Peter Smyth: ‘Canada’s Premier Policy on Nursing Environments Is Broken’

Nothing makes the American public feel more frustrated with the Trump administration than entitlement. Health care issues are another prime target, especially when it comes to politicians on both sides of the aisle. And…

Peter Smyth: 'Canada’s Premier Policy on Nursing Environments Is Broken'

Nothing makes the American public feel more frustrated with the Trump administration than entitlement.

Health care issues are another prime target, especially when it comes to politicians on both sides of the aisle. And like every other issue, there are one or two special interest groups that are more concerned with protecting their brand than getting real solutions. The latest example of this comes from Canada, where nurses are now getting a raw deal.

As the economy is growing robustly, millions of Canadians are entering the workforce, including nurses in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver. Health care is now Canada’s largest employer. According to the Canadian Nursing Information Database, nearly 600,000 nurses work in hospitals, hospices, and mental health facilities.

As more Canadians enter the workforce, the government is pushing more and more nurses to train for employment rather than to seek employment.

At the same time, nurses are being forced to undergo training for new skills they don’t need yet. This is a dangerous game of musical chairs, and one that the federal government needs to rethink. In January 2018, Canada’s Minister of Health, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, issued a memorandum that officially ends existing, federally funded healthcare training programs. In February, Health Canada announced a new federal policy “to reform and increase quality care in both primary and secondary care settings, by ensuring the right training opportunities exist for nurses and other health professionals.”

These two federal policies are all about expanding “quality care” through the creation of new positions. So this matters.

Contrary to the government’s policies, nurses in many Canadian cities have long been able to obtain training and jobs with their current skills and training. Canadians understand that the current system of funding nursing education and training grants dates back to the 19th century.

This system is embedded in Canada’s national medicare. That means the system is broken.

Ontario’s nurses get the worst deal in Canada. According to Forum Research Associates, just 49 percent of Ontario nurses approve of the “financial support provided by the provincial government” to funding nurses’ wages. To put that into perspective, 84 percent of nurses in British Columbia approve of the provincial government’s policy. And 87 percent of Quebec nurses approve of the provincial government’s policy.

These attitudes reflect clear dissatisfaction with the political leaders in their own province. Ontario nurses tell Forum Research that they want government to revisit their “graduate salary scheme.” This requires nurses to take a two-year residence (e.g., stay-at-home mom) as part of their qualification process. Based on the doctors’ exam, they then earn a competitive “graduate salary.”

Significantly, Ontario nurses are facing unprecedented consequences for their political contributions. Forum Research associates found that it has gone from being an unwritten rule to becoming a requirement for winning elections.

Forum Research associates found that in 2018, Ontario nurses contributed $10.7 million to federal elections. This is the highest amount the nurses in Ontario have contributed to federal elections in the last 25 years.

Politicians should not be able to use their office to receive campaign contributions from nurses who are also asking for their profession to be funded in the future.

Seeking a revised graduate salary structure is the right thing to do for nurses and the Canadian public.

Peter Smyth is a political scientist at Ryerson University, and a director of Forum Research Associates.

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