A hard line on hospitals? Good luck with that.


 (Councillor Jeff Earle)

Experience is the ultimate provider of context.

I suspect Jeff Earle's nearly 25 years as a city councillor, and the context it has provided about the endlessly looping debate over health care funding, lie beneath his resignation to Brockville's current hospital funding woes.

This became apparent last week when Earle poured cold water on calls for a “hard line” on tying Brockville General Hospital funding to job retention, and again at Tuesday's finance committee meeting, when Earle did his best to stop short rookie Councillor Phil Deery's gung-ho attack on the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation's $100,000 grant request.

I am not sure whether to characterize Earle as weary after the losing battle municipalities have fought over health funding, or simply as pragmatic.

Maybe this time the two are perversely synonymous.

Deery had all the energy of a newcomer spoiling for a fight with the province when he suggested that giving Kingston $100,000, while BGH is cutting positions, would be “supporting a broken system.”

The province needs to know the funding isn't there,” Deery insisted.

Earle brought the needed context to the debate. The province “fumbled the ball” long ago on fully funding its jurisdictional responsibility, he said.

Fumbled, or maybe he meant intentionally dropped, with the expectation municipalities pick it up.

The result, as Earle noted, is local communities are now expected to cover a quarter of any new hospital building costs.

Not only that, but in the previous decade and a half, the expectation of municipal funding has crept into the operational side as well. In Brockville, council has ponied up for the regular operation of the BGH cardio rehab unit and for physician recruitment.

And now, it is being asked to pony up again on the more established capital side to help improve services at the Kingston centres many locals use.

The problem is, if you take that hard line, if you need a CAT scan or you need a cancer treatment ... it won't be there,” added Earle.

(Karen Pearson, director of imaging services at Kingston General Hospital and Hotel Dieu Hospital.)

In other words: We fought the province over its abandonment of health funding in the past decade and the past century; if you want to try again, good luck with that.

There's something else I have detected in Earle's world-weariness about health funding: sympathy.

More than any other council member, Earle projects sympathy for Tony Weeks and the rest of the BGH administrators as they attempt to square the circle with diminished provincial funding, without damaging the community through service cuts.

Earle's standard response to critics lately has been: “Show me where else you would cut.”

None of this means it's time to stop reminding the province that local property taxpayers should not be left footing a bill that was designed to be spread out among all of Ontario's taxpayers.

What is does suggest is some ways of fighting that fight have been tried and rejected before, so it's time to rethink our tactics.