Ford gives Ajax MPP’s Long Term Care portfolio to Legislative Affairs Minister, who will pull double duty

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Published January 17, 2022 at 1:47 pm

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Premier Doug Ford has replaced Ajax MPP Rod Phillips as Minister of Long Term Care with Paul Calandra, who will be expected to run the LTC portfolio and his current position as Minister of Legislative Affairs, following Phillips’ resignation from cabinet.

As a distinct portfolio, the Ministry of Long Term Care is one of the newest additions to Cabinet. Long Term Care homes in Ontario were overseen directly by the Minister of Health until 2019 when the Health and Long Term Care portfolios were split in two  by the Ford government.

The first person to hold the distinct Long Term Care position was Merrilee Fullerton, MPP  Kanata-Carleton, who was appointed to the role in June 2019 amid a steep rise in COVID-19 cases in LTC facilities.

During her tenure Fullerton oversaw devastation in Long Term Care, per a Canadian Armed Forces report after the military was brought in to assist overwhelmed LTC homes less than two into her time on the portfolio.

The report details unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the five Long Term Care homes the military was brought in to support. Pickering’s Orchard Villa, for example, was cited as having cockroaches and flies present as the smell of rotting food pervaded the air.

Poor quality of care was also noted in Orchard Villa, and across the private LTC sector. Unsafe medication distribution, unfollowed hydration schedules, neglect allowing patients to remain in soiled diapers, and injuries to patients, such as from falls, that were not investigated were all cited in the report.

Also detailed were cases of improper positioning of patients as they were fed, which contributed to the choking death of an Orchard Villa resident.

Many of these issues were also cited in an exhaustive 426-page Long Term Care Commission Report which also detail “chronic” understaffing, “inadequate” funding and “weak and ineffective” ministry oversight.

The LTC Commission report was released April 30, 2021. Fullerton was shuffled off the LTC portfolio June 18 and replaced with Ajax MPP Rod Phillips, formerly Minister of Finance. Roughly 4,000 Long Term Care residents died over the course of the pandemic by this time, many of whom died from neglect rather than COVID-19, per the report.

Phillips had been in exile from Cabinet for six months by the time he was assigned the LTC Ministry, following his resignation from the Finance portfolio after a secret vacation to the Caribbean island of St Barts over Christmas 2020. Phillips broke Canadian travel restrictions to fly to his Bahaman getaway, during which Ontario entered a second lockdown.

During Phillips tenure as LTC Minister, the Ford Government passed the Fixing Long Term Care Act in October which committed to increasing direct care hours for patients from 2.5 to 4 hours a day, among other investments in care by 2025.

The legislation came amid a government push to invest $6.4 billion into Long Term Care with the goal of creat 30,000 LTC beds by 2028.

However, Philips and the Ford government have come under fire from the opposition for putting potentially millions of those dollars into privately run homes, some of which were excoriated in the LTC Commission and CAF reports.

Phillips resigned from cabinet for the second time last Friday after roughly seven months running the LTC Ministry. He said in a statement he resigned when he did to allow Ford and the Progressive Conservatives time to appoint a new Ajax candidate to face off with former Mayor Steve Parish in June.

Shortly after Phillips’s announcement, the Ontario government announced he was folding the LTC portfolio back into another minister’s purview, but this time not the Minister of Health.

This time Calandra would take on the LTC responsibilities in addition to his role and Minister of Legislative Affairs and Government House Leader.

Calandra has served as the MPP of Markham-Stouffville since 2018, running for provincial parliament after an unsuccessful bid for a Federal seat. He initially served a minister without portfolio, but was later promoted to Legislative Affairs in 2021.

“As our government’s lead voice at Queen’s Park helping to move forward important legislation, including the recently-passed Fixing Long-Term Care Act, Minister Calandra is a trusted voice at the Cabinet table,” Ford said in the announcement.

However the opposition was less enthused about combining these roles. “Families and experts are shocked that you would make this a part time job,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. “I am calling on you to not only commit to a new dedicated Minister but a plan of action to address the crisis unfolding in LongTerm Care.”

“As I write this, there are 2,363 residents in longterm care infected with COVID19 literally 100 times the number of cases just a month ago. Nearly 4,000 staff are also reporting infection,” she said.

Currently over half (55.3 per cent) of Ontario’s Long Term Care homes are in active COVID-19 outbreak. Only 77 home across the province are reporting zero cases.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Long Term Care homes since the onset of the Omicron variant.

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