The COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in Canada’s health care system and social programs that have existed for many years. Too many Canadians have fallen through the cracks during this crisis – whether through lack of drug coverage during extended layoff, losing a loved one in a long-term care home due to inadequate protection and staffing, or having limited child care options.
The federal government must learn from this crisis and build back better. This requires bold measures to ensure a strong recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and establish a solid foundational support system for Canada’s workers and families.
The federal government must work with provinces and territories, and make long-term investments in social infrastructure that provides accessible quality public services for all, creates good, safe jobs, and strongly positions the country for economic success.
Social infrastructure is a critical part of Canada’s care economy, an economy that supports a higher quality of life for Canadians, and includes: a universal pharmacare program that makes medicine more accessible and affordable, high quality and accessible long-term care that allows seniors to live with dignity, and a universal public child care system that benefits families, workers and the economy as a whole.
The next federal government can support Canadians families and care workers by:
- Immediately announcing funding commitments for a national pharmacare program that is comprehensive public, universal, accessible and portable, as well as a national formulary (a list of covered medications under a pharmacare plan);
- Working in partnership with provinces and territories to establish minimum long-term care standards of daily care and a comprehensive strategy to improve working conditions;
- Eliminating for-profit long-term care homes and transition toward community-based, publicly-owned or non-profit homes;
- Bringing long-term care operator Revera, currently owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, under public ownership and oversight;
- Establishing legislation that sustains Canada’s early learning and child care system past the five-year timeframe, and continues funding made available to provinces and territories;
- Ensuring all public programs create good, safe, union jobs for people in Canada.
- A public, universal pharmacare program could save Canadians up to $11 billion annually.
- Currently, 1 in 4 Canadian households can’t afford their medications.
- Ontario is the only province or territory in Canada that has committed to and taken steps toward a minimum standard of daily care (4 hours direct care per day), despite not being established in legislation.
- Prior to this election period, the federal government signed bi-lateral agreements with eight provinces and territories – B.C., Nova Scotia, Yukon, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan – toward establishing a Canada-wide early learning and child care system.
- Between 1998 and 2014, the labour force participation of mothers with young children in Quebec jumped from 66% to nearly 80%, in large part because of affordable provincial child care.
Canada is the only developed country with a universal health care system that has no universal prescription drug coverage, or pharmacare program. As a result, 1 in 4 Canadian households cannot afford their medications, which is bad for the health of the country. The pandemic has only made this problem worse. Many who are jobless and struggling to find stable, full-time work do not have drug coverage. Canada is home to a patchwork of drug plans and programs, which creates unequal and inconsistent coverage.
A public, universal pharmacare program could save Canadians more than $11 billion per year in prescription drug spending. Families would not have to pay out-of-pocket for their medications, while employers would benefit by not having to pay for private insurance plans. Canada’s Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare released its final report in June 2019, calling for just such a program covering medicines in the same way basic health services are covered under medicare. Unfortunately, there is little movement from the federal government on this important effort, despite promises made to institute it.
The struggles of long-term care residents and the challenges faced by long-term care workers have been well documented through this pandemic. Thousands of families are still mourning the loss of loved ones who contracted the virus in long-term care facilities. Long-term care workers, who are mostly women, are among the most exposed to COVID-19 workplace transmissions.
The job of workers in long term care is physically and emotionally demanding, increasingly dangerous due to low staffing levels, and compensated with low wages. The pandemic gave rise to a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths in a system that continues to burn out workers, revealed failures in government funding and worker pay, and exposed the troubling effects for-profit operators have on the quality of care in the sector.
Seniors and all long term care residents deserve to live in dignity and with proper care. Canada’s long-term care system, responsible for delivering that care, is an important segment of the health care sector. The federal government must take concrete steps to establish minimum care standards, remove profit from care, and provide substantial funding to provinces and territories to support these measures.
In the 2021 budget, the federal government made a historic commitment to create a national child care system with funding of $30 billion over five years. This was an important step toward building a system of quality, accessible, affordable and inclusive early learning and child care programs and services – inspired by the path breaking, affordable child care program started in Quebec in 1998. Not only will this program aid in the social development of children, it supports parents to pursue paid work or schooling and invests in the child care workforce.
This past summer, funding agreements were struck with British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Yukon, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland & Labrador, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. These agreements will reduce child care fees by 50% in regulated spaces for children under six years old by 2022, while bringing down average parent fees to $10 day within five years.
The agreements also address compensation and training for child care workers, the expansion of child care spaces by public and not-for-profit providers, and special access for vulnerable communities. In addition to signing agreements with those remaining provinces and territories, the next Parliament of Canada must legislate the continuation of funding, beyond the five year timeframe, in order to achieve a truly national child care system.
These programs will employ thousands of people who deserve dignity and respect at work. Along with ensuring quality service for Canadians, government must ensure high quality employment opportunities for workers in the sector that in include living wages, fair scheduling practices and robust workplace benefits.