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Ontario Premier Doug Ford hold a news conference in Brampton, Ont., on March 26, 2021.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Doug Ford committed funding to plan for a new emergency room at an existing health care facility in Brampton, Ont., on Sunday, as NDP Leader Andrea Horwath promised to bring in a $1.15-billion-a-year mental health care system.

The state of the province’s COVID-19-weary health care system is expected to be a major issue in the campaign for the June 2 provincial election, already unofficially under way. Ontario hospitals, which have long operated closer to the bone with fewer spare beds than other jurisdictions, were strained to the breaking point during the pandemic. Mr. Ford has pledged to spend $21-billion over 10 years renovating and expanding them.

But many experts and doctors interviewed for a recent Globe and Mail investigation on the state of the health care system say funding new beds is only one part of the solution and that deep structural changes are also needed to address long-standing problems.

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One of them, David Naylor, a former president and medical-school dean at the University of Toronto who chaired a government-sponsored examination of the health system in 2015, is doubtful that the kind of conversation required will happen in the heat of an election campaign. More spending is needed to beef up the system, he said, but so are reforms to the fragmented way health care is delivered and funded.

“I think there is inevitably going to be difficulty having a conversation about fundamental change in incentives and structures in governance during an election campaign,” Dr. Naylor said in an interview on Sunday. “... Until we have a more integrated system with integrated budgets and governance, it’s going to be very hard to really deliver the care that Ontarians and Canadians deserve and that they’re paying for.”

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has made a pre-election tour to tout its hospital expansion plans in recent weeks. In fast-growing Brampton, widely considered to be underserved by the health care system, Mr. Ford committed another $21-million (on top of $18-millon last year) to plan for two expansions at institutions run by the William Osler Health System.

The plans for the Peel Memorial health care site, which currently provides non-emergency care, would expand it into an inpatient hospital with a 24-hour emergency room, while Brampton Civic Hospital would start offering radiation therapy for cancer patients. Critics have long called instead for a new standalone full-service hospital in Brampton, where they say population growth has long outpaced the health system.

Since being elected in 2018, the Ford government has also embarked on a restructuring of the bureaucracy of health care, consolidating the hospital system and some other agencies under a new entity called Ontario Health. It has also encouraged the creation of what are known as Ontario Health Teams, which aim to co-ordinate different health care providers in one geographic area.

Dr. Naylor said the ad hoc creation of Ontario Health Teams allowed for “limited integration” but could get in the way of wider, more fundamental change. More radical reforms to what he says remains a piecemeal system would generate turf wars from doctors, hospital boards and elsewhere, he warned.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s NDP Leader told a campaign-style rally in central Toronto that she would expand universal health care into mental health if her party forms government in June. Ms. Horwath’s mental-health plan would start by expanding access to counselling and therapy services, offering a minimum of six sessions of psychotherapy. It would also create a new Mental Health Ontario agency.

Her party lashed out at Mr. Ford’s announcement in Brampton, which is expected to be a key election battleground. Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh, MPP for Brampton Centre, said in a statement that Bramptonians have spent too long facing long waits and overcrowding at Brampton Civic Hospital and that the expansion plans won’t be a reality for years.

She said an NDP government would convert Peel Memorial into a full hospital and build another standalone hospital in Brampton.

Also on Sunday, the PC Party released a new attack ad targeting Ms. Horwath and announced that Toronto city councillor Michael Ford, the Premier’s nephew, would run for the party in the Toronto riding of York-South Weston currently held by the NDP’s Faisal Hassan.

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