TORONTO — Three for-profit companies that run Ontario long-term care homes have hired lobbyists with Conservative ties since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the provincial NDP revealed Wednesday.
“Shortly after the first COVID outbreaks in Ontario that happened in nursing homes around March 24, private long-term care operators began to register to lobby the government, including prominent Conservative campaign operatives and former staff to the premier,” Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said at question period.
“This is nothing short of absolutely scandalous.”
In a press release, the NDP named four people who’ve registered to lobby for private long-term care providers since the pandemic began. HuffPost Canada has verified the four people’s lobbyist registration through the integrity commissioner’s public registry.
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Leslie Noble signed up on March 31 to lobby for Chartwell, the largest operator of seniors’ homes in Canada. Noble’s LinkedIn profile says that her ties to the federal Conservative party are “well known” and that she has advised former premiers, including Mike Harris.
On April 27, Premier Doug Ford’s former campaign spokesperson Melissa Lantsman registered to lobby for Extendicare.
On May 7, Lauren McDonald registered to lobby for Revera Inc. She previously worked as Ford’s director of marketing and as a special assistant to Ontario’s solicitor general Sylvia Jones, according to her LinkedIn profile. Another Revera lobbyist registered the same day: Michael Wilson, who had worked as Attorney General Doug Downey’s chief of staff until January.
“Can the Premier tell us what conversations he and/or his ministers have had with lobbyists or other interests representing for-profit long-term-care homes?” Horwath asked.
Ford passed the question to Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton, who did not directly answer but said that Ontario has been tragically impacted by the “horrible, unprecedented pandemic.”
Horwath went on to say that “profit-taking” has taken precedence over caregiving in Ontario’s long-term care homes and asked Ford again to provide details about any meetings he or his staff have had with the lobbyists.
Fullerton again took the question.
“There is no smoking gun here. If there is a smoking gun, it is COVID-19,” she said.
“There are many people that want to be involved in providing input in something so tragic as what has happened with COVID-19. As Minister of Long-Term Care, I value that input.”
A spokesperson for the minister of long-term care said Fullerton’s comments in question period stand as the government’s response.
Ontario announced Tuesday it would hold an independent commission into the pandemic’s impact on the long-term care sector. The NDP says that falls short of what’s necessary, which is a full public inquiry.
The majority of Ontario’s COVID-19-related deaths have happened in long-term care homes. Of the 1,962 people who’d died of the disease as of Wednesday morning, 1,224 were in long-term care. And significantly more people have died in for-profit homes than facilities run by non-profits, according to analyses by advocacy groups and news organizations.
Revera Inc., the company that hired two former Ford government staffers, is being sued for negligence in its handling of the pandemic.
At least 164 people have died of COVID-19 in Revera-owned homes, HuffPost reported last week. Staff and relatives of residents say the company did not isolate patients who tested positive for the disease or provide personal protective equipment to workers until the outbreaks were well underway.
The company has other ties to prominent political figures.
Its chief elder officer is Hazel McCallion, a former mayor of Mississauga who has said she advises Premier Ford “on a regular basis.” And former Progressive Conservative premier Bill Davis is chair emeritus of Revera’s board.
This story has been updated with comment from the minister of long-term care’s office.