That 2020 was a rough year for healthcare in Canada is news to no one. Over 20,000 Canadian COVID-19 deaths – over 15,000 in long-term care facilities specifically, at least 500,000 postponed medical interventions, and frontline workers pushed to the brink of exhaustion are just a few of the challenges. The last 12 months have tested our resolve, our patience and our resilience. This past annus horribilus also tested our political leaders, and in far too many cases they have been found wanting.
So, with a new year well underway, how can they do better?
First, right across the country we must ensure that we have the processes and resources ready to vaccinate every Canadian as soon as possible. Much has been made about the delayed deliveries of doses from vaccine manufacturers, but we are still within a timetable that Canadians deem acceptable for vaccine rollout, as proven by Abacus Data when they polled the public on this issue in December. However, when the manufacturers’ distribution kinks are resolved we must make sure we can get needles into arms as rapidly as possible, in a fair and equitable way, beginning with the most vulnerable.
Vaccine availability is the latest flashpoint in the decades-long jurisdictional squabbling between federal and provincial governments that has eroded the confidence of Canadians in their healthcare “system”. However, rhetoric must give way to action to support healthcare and public health in Canada. The federal government must step up and lead a truly collaborative effort with provinces and territories to build a healthcare system with agreed upon and measurable quality improvement targets. Improving healthcare by diktat does not work. Investment, collaboration and goal-setting does.
Yet, while the federal government must lead the collaborative charge, provincial and territorial governments must also set aside the belief that the health of Canadians is their exclusive domain. At the tail end of 2020, a HealthCareCAN poll found that nearly three quarters (74%) of respondents across political divides agreed the federal government should play a leadership role in healthcare, with quality and capacity being the top priority areas.
Further, 71% feel the pandemic has shown that our healthcare system is not properly resourced, is not the same in all parts of the country and needs major improvements now. Canadians want:
- Increased federal funding for hospitals. 80% of Canadians polled agreed the federal government should invest directly in hospitals to achieve national healthcare goals.
- National standards and guidelines. 77% of Canadians polled want national guidelines and standards for managing healthcare networks.
- A tax credit for frontline healthcare workers. 80% of Canadians polled said they would support a $3,000 federal tax credit for healthcare workers who make less than $100,000/yr.
These are concrete measures upon which the federal government could and should focus its spending power to support the healthcare system and improve the health of all Canadians. The federal government has already invested billions to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, but our health and long-term care workers, the elderly, the vulnerable and racialized communities continue to suffer.
COVID-19 is not the first pandemic we’ve faced, and it certainly won’t be the last. Our federal and provincial governments must set aside false jurisdictional pride and start taking this pandemic as a solemn opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. We must not fail to learn the terrible lessons bought and paid for with the lives of over 20,000 Canadians. Our political leaders owe it to them to do better and there is no time to waste.
Paul-Émile Cloutier, President & CEO