Relationship between nursing homes, Ontario government questioned

CBC Television has learned there may be a link between political contributions by nursing home companies and the awarding of licences.

As the Canadian population gets older, cost-conscious governments have turned to private companies to help care for the elderly.

It's a very lucrative business for private sector nursing home companies and many are getting contracts despite their lack of quality.

Ernie Johnson of Ottawa found out the hard way. He dropped in to see his 87-year-old mother Ellen Cardillo one day at the Versa Care nursing home in Ottawa.

" I found dried vomit on her. Dried vomit on her blouse and fecal matter on her hands." he said.

Johnson moved his mother into another home.

An inspection of Versa Care found 22 violations of provincial standards. But that didn't stop the Ontario government from awarding another 100 nursing home beds in Ottawa to a subsidiary of CPL Reit, which owns Versa Care.

When those beds were awarded, non-profit agencies like the Salvation Army and the Sisters of Charity were passed over.

Political scientist Robert MacDermid was hired by Marketplace to analyse contributions by private nursing home companies to the Ontario Conservative Party.

"The companies that received the most beds, they also seemed to be the companies that gave the most money," he said.

CPL Reit won contracts worth $1.3 billion in subsidies

From 1995 to 1999, companies owned by CPL Reit gave the Ontario Conservatives almost $23,000. They won contracts to build almost 1,700 nursing home beds. Those contracts are worth about $1.3 billion in government subsidies over 20 years.

Another private nursing home firm Extendicare gave the Ontario Conservatives almost $37,000 between 1995 and 1999. They were awarded more than 900 beds worth about $700 million in subsidies over 20 years.

Both companies' donations are within the legal limit.

At the time, Cam Jackson was Ontario's Minister of Long Term Care. He says checks and balances were in place.

"The government structured the process and created firewalls all through the process to ensure there was no involvement politically," says Jackson.

Jackson says he's unaware that almost 20 per cent of the CPL donation went to his constituency association.

CPL Reit and Extendicare say the Ontario government set up a rigorous tendering process and they honoured it.

Quebec and Manitoba are the only provinces which prohibit by law political donations by all companies.

Critics say that until there are such laws across the country, there will continue to be questions about the relationship between private sector nursing home companies and the governments which licence and fund them.