Canadian Health Care

During the past few years, I’ve watched with alarm as more and more people criticized the Canadian health care system as being inefficient and plagued by long wait-times. Let me make it clear: I am completely against introducing private health care into Canada and creating a two-tier system. The minute you have private health care and private insurance, health care becomes a luxury for the wealthy and not a right of all citizens.

I’ve recently come across this article by a Canadian doctor that’s worth a read and whose advice I’ll be sure to take:

Health Care Worth Fighting for

I remember walking into the daunting emergency room of a Los Angeles county hospital in 1996. It was my first day of a year I would be spending at UCLA completing my second year of surgical residency.

“This is where it all happens,” my chief resident snorted, motioning to the huge crowd in the waiting room. “These are America’s medically indigent,” he added with a smirk. “Oh – but you don’t have to worry about things like that in Canada. Don’t you have socialized health care up there? Doesn’t it take a year to get a CT scan? I can never imagine having a health-care system like yours.”

I cringed at his description of the people that the county hospital served and I hated his uninformed assumptions about the Canadian medical system.


Spending a few months rotating through a private facility, I found it unconscionable that patients needing urgent medical care were turned down at the door if they did not have medical insurance. I spent as much time treating lacerations and gunshot wounds as arranging immediate transfers to county institutions. I found it disturbing that the richest country in the world had a medical system that favoured only the wealthy and insured.

At the end of my year at UCLA, I ran into my senior resident after he had written his qualification exams. I knew he had passed, so I was surprised by his sullen mood. He told me that his wife had recently become sick and needed the expertise of a particular surgeon, one that his HMO refused to cover.


When Tommy Douglas first introduced equal medical access to Saskatchewan in 1959, few at the time could predict its success and integral role in defining part of our Canadian identity. But even with this history of success, our system seems to be under constant attack from critics in the public and more insidiously from within the uppermost ranks of the Canadian Medical Association. The inaction of Stephen Harper’s government and the track record of his health minister demonstrate a genuine lack of commitment to this ideal.

We possess a health-care system worth fighting for. We need to take control. We need to wrestle it out of the hands of those who cast doubts and spread fear and would sacrifice a system that benefits all Canadians so that a select few can profit. Our health-care providers are arguably the best trained in the world and our infrastructure attempts to deliver these services to all Canadians in a timely fashion.

Remember, we all share responsibility for maintaining Canada’s health-care system:

  • Health care is not free, but because we never pay directly out of our own pockets, there is a tendency to treat it as such. Our hard-earned money, in the form of taxes, funds almost every aspect of its delivery. Use it ethically and responsibly.
  • Be proactive instead of reactive regarding your health. Regular exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, smoking and alcohol cessation, and regular hand-washing are all inexpensive measures that, in the long run, will save our system a lot of money.
  • The environment is directly linked to our health. We all need to take personal responsibility for its preservation.
  • With impending federal and provincial elections, make your voice heard and your vote count. Remind politicians and decision-makers that there is no compromise or middle ground when it comes to universal health care.
  • Remind politicians and decision-makers at every level of government that women’s, children’s, community and social service, and educational programs all have a direct impact on our nation’s health. Funding cuts to these programs undermine and jeopardize the health of our collective future.
  • Recognize and reward sincere efforts to improve our system, like the joint effort by the Ontario provincial government and the Ontario Hospital Association to reduce wait times for investigations and procedures.Thinking back, it makes sense that my chief resident couldn’t understand a medical system like ours. Growing up in California, he could not comprehend a system that provides the highest standard of care to all its citizens regardless of socio-economic status with decision-making unfettered by third parties like profit-centred insurance companies and HMOs.
  •  We need to continue our proud medical tradition in this country and I hope there will never ever be a “medically indigent Canadian.”



    Author: guerson

    Historian. Teacher. Knitter. Passionate for bringing people together and building bridges.

    7 thoughts on “Canadian Health Care”

    1. Having experienced American Health Care here (not actually going to a doctor, but the cost), I have to say, I long for Canada! My university pays for my health care, and then we pay about $200/month for Bobby’s. That is for BASIC health care, with a co-pay. Every time we go to the doctor, we pay 40% of the cost and my insurance covers 60%. This is for any health related issue.
      But I have to say, that many of my friends here in the States believe that Canadian health care is the best. I have disabused them of this notion by telling stories of the difficulty in getting a good general M.D. in Toronto (I looked for a year and then gave up after I lost access to the U of t clinic), the long wait times to see specialists as well as in emergency rooms. That said, I would MUCH rather have the Canadian system, even with all of its flaws.

    2. Dana,

      Yes, the system has its flaws (I don’t know where I would find a doctor outside the U of T clinic!). Alan and I have been very lucky. He had to do a colonoscopy (just routine stuff) and they sent him to the Women’s Hospital near U of T. He had great care there and didn’t see many people around so when he had a bike accident and needed to go to an emergency room (we thought his wrist was broken) we decided to walk over to the Women’s Hospital and see if they would take him. Sure enough, there was an emergency room but other than us there was only a pregnant lady there with some blood pressure problems. They took us in right away, we had no wait time!!

      I think part of the problem in Canada is that the system is overused. They should try to educate people better on when should they go to the hospital and where else can they go other than the big hospitals. In Montreal we never really went to the hospital for anything. I broke my foot once and we went to the drop-in clinic, they then sent me to another clinic a few doors over to get x-rays. I didn’t have to wait long at all and it was the weekend!

