TORONTO — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s position on Canada’s health-care system came under attack by the Liberals this week after Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland posted a video on Twitter edited to focus on O’Toole’s support of privatized health care. That video was later flagged by the social media platform as “manipulated media.”
Twitter defines manipulated media as videos, audio, and images “that have been deceptively altered or fabricated,” and/or are shared in a way that is also meant to deceive.
After the edited video was posted, O’Toole sought to make clear his support for universal health care, blasting the Liberals for “American-style misleading politics.”
“Let me be perfectly clear, I 100 per cent support our public and universal health care system. In fact, it’s been the backbone we’ve relied on through the pandemic and the front line workers in it. ” O’Toole said this week.
But where exactly does he stand on private health care and what does he actually want?
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
The video interview from July 2020, when O’Toole was still running for Conservative Party leadership, showed him responding with a firm “yes” when asked if he would allow provinces to “experiment with real health care reform” including private, for-profit and nonprofit options inside of universal health care.
In the edited version, which was also retweeted by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s account, O’Toole criticized Canada’s health-care system as “increasingly inefficient.” But it left out key context that showed O’Toole also saying universal health care remained “paramount.” Some social media users shared a side-by-side comparison of the edited video and the original cut.
In the post that was flagged by Twitter, Freeland wrote, “Last year, as COVID-19 raged, Erin O’Toole was asked if he would bring private, “for profit” healthcare to Canada. He responded unequivocally: yes.”
Despite the Twitter tag and backlash, the Liberals have stood by their comments, with Trudeau asking the public to watch the entire video, which was also posted in Freeland’s original thread a couple of minutes after the edited version.
In the complete clip, O’Toole says investing in more choice and better performance is important for innovation in Canada.
“If we want to see that innovation, we have to find public/private synergies and make sure that universal access remains paramount,” he said, praising former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall for ushering in private MRI clinics in the province, stating that has helped reduce patient wait times.
“Everyone’s wait times will go down but people will be able to access services and capital will come in to drive efficiencies, drive innovation.”
O’Toole reiterated that message again this week, adding that he trusted the premiers to take the lead on what more choice and more innovation meant.
“After days of avoiding it, Erin O’Toole confirmed he wants to bring private, for-profit health care to Canada. He said he supports choice in health care, which means letting the wealthiest pay to jump ahead in line,” Trudeau criticized on Tuesday.
Proponents of increasing privatized alternatives say allowing patients to pay for some health-care services and treatments removes them from the public queue, alleviating some of the burden by shortening wait times. But critics point to studies and data that show wait times in the public system actually worsen in large part because it puts a strain on staffing resources when health-care workers are lured away to work in the more lucrative private sector. In Saskatchewan’s example cited by O’Toole, wait times generally did not fall after Wall’s initiative, and had in fact doubled just before the pandemic hit, according to government data.
On their election platform, the Conservatives say they will “partner with the private sector rather than over-rely on government. We know that there are some things best done by the private sector and will be faster to reach out for help.”
But O’Toole has been generally vague about what kind of medical care could be privatized, especially when pressed this week following the Twitter video controversy, leaving the door open for provinces to decide.
Unlike the Liberals, New Democrats and the Green Party, the Conservatives are the only ones who have not advocated for some kind of national pharmacare program to make access to medication more affordable to all Canadians. They say they will “negotiate constructively with the industry to reduce drug prices while providing long-term regulatory certainty.” In their platform, the Conservatives criticize Liberal regulation and “Liberal hostility to the pharma sector” for driving investment out of the country and are instead pushing to grow the sector in order to foster more pharmaceutical research and development within Canada.
To be sure, a key part of the Conservatives’ health-care platform is their proposal to boost the annual growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer to at least six per cent, which they say will mean committing an additional $60 billion to the health-care system over the next decade. The Canada Health Transfer is the money Ottawa gives to provinces for health care, with the rate tied to Canada’s economic growth for that year.
To address mental health, the Conservatives are also promising to invest $130 million over three years in charitable grants geared towards mental health and wellness programs. But they also want to provide incentives to employers to provide mental health coverage to employees by offering a tax credit for 25 per cent of the cost of additional mental health coverage for the first three years.
The Conservatives’ proposal to raise the amount provinces get from Ottawa illustrates O’Toole does support universal health care. At the same time, he clearly advocates for privatized options that go much further than, or is contrary to what other parties support, without fully addressing key concerns or offering enough clarity on the alternatives.
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Edited by Sonja Puzic and Rachel Aiello