Security of Canada’s universal health care system questioned
For many decades, Canadians have been proud of our universal health care system, and Americans have expressed a desire to emulate it, but a recent article in a U.S.-based publication exposes the dismantling of Tommy Douglas’s dream.
Taylor C. Noakes, a freelance writer and public historian based in Montreal, writes in Jacobin that provinces are “experimenting” with increased private-sector involvement, while continuing to ask for more public sector (taxpayers’) funds from the federal government.
“Ontario Premier Doug Ford has already begun outsourcing certain surgeries to what are colloquially referred to as ‘independent health facilities’ – a euphemism for private, for-profit clinics,” says Noakes, adding that in Quebec, “billions in public funds are winding up in private, for-profit health care companies.
“This, in turn, is driving the exodus of nurses from the public sector to private alternatives, exacerbating the province’s problem retaining qualified health care professionals.”
Noakes explains to his American audience that Canada has a broad federal framework to “guide” the provision of public health care, controlled and administered by the 13 provincial and territorial health ministries and departments governing multiple independent insurance systems.
He cites the history of Canada’s health care system and the realization that health care is a basic right. However, over the years, health care became the target of cutbacks.
“Provincial cutbacks . . . were then met with additional reductions to federal health funding transfer payments, beginning in 1995.”
Noakes refers to the Canadian Health Coalition’s 2016 research that showed a possible health care budget shortfall of as much as $43.5-billion by 2024. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the time the pandemic hit in 2020, Noakes says, “decades of government cutbacks left the system severely weakened, such that the pandemic pushed much of Canada’s health care system over the edge. It resulted in arguably the worst crisis since Medicare was signed into law in the late 1960s.”
Nearly 30 per cent of Canadians agree the health care system is crisis, says Noakes, “yet they place the blame . . . on inadequate federal funding rather than on provincial mismanagement of funds.”
The worst face of privatization was revealed, Noakes writes, during the pandemic, “as the largely-privatized, for-profit long-term care facilities . . .failed under horrifying circumstances, with employees walking off the job, and residents found dead, starved and sitting in their own feces.
“Canada found itself without sufficient domestic personal protective equipment capacity, and further lacking in a domestic vaccine production facility.”
Noakes concludes that, while federal control over a dental health program was enthusiastically welcomed by Canadians, “the federal government . . . has done almost nothing to change course from decades of deliberate defunding and creeping privatization.”
The question remains: do Canadians want to accept the failure of a health care system they once cherished?
Read the full article by Taylor C. Noakes in Jacobin.