Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bernie Farber fables? Liberal hopeful slams Tories on health, but check the response

With the Oct. 6 election heating up, one race that’s raising eyebrows is Thornhill.

In 2007, Tory Peter Shurman was the only Conservative to be elected on the strength of John Tory’s promise to bring in public funding for faith-based schools.
The province’s discriminatory policy of funding only Catholic schools rankles in Thornhill, which has a large Jewish population.
Many Thornhill parents have shelled out big bucks over the years to send their kids to private Jewish schools, and would have welcomed help from the public purse.
What’s surprising about the race is the person carrying the Liberal banner is former Canadian Jewish Congress CEO Bernie Farber.
In the past, those of us in the media who’ve covered the issue relied on Farber as a quote machine whenever we needed someone to condemn the fact that only Catholic schools get public funds.
So the guy who once denounced this inequity from the rooftops is now running for Dalton McGuinty — the person who called faith-based schools “sequestration and segregation” in 2007.
But that’s a hypocrisy for another day.
The truly disturbing story out of Thornhill centres on an item Farber wrote recently for a website, Shalom Life.
Talking about improvements to the health-care system, Farber had this to say:
“We all remember the days of Hudak/Harris Conservatives. Hospital closures, nursing layoffs, increased wait times in emergency rooms.”
He continued:
“I personally experienced these risks when in 2001, my sister-in-law, suffering from breast cancer, found herself caught in the mire of Conservative hospital closures, nursing layoffs and other cuts specifically to the cancer care sector.
“Joanne passed away in 2003. Had she been diagnosed today, with all the newly-funded resources in Ontario cancer care, with hospitals back up and running, with over 11,500 full time nurses now hired or re-hired, her chances of survival would have increased dramatically,” Farber wrote.
The first comment underneath the story at, is from one Michael Robitaille.
He has a quite different take.
Robitaille, you see, is the widower of the woman Farber is talking about.
Joanne Robitaille was his wife, and Robitaille flatly refutes Farber’s claims. She got great treatment, he says.
“Whatever comments I had were on the page. I stand by those 100%,” Robitaille said in a telephone interview last week.
“I am just a private citizen who saw something published and I just had to set the record straight.”
On the comment board, Robitaille had this to say:
“Contrary to what Bernie states, my wife Joanne received excellent health care at every level during her over 3 year struggle with cancer.
Nothing negative
“From the staff at Credit Valley Hospital to Princess Margaret Hospital to Toronto Western Hospital, she received speedy, professional and excellent care. I honestly can’t say anything negative in the overall treatment Joanne received.
“Joanne is missed by me and my son Jack everyday and it is a shame to have her struggle with cancer thrown around like a political football by a candidate who knows better.”
Robitaille was also surprised to see a photograph of his late wife and his then two-year-old son accompanying the article.
In a telephone interview, Farber told me he often speaks from personal experiences.
“I was writing about something that affected me. My sister-in-law’s death had a huge impact and I am trying to say that it is important,” he said.
“I would not say I am using it for political purposes.”
That’s a relief — because this is a cautionary tale.
The last thing we need in this election is for aspiring politicians to take the personal tragedy of the death of a young wife and mother and try to use it for their own political gain. 

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