It’s Time for Canadians to Talk about Health Care

Our health-care system is irretrievably broken. At least five million Canadians are without a family doctor. More than one million Canadians were on waitlists before the pandemic even started. Now, […]
Published on June 23, 2022
Patients at Risk

Our health-care system is irretrievably broken.

At least five million Canadians are without a family doctor. More than one million Canadians were on waitlists before the pandemic even started. Now, in Ontario alone, it is estimated that 21 million patient services (surgeries, screenings, diagnostic procedures) have been delayed by COVID.

The head of the Canadian Medical Association says health care’s human resource crisis is “becoming extreme;” physicians are aging, suffering from burnout, and almost half (46%) are considering reducing their clinical work. (Emergency departments close because of staff shortages. Every province has a shortage of acute care beds and, even if more beds were added, we would not have the staff or infrastructure to support them.

In March, Canada’s Health Minister finally admitted the inevitable — that the survival of our public health system is “at risk.”  In other words, Canadians need to have a serious conversation about how to fix health care.

But before we can move forward, we must put an end to the biggest hindrances to positive change – fearmongering by politicians, threats of Americanized health care, and the idea that more money is the solution.

A case in point is the province of Alberta. Two months ago, Rachel Notley, leader of the NDP Opposition, called on the provincial government to stop its “plans to Americanize public health care in Alberta.”

Let’s unpack this comment.

First, no one wants USA-style health care.  For years, comparative studies on health care metrics in wealthy OECD or G7 nations have ranked American health care at the bottom of the pile … right beside Canada. The idea that we would choose to emulate a clearly broken system doesn’t even make sense.

Second, politicians that continue to fearmonger about ‘Americanized’ health care are, quite frankly, shameless and ignorant. They put politics above the health-care needs of their constituents every time they put the freeze on conversations about innovative changes to health care.

It’s time for our collective vision of health care to grow up and move beyond the dichotomy that claims it’s either Canadian or American. There are a host of health-care systems around the world that are high functioning, sustainable, and guarantee quality medical treatment for all.

Sweden, Australia, Norway, Germany — the list of countries that have better, more successful medical systems than we do is extensive. They have hybrid systems that interact with and contribute to each other. The public systems are not bereft of cash, equipment, or doctors and the rich are not exclusive users of private care. The two systems work together to ensure all patients get care when they need it.

Third, Notley’s comments were a response to Alberta giving money to private surgical clinics to help tackle the massive surgical waitlists that are overwhelming the public system and keeping people from getting the medical procedures that they need to live productive lives.

Guess what? Provincial governments across Canada are already doing this because the health-care system is overwhelmed and it will take years to clear wait lists. Even British Columbia’s NDP government pays private clinics to reduce waitlists.

There are not enough beds, surgeons, or diagnostic facilities in the public system to deal with the demand. One Albertan who needed spinal surgery received a letter from the clinic stating that there were 1,803 referrals ahead of him on the waitlist.  How long do you think he will be waiting for his spinal surgery?

No government (provincial or federal) has enough money to ensure there are enough beds, high-tech diagnostic imaging machines, and staff to treat Canadians under a universal health-care system.

Gerard Lucyshyn, an economist and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, has done the math – in 2021, Alberta spent 47.02% of its provincial revenues on health care. How much more does Rachel Notley expect the province to dedicate to health care?  And what other government services should be defunded to do so?

The federal government already pays about $300 billion for health care annually and, over the past two years, it has paid out another 69 billion dollars for the COVID pandemic.   The Prime Minister has been printing money just to cover the medical bills (and buy votes) for the past three years.

Common sense dictates that governments can no longer afford to have a monopoly on providing universal health care to Canadians.

Drastic changes are needed; millions of Canadians who are waiting for medically-necessary surgeries and procedures already know that. It’s time for the rest of us to catch up and start advocating for change.


Susan Martinuk is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and is author of the recently-released book, Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health-care Crisis.

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