Canada's health-care system under threat from both Liberals and Conservatives: Singh

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh kicked off a caucus retreat with MPs Wednesday by accusing both Conservatives and Liberals of putting Canada's public health-care system at risk.

Federal NDP meets for 3-day caucus retreat in Ottawa

A man in a suit and a turban stands at a podium in front of a line of Canada flags
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh says Canada’s health-care system is being put at risk by both Liberals and Conservatives. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh kicked off a caucus retreat with MPs Wednesday by accusing both Conservatives and Liberals of putting Canada's public health-care system at risk.

Addressing a room filled with MPs, political staffers and party members, Singh accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of winking at efforts by conservative premiers to radically change their health-care systems.

"While (Ontario Premier) Doug Ford, (Alberta Premier) Danielle Smith and (Manitoba Premier) Heather Stefanson launch a mission to privatize public, universal Canadian health care, Justin Trudeau does nothing and (Conservative Leader) Pierre Poilievre cheers them on," Singh said on Parliament Hill. 

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government on Monday announced its plan to expand the number and range of surgeries offered at for-profit clinics in the province. Both the Alberta and Manitoba governments have mused recently about boosting private sector involvement in health care.

WATCH: NDP threatens to kill deal with Liberals over health-care crisis

NDP threatens to axe deal to keep Liberals in power over healthcare crisis

4 months ago
Duration 2:39
The NDP has threatened to withdraw from its confidence-and-supply agreement to keep the Liberals in power until 2025 unless they act on the health-care crisis. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is calling on the federal government to spend more money on health care and reach an agreement with the premiers.

After Ontario's announcement, Prime Minister Trudeau said he was open to ideas to "deliver better services to Canadians in health care."

The Ontario and federal New Democrats are leaving no room for doubt about where they stand on public dollars going to the private system. They've argued expanding the private option would only intensify competition with the public sector for scarce human resources.

Singh called on the federal government to use the levers it has at its disposal to push back against provincial governments looking to private health-care institutions for solutions.

"In fact, the prime minister has the opportunity right now to protect medicare. While negotiating funding with the provinces, we all agree there should be strings attached," Singh said.

"I think one of those conditions has to be no privatization. No for-profit corporations taking over health care. No billing patients for anything. No cannibalizing hospitals, sending their nurses and doctors to for-profit clinics."

Staffing strategy needed, says labour group 

What Canada needs is a national strategy for staffing the health-care system, says the country's largest labour organization, which has close ties to the NDP.

Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said such a strategy would help governments across Canada recruit, train and retain health-care workers.

"Our public system is in dire straits, and we're calling on all levels of government to work together to make sure Canadians right across this country can rely on strong public health care," Bruske told CBC before her address to the NDP caucus on Wednesday.

Singh did not mention the need for a strategy but he echoed Bruske's focus on staffing "solutions."

"Solutions like training more nurses and doctors," the NDP leader said in his Wednesday morning keynote address. "Getting licences for health-care workers from other countries who are already here and ready to work in our hospitals."

Speaking to reporters at an EV charger manufacturing plant in Shawinigan, Que., Trudeau said Wednesday there is "some very positive momentum happening" in the ongoing federal-provincial talks over the future of the Canada Health Transfer (CHT).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media after a visit to FLO, a maker of electric car chargers, in Shawinigan, Que. on Wednesday, January 18, 2023.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media after a visit to FLO, a maker of electric car chargers, in Shawinigan, Que. on Wednesday, January 18, 2023. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa has demanded the provinces earmark any new federal money for five key priority areas — primary care, long-term care, mental health, virtual care and surgery backlogs.Trudeau said the two sides are "more and more in line" on the issues.

Trudeau said Ottawa's planned investments are not designed for short-term fixes to a system that has struggled in the wake of COVID-19.

The expected multi-billion cash injection should be used to spur "more innovation in the system to make sure we have the best health-care system in the world," he said.

"There's a distinction between short-term investments, the ones we need now to resolve immediate problems and what the federal government will continue to do in the coming years to build the future of the system," he said, adding that the provinces and territories already have sufficient fiscal capacity to address acute issues like labour shortages and capacity issues.

Budget will decide fate of NDP-Liberal deal, critic says

Before Singh delivered his keynote, several New Democrat MPs spoke about the state of the deal between the Liberals and the New Democrats to prop up Trudeau's minority government. All the MPs expressed optimism about where things stand, including NDP finance critic Daniel Blaikie.

In March 2022, the New Democrats signed a confidence-and-supply agreement with the governing Liberals to provide them with the votes needed to pass key legislation in exchange for the Liberals agreeing to advance a number of NDP priorities.

The upcoming 2023 federal budget will be a key factor in determining whether the NDP's agreement with the Liberals has been a success or a failure, he said.

"I think the budget is going to tell the tale about whether we're making that progress at a good rate," Blaikie told CBC News. "It's going to be a very interesting few months on the Hill here … when the budget is presented."

Blaikie was expected to brief his caucus colleagues Wednesday on negotiations he's been having with the federal government as a member of a bipartisan group formed to discuss progress on key commitments and priorities. 

Pharmacare, dental plan expansion on NDP radar

While many of those priorities don't have stated timelines, some do.

For instance, the Liberal-NDP pact committed Trudeau's government to passing a Canada Pharmacare Act in 2023, and to introducing a bulk drug purchasing plan and a national formulary by the end of the agreement.

In 2022, federal dental care coverage was expanded to cover children under 12 years old in households earning less than $90,000. An expansion to that dental coverage to cover 18-year-olds, seniors and people living with disabilities in  middle-income households was also supposed to happen this year under the Liberal-NDP agreement.

"We're expecting to see that at the beginning of 2024," Blaikie said. 

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, March 22, 2019.
NDP finance critic Daniel Blaikie is a member of a group that discusses progress on key commitments and priorities in the supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and the NDP. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Blaikie noted that because much of the work to prepare budgets happens months in advance, the 2022 budget was mostly assembled before the Liberal-NDP confidence and supply agreement was signed. So the upcoming budget should "tell a lot of the story" of how the NDP-Liberal agreement is holding up, he said.

"It's going to be an important moment of reflection for our caucus as we think about the next year ahead and whether the government is doing a good enough job," he said.


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.


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