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Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath attends an announcement in Scarborough, Ont., on May 17.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is pledging to stop awarding operating licences to for-profit nursing homes that she said did a “dismal job” caring for residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

If the New Democrats win the provincial election in June, they would immediately begin phasing out homes owned by for-profit corporations and replace them with more facilities owned by municipalities and not-for-profit entities, Ms. Horwath said on Tuesday.

“This election is our shot to finally fix seniors care in Ontario,” she told reporters on Zoom from her home, where she is recovering from COVID-19.

Vote of Confidence: The future of health care in Ontario

As part of its plan to transform the long-term care system in Ontario, the NDP would also ensure that each person living in a nursing home receives four hours of hands-on care a day – a promise that Ms. Horwath said would require hiring thousands of new nurses and personal support workers.

The Progressive Conservatives have also committed to phase in four hours of daily care by March, 2025. But their standard is based on an average across the entire sector and critics say it falls short of ensuring that all facilities meet the basic needs of seniors.

Residents in Ontario receive an average of two hours and 45 minutes of care a day, according to a report by an independent commission into long-term care released last year.

Ms. Horwath also said an NDP government would abolish legislation that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for families who lost loved ones to successfully sue an operator for providing poor care. Ontario is one of several provinces that have each introduced legislation granting immunity to nursing home operators from civil lawsuits related to COVID-19, provided the operators were acting in good faith.

“We are going to allow families to get the justice they deserve,” Ms. Horwath told reporters.

The Liberal and Green Party leaders are also promising to phase out for-profit ownership of nursing homes, which would result in sweeping change to the sector. Ontario has the highest share of for-profit homes in Canada, and that would remain unchanged under the Progressive Conservatives.

During his first term in office, PC Leader Doug Ford unveiled the most ambitious expansion of long-term care in a generation. His long-term care construction blitz will keep for-profit companies entrenched in the sector, according to a Globe and Mail analysis of the 31,705 new beds announced so far. The for-profit sector’s share of beds will dip only slightly, to 52 per cent from 53 per cent, the analysis shows.

The Globe has reported that 10 for-profit chain operators whose homes accounted for 41.5 per cent of 4,403 COVID-19 deaths in long-term care in Ontario have been awarded 39 per cent of the new beds.

Gillian Sloggett, a spokesperson for Mr. Ford, said on Tuesday that the PCs are investing $6.4-billion into building more than 30,000 net new “modern, safe and comfortable homes for our seniors” and upgrading over 28,000 more by 2028.

Both the Liberals and the NDP say they would phase out for-profit ownership by not awarding homes new, 30-year operating licences – many licences in the sector expire in 2025.

The Liberals have committed $600-million over four years to stop renewing licences of for-profit homes, as well as negotiate and finance the transfer of existing homes to not-for-profit entities and municipalities.

“We will make it clear that for-profit [long-term care] operators do not have a place in Ontario to make money off of vulnerable seniors,” Andrea Ernesaks, a spokesperson for Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, said on Tuesday.

Donna Duncan, chief executive officer of the Ontario Long Term Care Association, said it would cost an estimated $13-billion to $15-billion to phase out for-profit homes, funding that she said would be better spent on hiring more health care workers or upgrading facilities to improve quality of care for residents.

For her part, Ms. Horwath would deny licences to for-profit companies that she said “did such a dismal job during COVID-19.”

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