NDP tables motion to force Liberals to vote against 'for-profit health care'

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tabled a motion in the House of Commons Thursday to force Liberal MPs to condemn Ontario's experiment with more private delivery of common surgeries.

MPs to vote on condemning Ontario's experiment with more private delivery

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with reporters on Parliament Hill.
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with reporters during a news conference Thursday, February 16, 2023 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tabled a motion in the House of Commons Thursday to force Liberal MPs to condemn Ontario's experiment with more private delivery of common surgeries.

The motion calls on MPs to "express disappointment" in the prime minister for calling Ontario's plan a form of "innovation."

Trudeau has said he's open to ideas that will help a beleaguered health-care system deal with staffing shortages and COVID-related backlogs. Singh has said it's a slippery slope to "two-tier" health-care.

"A certain amount of innovation should be good as long as they're abiding by the Canada Health Act," Trudeau said in an interview with the Toronto Star last month. The Canada Health Act requires universal access to publicly funded health services covered by provincial and territorial plans, and bans user charges and extra-billing.

Singh said Liberal votes on the motion will serve a barometer for where the party stands on the private delivery of care.

Adam van Koeverden, parliamentary secretary to the health minister, said the Liberals won't back a motion that calls their leader out by name.

"We cannot vote in favour of a motion that expresses disappointment in the prime minister who's working hard with ministers and premiers right across the country to improve health outcomes," van Koeverden told reporters ahead of question period.

Van Koeverden said the government's commitment to release some $46 billion in new spending over the next 10 years will help the provinces and territories deal with an acute shortage of doctors and other health-care issues.

"I can assure Canadians that we'll continue to stay focused on what matters most to them — protecting their universal health-care system," he said, adding the government will levy fines on provinces that allow businesses to charge for medically necessary procedures.

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"It's always important for the public to understand how public dollars are being spent," B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix told Power & Politics on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Singh said Trudeau has flip-flopped on the issue because, during the last federal election, he was critical of then-Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole's call for more private options. Now, he's calling it "innovation," Singh said.

"If you believe in for-profit, American-style health-care, then you've got two choices, either the Conservatives or the Liberals," Singh said.

Ontario's plan to send more surgeries, like hip and knee replacements and cataract work, to private clinics has been contentious.

The province has said it's a prudent way to free up operating room space in publicly run hospitals.

Singh, the Ontario NDP and a number of labour unions have said the move will "cannibalize" the public system because for-profit operators could poach health-care staff.

Singh's motion also calls on the government to require that the recently announced health-care funding package not be used to expand for-profit health care.

Instead, Singh wants the $46 billion in new money to be used to "rebuild and innovate within the public system."

Singh also wants the federal Liberal government to close unspecified "loopholes" that he said have allowed private care to proliferate.

Singh said that, under the current regime, some private companies are charging patients for care.

He pointed to Maple, a virtual-care service that charges $69 for a visit with a general practitioner. Loblaw, the grocery and pharmacy giant, is a minority owner of the service.

"No one should have to pay Galen Weston just to see a family doctor," Singh said, mentioning the billionaire businessman who runs Loblaw.

Singh said Weston and others like him are "making money off the desperation, off the pain of Canadians." He said "no one should worry about having extra money laying around' to pay for a doctor's visit.

While critical of "private" care, Singh and his party pushed the Liberal government to launch a dental-care program for children last year.

Dental clinics in Canada are almost entirely privately run, for-profit enterprises.

The NDP has also called for a national pharmacare program. Companies like Loblaw-owned Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall dominate the sale of pharmaceuticals in Canada.

The vast majority of family physicians in Canada also work in privately run clinics that receive payment from provincial medicare programs for the provision of care.

A spokesperson for Singh said the difference is that dentistry, pharmacy and family medicine are already delivered privately. Singh is concerned about the migration of more health services from the public sphere to private settings, the spokesperson said.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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