      The other problem is the lack of personnel and investment. I think the Canadian government got too cocky with the notion that they had the best health care in the world and stopped putting enough money in the system. We’ve also lost a lot of people to the US. I lost my family doctor in Montreal shortly before I moved to Toronto because she was planning to move to the US and had started sending her patients over to other colleagues. Alan’s sister-in-law is a nurse and she’s always saying how badly they need more nurses…

      So, in other words, I think (or I hope) we all know that the flaws in the Canadian system is not so much a flaw of the concept of universal health care but rather lack of funding, personnel, and education (in the sense of teaching people alternatives to crowded emergency rooms, etc) of those using the system. I hope our government doesn’t listen to suggestions of allowing private health care. I’ve lived in a system where the only people with proper health care are those with money or a job that gives them private health care while most people are literally dieing in waiting rooms. We definitely don’t want to go there.

    3. Alexandra,

      You are extremely lucky to have the health care system you have in Canada. I would much rather wait to see a specialist than have no doctor at all like it is in the U.S. There is no excuse for the so-called richest country on earth not to provide health coverage to all its citizens and residents. It is simply appaling. If you are self employed then, like myself, forget it. I don’t have any health insurance at the moment because I cannot afford the high prices. Don’t even get me started on this!

      The problem in the U.S. is that health care is not perceived as a human right, but it is an “industry,” in other words, it is profit driven. People in the U.S. who critize the Canadian model are ignorant and terrified of anything that comes even close to regulation.

      Your health care system is definetely worth fighting for.

      I have finally caught up on my reading here. Your posts bellow are pretty diverse and interesting. It is great to read about initiatives like the one in Barcelona. It is also great to read that Canada seems to be on the right path to a multicultural society.

      It was fun to read about your “7 things.” Maybe one of these days I’ll do the same.



    4. Hi Regina,

      I guess the American fear of government regulation of anything has its drawbacks, which we can see clearly when it comes to social services, health care, and the like.
      I often say that Canada sits somewhere between the American model of private enterprise and liberalism and the European model (particularly French) of large state aparatus and government control. I think they´ve reached a nice balance.

      Thanks for your compliments. Hehehe, I guess the blog will never have a central theme (thus the “diverse posts”) but that´s ok… I´ll have to be so focused on a particular subject to write my thesis that this is my place to be unfocused and babble on about the things I see around me. Nothing very academic about it…

      Hope all is well!

    5. One of the things I’ve had the hardest time reconciling about living in the U.S. is the system of health care. While I am fortunate to have insurance, there are literally thousands of people that live in El Paso that don’t have it. I agree strongly Alex that the biggest problems in Canada are related to funding and personnel. This is largely the reason why i had such a hard time finding a doctor in Toronto. The brain drain south in the medical field is astounding. All the talk of privatizing health care in Canada has me extremely worried and I hope that it does not happen!

    6. Dana,

      I’m not sure if this is right but someone told me once that the medical association in canada limits the number of students in medical school so they can control the number of doctors. Unfortunately, these estimates are always off because of the drain south of the border. I think we should be putting more pressure on our government to continue to work with the medical associations to increase the number of medical students and/or ease the process of integrating foreign-trained doctors into the Canadian medical field.

      I get very worried too about the whole privatizing health care talks. Let’s hope our decision-makers have some sense…

    7. Not sure if anyone is still tracking this but…
      I am originally from Canada and still have a sister in Montreal.

      I work at the hospital in Dallas Texas that takes care of the indigent. And, by the way, they are not medically indigent, they are just indigent, meaning poor in the economic sense. And there are indigent people in Canada also.

      My current position is Performance Improvement/Patient Safety Analyst. Prior to this I was a Sr. Operations Analyst.

      My father passed away at a major hospital in Montreal. He had surgery in September 2004 to repair an abdominal aneurism. He passed away in August 2005 because the original surgery never healed.

      And I can tell you why…that hospital was disgustingly filthy. My father caught a hospital infection while there, MRSA. The counter in his ICU area had split open and was full of rot from moisture…in the ICU!!!

      though he had caught a hospital infection, MRSA, they did not isolate him, like we do, but put him in a MRSA ward with 6 patients. The nurse did not change gloves between patients. It was quite obvious she wore the gloves to protect herself, and not the patients.

      Upon arrival we met with the doctors before seeing my father. When they found out I was from Dallas, they made jokes about me being in the oil business. When I told them my position, they were intrigued. When i explained what i do, they said: “Well that’s why we have so many problems here, we don’t even know what an Operations Analyst is!”

      The accrediting organization in the states, JCAHO, would have shut down that hospital for the sake of the patients. It was disgusting. Our “indigent” hospital here in Dallas was much better than that one in Montreal. Our “indigent” patients get better care than any patient that goes there.

      Also, do not forget, when Canadians really need help but the wait is too long, the Canadian government sends them to the U.S. They have contracts with some hospitals here. And just recently, a woman in Calgary could not find a bed anywhere in Canada to deliver her quadruplets. So they drove 325 miles into the U.S. to have their babies!!!

      Canadians’ attitude toward America is so ungrateful. It is time Canadians start thinking of how much Canada has benefited from the U.S.


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