Seniors advocacy groups are urging Ottawa to reject the sale of a retirement home chain to a Chinese company.

British Columbia-based Retirement Concepts operates about two dozen supportive living facilities, including two in Calgary.

In an emailed statement, Retirement Concepts said it is negotiating a deal whereby Cedar Tree Investment Canada Inc. will acquire a majority interest in the company.

According to media reports, Cedar Tree is a subsidiary of Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group.

Retirement Concepts has not revealed how much the transaction is worth. But the federal government's Investment Review Division is looking into the sale, meaning it must be in excess of the $600-million threshold. 

friends of medicare Azocar

Friends of Medicare executive director Sandra Azocar says the potential sale of Retirement Concepts to Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group speaks to the larger issue of funding private versus public health care. (Natasha Frakes/CBC)

"There will be no change to staffing plans, the quality of care provided to our residents, nor to our policies, procedures and other operating standards," the company's email said.

"Retirement Concepts will continue to manage and operate the properties and there will be no change to the staff or senior leadership team at either the community or corporate level."

The potential buyer could not be reached for comment.

Friends of Medicare executive director Sandra Azocar says the potential sale to an overseas company speaks to the larger issue of funding private versus public health care.

"This move is only going to make the situation worse in terms of opening up the door to the type of for-profit business that health care should never be," Azocar said.

Concerns about accountability and regulation 

Azocar says regulation and accountability can be difficult when private companies deliver health care, especially if there is foreign ownership.

Alberta needs about 5,000 more senior care spaces, but Azocar says allowing private companies to fill the gap is the wrong approach.

"I don't know at what point seniors became second-class citizens where — all of a sudden because they've become older and more frail — they have to pay for their own health care," she said.

Carol Wodak, a member of the Public Interest Alberta Seniors Task Force, says private care facilities do not offer the same quality.

"Studies have shown consistently that they provide less care, they have less staff, all kinds of shortcuts taken in order to make sure they get what they consider a proper return on investment."

But Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann says there's room for both private and public care options in the province, especially given the current fiscal situation.

"I think we have to make the best of both worlds and indeed ensure that both public and private operators meet standards," he said.

"I'm not concerned — if we monitor them, and ensure that the standards of training, the standards of the ratio of clients to staff are maintained, and quality of care, including the cleaning … is up to a standard that we can all live with."