TORONTO - The future of health care is shaping up to be a key battleground in the lead up to the Oct. 6 Ontario election.

Health Minister Deb Matthews says voters face a real choice between Progressive Conservatives who closed hospitals and fired nurses and Liberals who built hospitals and hired nurses.

Matthews reminded a group of nurses Thursday that former Tory premier Mike Harris suggested they were nothing more than a fad.

Matthews said it was "outrageous" what happened to nurses the last time Tories were in charge, especially when Harris compared them to hula hoops.

Matthews also claimed the Tories would cut $3 billion from health care because they promised in the 2007 campaign to eliminate the health care premium.

PC Leader Tim Hudak has said he would increase health care spending if his party wins this fall's election and won't scrap the health care premium of up to $900 per worker.

Matthews said the government would have to close all hospitals in northern Ontario or eliminate drug coverage for seniors if it took $3 billion out of health care, but insists she's not fear mongering.