Union boss fires back at Ontario Premier after claim inspectors refused to work
OTTAWA -- The head of Ontario's public sector union says there should be firings and resignations at the highest levels of the province's ministry of long-term care, following a scathing report from the Canadian Armed Forces that outlined horrific conditions in several long-term care homes in the province.
Speaking on CTV Morning Live in Ottawa Friday morning, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president Warren "Smokey" Thomas said he finds it hard to believe Minister Merrilee Fullerton wasn't aware of the issues before the military report was released.
"I find it hard to imagine that Minister Fullerton wasn't aware," he said. "If she wasn't, then she needs to fire some people and if she was, I would join in the call that perhaps she should resign."
On Tuesday, a 15-page report by Canadian Armed Forces members, who were sent to help five long-term care homes in Ontario struggling to contain COVID-19 outbreaks, detailed horrific conditions inside four of the five homes.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the report "gut-wrenching" on Tuesday and promised to take full responsibility for the state of long-term care in the province. On Wednesday, Ford announced the government was taking over management of the five homes where the military was sent.
By Thursday, Ford was also pointing fingers of his own at unionized inspectors, who he claims were "refusing" to go in to homes to do inspections.
“I’m going to lay the chips on the table here,” Ford said at Queen's Park Thursday. “I’ve been taking bullets every day for the union. When I’ve been asked if they were doing telephone calls for inspections, well the truth of the matter is they were refusing to go into these homes.”
Ford's office released a letter from Thomas, dated April 22, in which Thomas says the number of inspectors is low and in-person inspections would not be helpful.
"While over-worked and frustrated, inspectors remain dutifully committed to their obligations amidst this pandemic. They continue to investigate what needs to be done to flatten the curve and save lives, despite the fact only 164 inspectors are on the job supporting 626 homes. Increased staffing levels are needed now," Thomas wrote.
"[W]e now understand that your government wants to have in-person inspections. Thanks to the low staffing levels and the inherent risks to multiple parties from such inspections, this plan is not only ill-advised, but not necessary. In-person inspections will not provide us with more information than we already have."
Thomas said phone inspections continued and they provided a level of safety for inspectors, front-line staff and residents.
Speaking to CTV Morning Live's Leslie Roberts, Thomas took issue with the claim inspectors were "refusing" to work.
"I don't think [Ford] deliberately lied, he was just absolutely incorrect," Thomas said. "There have been no inspections because management said, 'No, you're not to do inspections. You're to offer support by phone and track issues but the homes can choose to work with the inspector or not work with the inspector."
Thomas is asking the premier to apologize to inspectors.
"We wrote the premier on April 22, outlining concerns about going in and doing inspections and never once did any one of my members refuse to go in," he said. "I learned last night that on March 25, inspections were suspended by management in the ministry of long-term care and follow-up inspections were suspended. They were required to work by phone."
Thomas said the issues in long-term care didn't start with Ford and the Progressive Conservative government, but stretch back many years.
"I spent many hours fighting Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals over this and I guess I took the Tories at their word during this time here that they were trying to correct it," he said. "There has to be a full, transparent, independent inquiry into the long-term care system and only by going back and reviewing all the history, all the way back to Bob Rae, Mike Harris—all the people who started messing with the health-care system—can we fix it and then avoid anybody changing it back in the future."