Dr. Doris Grinspun

Working respectfully and forcefully with politicians of all stripes 

Since RNAO’s last Annual General Meeting in June, we have received emails from a handful of members expressing concern that Premier Doug Ford had been invited. Although few among the many emails RNAO gets every year complimenting our work and efforts, they flagged an apparent need for clarity. Which politicians are invited to RNAO events, and why? 

Why, for example, does RNAO continue to invite a premier who has deeply offended nurses with Bill 124, set back labour rights (by, for example, eliminating paid sick days), dismantled environmental protections (by, for example, ending the cap-and-trade climate plan and planning to build on the Greenbelt) – and weakened our democratic institutions (by, for example, purporting to invoke the notwithstanding clause and allowing city mayors to pass decisions without a majority council vote)? A fair question, and we thank those who have asked. 

The answer is straightforward: RNAO has a profound belief in democracy and upholds democratic institutions. We collaborate with constitutionally-elected governments of all stripes – whether we agree or disagree with their policies. We work cordially, fairly and forcefully with any politician or government on issues of common interest. We develop effective working relationships with government leaders, other politicians and political staff – relationships anchored in values of mutual respect, honesty, transparency and integrity. When we advocate, we do so regardless of political stripe. And we do so by standing up for the issues that matter to nurses and the health of Ontarians.

Why this approach? For the same reason that nurses provide care for all: supporting individuals, communities and health systems. And, just as nurses don’t ask patients their political party affiliations when providing care, RNAO doesn’t refuse to work with specific politicians or parties. Indeed, since its inception almost 100 years ago, RNAO has not been beholden to any political party. 

Nurses’ commitment is to all Ontarians – to advance policies that will help them retain or regain health, or enable a peaceful passing when health is no longer possible. As a professional association, RNAO’s contract is with all our members – over 50,000 – to advocate for all that you need to deliver excellence while maintaining your health and wellbeing. 

For RNAO, “health” is a resource for everyday living and health care is a universal human right. These values, together with science and evidence – not ideology – anchor us and guide us in our work. This is true whether we’re developing our best practice guidelines, delivering educational programs like clinical workshops or advocating for policy change. These principles have informed our policy work for decades on a broad spectrum of structural, social and environmental determinants of health, including our current calls for urgent action on the opioid overdose crisis and the climate and biodiversity emergencies. 

Nurses are at the forefront of our concern. We advocate to all policy makers that you and all Ontario nurses need support – and need it now. When the government fails nurses they fail Ontarians, and the consequences are disastrous. We have said this loud and clear to Premier Ford, Minister of Health Sylvia Jones, Minister of Long-Term Care Paul Calandra, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy and all their predecessors. 

When making crucial decisions, our political leaders must understand the complex issues affecting nurses – RNs, NPs and RPNs alike, whether front-line staff, advanced practice nurses, managers, executives, educators or researchers. We work to educate all politicians and policy makers directly. We sit at the decision-making tables by standing respectfully and forcefully for our principles – these are not mutually-exclusive behaviours. And, when necessary, we also go out and loudly protest in the street. 

Let’s remember: the motto of RNAO is to lead change – not merely to react to it. Examples of how we drive change: 
•    By sharing recommendations such as those laid out by the RNAO Black Nurses Task Force in its report, we exposed gaps and engaged politicians, media and other stakeholders to work on solutions to systemic racism and discrimination in nursing. 
•    By sharing findings from our 2021 survey of Ontario nurses and our recommendations, we showed government the tremendous toll the pandemic took on nurses’ health and wellbeing, and urged the government to act on the changes most urgently needed. 

RNAO ensures that members’ voices are heard. Our annual events – Take Your MPP To Work, Queen’s Park on the Road and Queen’s Park Day – allow RNAO members to engage with elected leaders in a way that triggers meaningful change. And, we support all members in planning meetings and navigating conversations with your MPPs using RNAO’s toolkit, speaking with mainstream media and messaging in social media. 

Our frequent meetings with provincial leaders are also central to nurses’ agendas. In September, several RNAO board members and our executive (president, immediate past-president and I), met with the premier and health minister. We conveyed evidence-based recommendations to improve nurse retention by:
•    ensuring competitive compensation and benefits for all nurses  
•    lightening workloads to enable safe, quality care and nurse satisfaction
•    tackling systemic racism in nursing and other health professions 
•    moving forward with RN prescribing
•    getting more NPs, RNs in all sectors and settings

These key policies are needed to entice our colleagues to stay right here in Ontario building vibrant careers and delivering excellent care. 

RNAO’s board members and assembly of leaders navigate these important and, at times, challenging conversations keeping you – our members – firmly in mind. We bring our in-depth experience across all sectors, specializations and roles to communicate the issues affecting nurses in Ontario in tactful and clear ways.  

Identifying the problems, though, is just the beginning. Those leading government need to better understand our profession, just as we try to understand where they are coming from. 

One example: While government has begun to answer our call on adding more NPs to the long-term care sector and expediting internationally educated nurses – residing in Ontario – to enter the workforce, they remain silent on repealing Bill 124. We will keep pushing to increase their understanding: Bill 124 harms retention and recruitment, it deters nurses from building their careers in Ontario, and, with a shortage of nurses, the health of all Ontarians is at risk. It must be repealed. Now that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has found Bill 124 to be unconstitutional, we are insisting to the premier that he accept the court’s decision and move on to strategies that will better serve Ontarians. Here is where you – RNAO members – have a huge role to play by urging your MPPs and responding to action alerts

And, as our nation’s premiers continue to push the federal government for an increase in health transfer payments – which RNAO fully supports – RNAO will continue to push the premier of Ontario to accept strings attached to any increases. Given that nursing and nurses are the spinal cord of the health system, some of those strings must be tied directly to retaining and recruiting nurses here in Ontario: RNs, NPs and RPNs.  

None of this would be possible without you – RNAO’s 50,000+ strong members. This is a collective challenge and together we tackle it with kindness, facts and unwavering determination. It is this joining of forces that allows us to stand up for Ontario nurses and advocate for you tirelessly – loudly and proudly – because you do so for Ontarians.

Summer/Fall 2022
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