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Queen's Park Even reporters can't get excited about LHINs (Globe and Mail)

PUBLICATION: IDN: DATE: PAGE: BYLINE: SECTION: EDITION: DATELINE: WORDS: WORD COUNT:

GLOBE AND MAIL 060610228 2006.03.02 A18 MURRAY CAMPBELL Column Metro 728 688

MURRAY CAMPBELL First OMERS, now LHINs. It has been a particularly cruel few weeks for those with a low tolerance for ponderously detailed, acronym−heavy legislation. Last week, Premier Dalton McGuinty sent union leader Sid Ryan packing on the issue of how pensions for municipal workers are administered. Now, he's acquired a new set of adversaries who are upset with his government's plan to shake up how Ontario's $33−billion health−care system is administered. Hardly anyone understands or cares about either measure but that hasn't stopped the controversy. The fun never stops at Queen's Park. LHINs are local health integration networks, and the 14 of them that are being set up are the vehicles for restructuring health−care delivery. Health Minister George Smitherman believes the networks will provide more local control over hospitals and other health−care providers (but not doctors) and allow for improved care. Critics, including the two opposition parties, health unions and some health−delivery agencies, fear the dismantling of the health system through privatization and the offloading of expenses to patients. It's quite an intellectual gap and it persisted right up until the passage yesterday afternoon of Bill 36, which established the networks in law. This fundamental disagreement about the aim and impact of the legislation remains despite five days of debate in the legislature, 10 days of committee hearings and 56 amendments. Every time Opposition Leader John Tory wails about the "vast powers of centralization" the legislation gives to a health minister, Mr. Smitherman counters that such interpretations are "not plausible." This firefight has occurred largely out of view of the public. Bill 36 is so arcane −− and its provisions seemingly so benign −− that the news media have largely avoided it. Its ability to slip under the radar was enhanced by the fact that it was introduced on Nov. 24, when attention was diverted to the federal election.

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