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5 healthcare issues

Five public health care issues worth watching closely with the return of Parliament 

Parliament is back, and the health crisis continues. There is no end in sight for what health professionals describe as a perfect storm for hospitals caused by a surging number of patients in emergency rooms, staffing shortages, and even erratic supplies of medicines. This could be a make-or-break year for public health care.

Here are five issues worth watching closely with the return of Parliament:

1. Will the Prime Minister put strong accountability measures on provincial health funding?

The health care crisis has been compounded by the political conflict between premiers demanding more federal funding without strings attached, and the Prime Minister seeking accountability and information-sharing before boosting transfers further.

But now it appears a deal potentially worth $70-billion over the next decade is in the works between the federal government and provinces and territories.

Canadians must hold governments accountable and insist that federal dollars for health care are actually spent on public health care – and not wasted on provincial tax cuts or boosting the profits of private clinics.

2. Will the Health Minister enforce the Canada Health Act to protect the public health care system?

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos is responsible for enforcing the Canada Health Act, national legislation to ensure provinces protect Canadians from user fees and extra-billing for treatments, and provinces abide by the Act’s essential principles, such as access to universal health care.

Provinces have announced they will be funneling public dollars to private, for-profit clinics. The profit-motive of the private clinic owners and investors makes patients vulnerable to high-cost extra-billing, upselling for more expensive procedures, or potentially undergoing procedures unnecessarily.

Minister Duclos must use his powers to ensure that provinces don’t undermine the essential protections or break the principles of the Canada Health Act.

3. Will the Liberals deliver national, universal pharmacare legislation?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to pass the Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 in the landmark Liberal-NDP agreement with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Pharmaceutical and insurance companies have been opposing universal public pharmacare, and Canada remains the only country in the world with a public health care system that does not cover the cost of prescription drugs for everyone.

The NDP Leader says that passing the Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of the year must be accomplished if the minority Liberal government wants the NDP’s support to remain in power. Pharmacare is the missing piece of Medicare, for the public health system to survive and thrive, this must be the year that pharmacare is advanced.

4. Will the Supreme Court of Canada reject the appeal by Cambie Surgeries Corporation of its failed challenge to B.C.’s Medicare Protection Act?

Private, for-profit corporations are gambling that the crisis and growing wait times might help build support for a two-tiered health system. Cambie Surgeries Corporation in Vancouver unsuccessfully challenged the province’s Medicare Protection Act in a B.C. court in 2020, and then lost its appeal in 2022. Now its owner, Dr. Brian Day, wants another shot.

Cambie Surgeries Corporation has asked the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal the B.C. courts’ decisions. If granted, and the corporation is successful, then a court decision in favour of privatization could have serious ramifications for Medicare across the country.

5. Will British Columbia and Ontario uphold their prohibitions against paid plasma collection?

Last summer’s announcement by Canadian Blood Services of a controversial contract with a multinational corporation that pays people for “donating” plasma shocked health safety experts, advocates, and front-line health workers. Paying people for plasma undermines the voluntary collection system for blood, putting the safety and security of our blood supply at risk.

The practice of paying people for plasma is allowed in Alberta and a handful of other provinces but is explicitly prohibited by legislation in British Columbia and Ontario, setting the stage for a show-down between those provinces and Canadian Blood Services.

Moving forward

The Council of Canadians will be on Parliament Hill, in front of legislatures, and in our communities this year, working with allies at the Canadian Health Coalition (of which we are a member) and local health coalitions, to create a universal public health care system that treats people based upon their needs, not their ability to pay.

Steven Staples

Steven Staples

Steven Staples is a member of the Council of Canadians’ Board of Directors and the National Director of Research and Advocacy for the Canadian Health Coalition.