In light of numerous COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term homes across the country, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says Canada should put an end to privatized facilities and establish a universal framework for seniors care.
In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Singh says the government must look to bring long-term care under the Canada Health Act and make it federally regulated, while doing away with the private system all together.
"I think we need to end them, I think there’s no question about it given the results we’re seeing, the evidence we’re seeing that some of the worst conditions that seniors are in and some of the highest deaths have happened in the for-profit long-term care homes," said Singh.
"Profit should not be the motive when it comes to how we care for our seniors."
According to a recent report by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at Ryerson University in Toronto, over 3,300 deaths have occurred in long-term care homes due to COVID-19, accounting for 82 per cent of the total fatalities in Canada.
With no standardized long-term care system in Canada, there’s been significant discrepancy in how these homes have fared through the pandemic.
Services are currently delivered through a patchwork system of not-for-profit and for-profit providers and delivered through a mix of publicly-funded programs, which can be reinforced by private services, and unpaid caregivers, states the NIA in a report about the future cost of long-term care in Canada.
Singh says the impact of COVID-19 on this demographic has made the need for a consistent and equitable framework for seniors all the more relevant.
"We absolutely need to look at developing a national standard, a care guarantee and then use the Canada Health Act to bring it into the public realm, it’s got to be public and it’s got to be high quality," said Singh.
"The for-profit system has failed and long-term care homes in general have failed seniors and we need to do a lot better."
Singh on workers' safety at Cargill meat plant
Singh also reflected on the situation in High River, Alta. where workers are protesting a back-to-work order two weeks after a major COVID-19 outbreak struck the meat processor. More than 900 people have tested positive and two died.
Even with provincially approved safety measures in place, Cargill employees and union representatives have raised concerns about people returning to work.
Singh said it was wrong for Alberta to allow this without a series of approved health requirements.
"Before workers return to work, they need to know they’re going to a place where they’re not going to risk getting infected or infecting their colleagues. There are some really clear requests about space, and distance and ensuring that the work conditions are such that workers were not going to infect one another," he said.
Secondly, he said it’s absolutely necessary employers can guarantee paid sick leave.
"A worker who gets sick needs to know that they don’t have to choose between going to work and risking spreading an infection or staying home and not having paid sick leave and not knowing how they’re going to pay their bills."
Singh made the call for mandatory 10-day paid sick leave during this week’s virtual session of Parliament’s question period. He and his colleagues also pressed the government about whether those who have been given the green light to return to work but don’t feel comfortable doing so would still be eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland did not directly confirm or deny whether this could be this case, but instead reaffirmed the government’s commitment to protect workers.
"No Canadian worker at any time should feel obliged to go to work in unsafe conditions, in a time of coronavirus that is even more the case. The government of course should not penalize workers for doing the right thing and declining to go to work in unsafe conditions."
Singh also made the case that childcare services need to be in place before workers return to the job.
"A lot of women were let go from work because of the service sectors that were impacted, so women have been disproportionally impacted. We need to know that there’s good quality childcare available."