After countless pleas from workers and retirees, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called on the Liberal government to end for profit long-term care facilities. This is a very good demand and it is encouraging that the NDP is taking it on. But then Singh clarified that an NDP government would only do this by 2030. While taking profit out of long-term care is overwhelmingly popular across Canada, many were confused by the nearly decade-long time frame of this plan. The NDP would have to win two or three consecutive federal elections to implement it, but the crisis in long-term care is happening right now. A much bolder and more urgent plan would be necessary to save lives and capture the attention of Canadian workers and retirees.
The evidence is clear that publicly owned long-term care facilities are better at preventing COVID-19 deaths than for-profit alternatives. A report from last May showed a 3.62 percent death rate from COVID-19 outbreaks at publicly owned homes, compared to a nine per cent death rate at for-profit homes. This finding was unsurprising, because the profit motive compels private owners to cut corners on personal protective equipment (PPE), paid sick days, staffing, and wages. Care workers end up spreading COVID-19 across multiple facilities and ignoring symptoms because they can’t afford to take time off. The clear advantages of public ownership have led 86 per cent of Canadians to support long-term care entering the Canada Health Act. With such widespread support across all regions and age groups, you’d think the NDP would be vociferously demanding immediate nationalization with no compensation to the bosses who have presided over thousands of deaths.
The owners of long-term care facilities have already received too many sweetheart deals from the government. Liberals and Conservatives alike have sold out long-term care—most egregiously former Ontario premier Mike Harris, who is currently profiting from his own privatizations. Now, long-term care companies are receiving hundreds of millions in “wage subsidies” which they are spending on dividends instead of COVID-19 precautions. There is no reason why these parasites should receive a penny more from taxpayers, let alone from the clients they are bankrupting and leaving to die. Their facilities should be immediately expropriated under workers’ control, with more full-time staff, proper PPE, pay raises, and unlimited paid sick leave. This is the only way to prevent needless deaths in the age of COVID-19.
The NDP’s plan says they “will put in place a national task force charged with creating a plan to transition all for-profit care to not-for-profit hands by 2030”. A plan for a task force for a transition by 2030! We need action now. People are dying now! The NDP’s plan will let long-term care residents continue to die preventable deaths for the rest of the decade. It is totally unacceptable.
There are some who insist that healthcare is outside the federal government’s jurisdiction, and that long-term care residents will have to wait for the premiers to get onboard to receive relief. Indeed, Singh called on the federal government to “work with the provincial and territorial authorities to establish national standards for long-term care homes”. However, Canadian federalism only requires the provinces to regulate the delivery of health care—there is nothing that says the federal government can’t play a role in ownership. A federal agency already owns the long-term care company Revera, but it is run on a for-profit basis. The nationalization of long-term care should be possible under Canadian law, but even if it’s not, why should workers and residents let Canada’s archaic federal system get in the way of life-saving health care? If these regulations are killing people, they need to be torn up to save lives. Anyone who cites jurisdiction as a reason to oppose nationalizing long-term care is just saying they would rather wait for premiers like Doug Ford and Jason Kenney to expand access to health care, when everybody knows they will do the exact opposite.
The NDP leadership thinks they are being reasonable and pragmatic in sustaining private care until 2030. But instead they are ruining a good idea and promoting apathy. When the NDP has never won federal government, saying this policy will be implemented in the second or third successive NDP administration sounds to many voters like it will never be implemented. This is exactly the same politics that tanked former NDP leader Tom Mulcair in the 2015 election when he said that child care and pharmacare wouldn’t be implemented for eight or more years. This led to the NDP plummeting from first to third place and then to a miserable defeat. The party bureaucracy is desperately afraid to do anything that would damage the profits of big business or upset the norms of capitalist legality, and therefore propose policies so mild as to make no difference. In order to galvanize support and enthusiasm, the NDP has to be willing to blow up any obstacle in the way of giving the workers what they need.
The pandemic is making it clear that capitalism kills, and huge swaths of workers are becoming radicalized as a result. The NDP could be a pole of attraction for these workers if they stopped propping up the Liberals and adopted a bold socialist program of nationalization and workers’ control. As long as the NDP continues to support the politics and legality of the status quo, it will go from failure to failure. To break from the status quo, they can make a good start by saying lives are more important than profits, and that ending murderous profiteering in long-term care will be the first act of an NDP government.