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Paramedics prepare to transfer a COVID-19 patient from Brampton Civic Hospital to Halton Health Care on May 25, 2021.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is skipping public hearings and limiting debate on contentious legislation that would allow patients who no longer need hospital care to be enrolled in a long-term care home not of their choosing without consent, although it forbids the use of physical restraints.

Premier Doug Ford’s majority government passed a motion Monday morning to bypass the committee process, including the ability for the public to address MPPs about the proposed legislation, and restrict remaining debate to two hours. In speeding up the debate process, the legislation could pass as early as Wednesday.

Long-Term Care Minister Paul Calandra said the proposed More Beds, Better Care Act, introduced as part of the government’s broader plan to tackle what the government has called “urgent pressures” facing the province’s health care system, is intended to open up hospital long-term care beds for patients waiting for them. There are an estimated 2,000 people in hospital currently waiting to be discharged to a home of their choosing, according to Mr. Calandra.

“We have said the status quo is not an option,” Mr. Calandra said during Monday’s Question Period. “Experts agree that the best place for somebody who has been discharged from hospital, who is on the long-term care home waiting list to wait for their preferred home of choice, is in a long-term care home, not in a hospital bed.”

But opposition parties and long-term care advocates have taken issue with the legislation, charging that it could force patients to live far from their families and caregivers. Although the bill says patients wouldn’t be physically transferred without their consent, hospitals have the ability to charge the uninsured rate to those who refuse to be discharged to a particular home, which could be upward of $1,800 a day.

The Opposition NDP held its own public hearing Monday with dozens of concerned advocates, calling on the government to withdraw the bill and instead focus on improving the system by hiring more health care workers.

Shelley Birenbaum, board member for long-term care advocacy group Concerned Friends, said the legislation unfairly targets seniors and puts the onus on long-term care homes.

“It forces the problem onto a sector that is under-resourced, understaffed and forces people to go to a home they don’t want,” she said.

Ontario Long Term Care Association chief executive Donna Duncan has said the system is currently facing an unprecedented work-force shortage and more staff will be required to meet the growing demand, with a current wait list of about 40,000 people.

Interim Opposition NDP leader Peter Tabuns said the government’s move to fast-track the bill was undemocratic and that it should instead hold hearings to allow front-line workers and the families of people in hospital awaiting long-term care to speak.

“The government should have the decency to do that,” Mr. Tabuns said. “They should have the respect for democracy to do that.”

Mr. Tabuns also said it was common for this government to cut off debate on its bills. Pushing this one through in August, when many Ontarians are on vacation, he said, was “profoundly anti-democratic.”

In its first term, the government fast-tracked 11 bills by forgoing public hearings, including the legislation to reduce the size of Toronto City Council shortly after taking office.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the bill is unfair as it could force people to need to travel further to visit their loved ones. He said moving someone to a home even just 30 minutes away could be detrimental if a spouse in their 80s needs to drive that distance on a major highway for daily visits.

Mr. Fraser said he heard from “informed” sources that patients could be enrolled in a home up to 300 kilometres away from their preferred home in Northern Ontario, up to 100 kilometres away across the rest of the province and up to 30 kilometres away in cities.

But the government refuted these claims and said guidelines outlining how far a home can be from a patient’s preferred choice have yet to be determined and would be available a week after the legislation were to pass.

In a statement, Mr. Calandra’s press secretary Jake Roseman said there will be consultations with long-term care homes and associations to “inform the new regulations around geographic distance and field guidance.”

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