Health care, a pivotal issue in the 2021 federal election

10 September 2021

Elections are like snowflakes – no two are alike. In each election, maybe two issues dominate the airwaves and are top of mind for voters. And when they cast their vote, it usually comes down to a single question at the ballot box.

While health care has been discussed in every provincial and federal election in my lifetime, there is an urgency now that has not been felt before. Canadians have never experienced an election with healthcare in flux, where policy decisions are being acted on instantaneously and differently in each province. COVID-19 Vaccine passports are just the most recent example of changing public health requirements.

Over the past 18 months, COVID-19 has exposed the best and the worst of our healthcare system.

We were among the first countries to get COVID-19 vaccines, delivering them to Canadians in every city, town, province and territory. Our hospitals were ready with COVID-19 units and had contingency plans in place to make sure we could manage capacity should we need to. But still, the pandemic has exposed tremendous inequities. Among them, the need to make sure our seniors are looked after and cared for; the cracks in long-term care showed more than ever.

At the same time, this health care crisis has shown the greatness of the people working in health care and the fragility of our system.

I was reminded of this simple fact last week while taking a loved one for tests at the hospital. We arrived on time for the appointment and were among other people patiently waiting. When we saw the nurse, I couldn’t help but notice her photo ID. There, right at this moment, on this very picture, she looked vibrant, energetic.

When I looked at her, there was a stark difference. She was tired, dishevelled and worn out. She looked like she had aged. After the appointment, I thanked her for being on the front lines, for putting herself at risk and for all the care she gives. Her response stuck. She was so sorry, and her eyes welled up. She hadn’t slept much and just picked up another shift because there were so many people with appointments, and she was needed.

We are now at the midway point of the election campaign and each party has released their platform. Here are some highlights of where the parties stand on healthcare.

The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) is committing $6 billion to accelerate the elimination of waiting lists in the health care system and $3 billion to hire 7,500 family doctors and nurses. He also wants to invest $6 billion to establish national standards for long-term care and $4.5 billion to create a new federal mental health transfer – the Canada Mental Health Transfer.

The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is promising to increase funding for mental health care for the provinces, revive the pharmaceutical industry in Canada and tighten anti-corruption laws in health care. His party intends to again increase federal health transfers to the provinces by 6% per year. This would inject nearly $60 billion into our health care system over the next 10 years.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) would ban the opening of any new for-profit homes for seniors in need of care. The NPD would create national standards to hold facilities accountable. Conditions would be placed on all funding, including that the money be spent on quality care first. An NDP government would create a $250 million Critical Shortages Fund to address the shortage of nurses and health care workers across Canada and ensure that provinces also commit funding specifically for health care workers. The federal fund would help train and hire 2,000 nurses. Finally, the NPD would extend Medicare to cover needed services.

The Bloc Québécois (BQ) wants to increase health transfers from 22% to 35% of health care costs. An increase of $91 billion in the Canada Health Transfer over three years is proposed. BQ wants to support home care through tax credits. The party is calling for special EI benefits for sick people to be extended to 50 weeks.

The Green Party (GP) wants to increase health transfers to 35%, but also wants national standards. The party intends to "introduce new initiatives" such as a basic care guarantee to require a minimum of four hours of regulated nursing or personal care per day for each resident. The GP would also expand the single-payer Medicare model to include Pharmacare for everyone and expand the single-payer Medicare to include long-term care, free basic dental care for all Canadians and enhance mental health services.

With the COVID-19 pandemic coinciding with the 2021 election, there has never been a greater time to shed light on the issues facing our healthcare system. We are at a turning point to address and fix them.

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