of connection between political parties and hospital board members.
While there are some faces from the Liberal Party on these boards — like former premier David Peterson and former deputy premier Deb Matthews — there is a larger presence of former Conservative politicians.
Christine Elliott was recently appointed to the board of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), after serving as Ford’s deputy premier and health minister. Former Conservative Party of Canada president John Walsh sits on the board at North York General Hospital. Stephen Harper’s former minister of transportation, Lisa Raitt, sits on Baycrest Foundation’s board. Retired Conservative senator Nicole Eaton is a director on the board for St. Michael’s Foundation.
As a former health minister, Elliott is directly responsible for many of the recent provincial policies that have thrown the health care system into crisis, and will now serve on a board that is grappling with challenges that she herself created.
Raitt, meanwhile, was embroiled in several scandals while in office. This included a leaked tape in which she described the isotopes crisis at the time as “sexy” and wanted credit for solving it. She was criticized for not responding effectively to the crisis, which in turn impacted cancer treatment across the country.
Another key tenet of a board member’s role is a fiduciary responsibility to the hospital or hospital foundation they serve. However, many board members have business or financial interests that benefit from privatized health care solutions and Ford’s policies specifically.
Conservative donor Sabrina Fiorellino sits on the board of Humber River Health and is CEO of Fero International, a life sciences company that provides health care infrastructure solutions. According to the public database Open Corporates, Fero evolved from a private numbered company that was in the process of dissolving in 2019.
By October 2020, several months into the COVID-19 crisis, the company had expanded and renamed itself to Fero International Inc. This summer, Fero was one of six companies granted $500,000 from the Ontario government’s Life Sciences Innovation Fund.
Fiorellino featured prominently alongside her local MPP Neil Lumsden and Minister of Economic Development Vic Fedeli in a press tour promoting the fund. During that tour, Fedeli emphasized the impact of the government co-investing in life sciences alongside private investors.
Galen Weston, president of Loblaws and a Sunnybrook Hospital board member, has seen his company's subsidiary Shoppers Drug Mart benefit from Ford’s attention. During the early days of COVID-19, Ford tapped Weston to provide rapid tests at Shoppers locations. This year, Ford expanded the scope of a pharmacist’s ability to prescribe certain medications, coming after Shoppers spent years lobbying for the policy.
Loblaws is also an investor in the health care app Maple, which advertises access to “online doctor consultation[s] in minutes” for a monthly fee.
Maple has become a rapidly growing business while facing scrutiny from Health Canada. Addressing growing concerns over Maple’s pricing services, Health Canada spokesperson Anne Génier reiterated in January the province’s responsibilities under the Canada Health Act to cover all medically necessary services.
"Health Canada is always concerned when a patient is charged to access a service that would be insured if provided in person by a physician," said Génier.
Additionally, another investor in Maple is the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), which has 21 executives sitting on various Toronto hospital boards.
In fact, one-quarter of all hospital and foundation board members hail from the financial sector, and half of these are either donors to Ford’s Conservatives or former mayor John Tory.
For example, Gerald Schwartz sits on the Board at Mount Sinai, is a Conservative donor and is the founder of Onex Corporation. In July 2021, Onex announced that it had acquired Newport Healthcare, a private American firm.
Ronald Sedran is a managing director at Canaccord Genuity, a board member at Humber River Health Services Foundation and a Conservative donor. Canaccord is a capital investment firm whose clients and investment areas include biopharmaceuticals, biotechnology, diagnostics and “Digital & Tech Enabled Health.”
While board members are not paid for their positions, some Conservative donors have benefited from the health care crisis while simultaneously driving the priorities of hospitals and foundations. While some members reap professional, business and financial rewards from the situation, it is patients who end up paying the price.
A deeper dive into today's story - exclusively for subscribers.
Since we recently had a Members' Corner section dedicated to health care privatization in Ontario, I'm going to focus parts of today's edition on other examples of data journalism from The Maple and elsewhere.
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