Ford’s Ontario Bridge Training Program is a great idea but what about the shortage of health professionals?

Doug Ford and the team

There was a time when we thought that we knew Premier Doug Ford. Since he stepped onto the political scene as city councilor, he was straightforward, blunt, crude, extreme, and incapable of dissembling. It was a case of “what you see is what you get.” You either loved him or hate him. He didn’t do nuance.

The nearly two-year pandemic seems to have done to Ford what it has done to most politicians and to most of the rest of society: made us take societal needs as seriously as we take our individual needs. It has broadened our perspective.

How else do you explain Ford’s apparent liberal turn with his government’s recent introduction of new rules that would remove barriers that inhibited new immigrants from becoming part of Ontario’s work force?  Ontario will spend $67M over 3 years via a program called Ontario Bridge Training Program.

Mind you, it’s not lost on reasonable observers that the premier’s announcement comes as he ramps up his reelection campaign. And that Ford did return to the usual form when he prefaced his announcement with this gem: “You come here like every other new Canadian has come here, you work your tail off…if you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, not going to happen. Go somewhere else. You want to work, come here.”

While it’s pointless trying to get in anybody’s head, let alone Ford’s, no doubt this is a good news story that is welcomed by immigrant communities, advocates and employers alike. Mr. Ford said that there are 290,000 vacant jobs in the province and he had asked Prime Minister Trudeau to allow more immigrants into Canada to fill those vacancies.

According to sources familiar with the proposed legislation, it would “make it easier for some foreign-trained workers in regulated professions to become licensed in Canada, the Ontario government…and would remove requirements for Canadian work experience. It would also end the need to undergo language testing both for immigrating to Canada and then getting a job here.”

Magdalene Cooman, senior director with WorldSkills Employment Centre, welcomed the proposal and added: “We are actually losing talent every year, when we have so many hundreds of skilled professionals and regulated professionals coming to Canada …  and then there are all these roadblocks.” Cooman manages a program geared to assist immigrant women who are members of visible minority communities to succeed in the labour market.

Advocates who welcome the news have repeatedly argued that immigrant skills were being underutilized to the detriment of the economy. Also the policy squares with the Ontario Human Rights Commission policy that took a stand against the requirement that one needed Canadian work experience to fill a job vacancy. So this is all to the good.

Even so, while the legislation aims at professions such as accountants, teachers, engineers and the like, the proposal is mum on health care professionals – a significant omission since the COVID-ravaged economy has caused serious shortages in the health care industry. Unfortunately, Mr Ford had nothing to say on the matter.

According to Magdalene Cooman, “By not allowing them to be part of this group for licensure, I think that is a disaster for the economy.” Cooman said.

It would indeed be if the status quo, which requires the recently arrived to undergo retraining that can take as long as 10 years, remains unchanged.

Mr Ford’s government needs to address this matter urgently. Health care worker shortage during this pandemic is an emergency. There is no time to lose.