Madam Speaker, the COVID pandemic has exposed long-standing issues affecting long-term care. In response to what the country now knows about the shortcomings, it is the duty of the government to work with the provinces and territories to improve seniors’ living conditions as well as workers’ conditions in long-term care, to be more equitable across this country.
As a New Democrat, I am happy to say that we have used our power to secure a commitment from the federal government, through the confidence and supply agreement, to bring in a safe long-term care act that would ensure seniors receive the care they deserve, no matter in what province or which long-term care home they live. This long-overdue legislation must be implemented without delay, and I thank the member for Avalon for introducing this motion, which takes another step forward in speeding up the necessary action to protect seniors and the workers who care for them.
I would like to thank all the workers who have supported seniors throughout this pandemic and who support seniors every day in this country. I offer my heartfelt gratitude to every single worker who did double duty as a caregiver and an emotional supporter when families could not visit or hug their loved ones for months on end during this pandemic. When family support was not available, every care worker stepped up to fill that gap.
I will also take a moment to recognize Frank, a long-term care resident and loved dad and uncle who finds himself again in lockdown as we work through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Care workers have a special constitution, a moral connection to their clients and skills that deserve great respect. Their work is hard, stressful and both physically and emotionally taxing. This is why the working conditions and pay of long-term care workers need to improve as we work to improve long-term care itself.
COVID-19 magnified the unequal and under-resourced long-term care system across Canada, and the lack of accountability, especially in privatized care. This lack of accountability is due to lax enforcement of standards and regulations. For example, a CBC investigation revealed that 85% of long-term care homes in Ontario had routinely violated health care standards for decades, with near total impunity.
Let me be clear that there is no fault on the workers here, who give their all in a system that is undervalued by the government. Decades of underinvestment and under-regulation have resulted in short-staffed institutions and underpaid workers. Inadequate wages have forced care workers to take on long hours and to work at multiple care homes just to make ends meet. That practice serves neither workers nor seniors and must change.
Deeply troubling in this country is the move to privatize long-term care, where corporations are focused on profits rather than the care of the people they are supposed to serve. Long-term care is medical care, but it is not covered under our universal, not-for-profit health care system in Canada, and because long-term care lies outside the Canada Health Act, too many care homes are run first and foremost for profit.
Privatization of long-term care does not work for seniors and does not work for the workers either. Decades of research have demonstrated that long-term care homes that run on a for-profit basis tend to have lower staffing levels, more verified complaints and more transfers to hospitals.
In addition, during the pandemic, many for-profit operators paid out millions in bonuses to CEOs and dividends while accepting subsidies from the government and neglecting the residents under their care. While those CEOs were taking home bonuses, workers in long-term care had to work multiple jobs to pay rent and keep food on the table. During COVID-19, they were getting sick and injured and their mental health suffered.
We must recognize and value the essential labour of those who take care of us. Crucial policy actions need to include better and faster recognition for credentials received outside Canada for care workers, higher wages, paid sick days, accessible and affordable child care, and mental health supports. Let us also include dental care and pharmacare.
In recent testimony out of the HUMA committee on long-term care, Katherine Scott of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives told us that women represent 75% of workers in care occupations and have lower average employment income than their male counterparts. In 2015, a female care worker earned an average of 81% of a male care worker’s wage.
Naomi Lightman told the HUMA committee, “we know that the process of transferring credentials needs to be accelerated. It needs to be faster, it needs to be easier and it needs to be more affordable.” She said that many immigrant women who work in the care sector are sending remittances to their home countries and are working multiple part-time jobs just to make ends meet to support their families. She also said the current process does not allow them the time or the financial means needed to do the upgrading the government requires.
How can we expect to attract and retain workers in this highly gendered occupation when the industry discriminates against them? The exploitation of care workers needs to stop. We must make every care job a good job, to protect seniors and workers across the country.
In a HUMA study on seniors, we were told that staffing levels in long-term care facilities also need to improve. Care homes are having trouble hiring more staff. This is no surprise given that these facilities are known for low wages and difficult working conditions. The Liberals must act immediately to ensure both seniors and their care workers get the dignity they deserve.
Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed our care workers. As a result, the current government has also failed our seniors. It has not legislated improved standards in long-term care, has not ensured workers are paid adequately and has not respected the skill and importance of care work. Instead, it continues to let the market erode our long-term care. As it embraces the profit-driven model, it turns a blind eye to the inadequate care for seniors and the exploitation of workers.
The NDP will work relentlessly to change that. Profit has no place in the care of seniors, just as it has no place anywhere in our primary health care system. We must continue to work collaboratively with seniors, their families, caregivers, not-for-profit and public care providers and provincial and territorial governments to develop national standards for long-term care, which must include accountability mechanisms and data collection measuring outcomes, as well as funding.
All people in Canada deserve to live in dignity, with their human rights upheld and protected. It is my expectation that the government live up to its commitments and act quickly and boldly to fix the deteriorating conditions in long-term care, not just for the residents of Port Moody—Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra, but for everyone across Canada. It must also stop the exploitation of care workers immediately.