Canada’s Health Care Crisis Is in Large Part a Labor Crisis



Canada’s system of Medicare — a point of national pride — was strained before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It’s now teetering on the brink, with some Conservative provincial leaders salivating at the prospect of privatization.

For months, provincial premiers have been demanding that the federal government increase health transfer payments. Indeed, the cost-sharing model which sees the federal government currently kick in around 22 percent of health funding should be revised so that Ottawa pays more of the bill. Although a deal to boost federal funding appears to be in sight, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are failing to ensure that protecting public health care delivery is a part of it.


Canada’s health care crisis is in large part a labor crisis. In general, unceasing anguish over a generalized “labor shortage” in Canada has had only the most tenuous relationship to reality. In the health care sector, however, worker burnout and a consequent lack of staff are all too real. While the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the mouthpiece of Canadian employers, bemoaned a purportedly economy-wide labor shortage that was crippling business, an actual dearth of nurses and other health care professionals snowballed as deteriorating pay and working conditions drove these workers out of their jobs.

Newly released Statistics Canada payroll data helps paint the picture. Overall payroll figures show year-over-year employment across the whole economy virtually unchanged in November 2022, despite the Bank of Canada’s aggressive series of interest rate hikes (how much longer stable employment numbers will persist is debatable). Job vacancies — the bugbear of employers in Canada for most of the past year — declined another 2.4 percent, down to 850,300 from 1,002,200 at their peak, and reached their lowest post-pandemic level since August 2021. Average weekly wage growth, while continuing to lag inflation, ticked upward slightly to 4.2 percent (5.3 percent in goods-production alone).

Author(s): Adam D.K. King

Publication Date: 1 Feb 2023

Publication Site: Jacobin