B.C. court challenge threatens public health care

“This trial is of significant importance to all Canadians not just the citizens of British Columbia. Fundamentally, he has put our entire public health care system on trial. However, I think he has misjudged how much Canadians value and support Medicare.” — Elisabeth Ballermann, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer

Ottawa (09 Sept. 2016) — The Supreme Court of British Columbia has started to hear arguments on Dr. Brian Day's lawsuit against public health care. Day, co-owner of Vancouver’s Cambie Surgery Centre and the Specialist Referral Clinic, claims restricting private, for-profit care violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Both of Days clinics have violated B.C.'s Medicare Protection Act by imposing extra or double billing of its fees.

Case of significant importance to Canadians

“This trial is of significant importance to all Canadians not just the citizens of British Columbia,” said Elisabeth Ballermann, Secretary-Treasurer of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). “Fundamentally, Day has put our entire public health care system on trial. However, I think he has misjudged how much Canadians value and support Medicare.”

“The National Union and our Components in British Columbia — Health Sciences Association of British Columbia and the British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union — as well as the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat have been closely watching developments and informing our members of its importance," Ballermann said.

Ballermann’s opinion is shared by Adrienne Silnicki, the national coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition.

"What's on trial is equitable health care," said Silnicki. "Day's lawsuit is an affront to Canada's public health care system where people are treated based on their needs — not their ability to pay. There could be very real consequences to his case, extending beyond B.C.'s borders and affecting our access to quality universal health care."

Privateers' raison d'être is increasing their bottom-line

"Physicians have an option to completely opt out and charge patients the full price of their services.  But that is where reality hits the privateers right in the pocket book, because too few Canadians can afford to consider this option," said Ballermann. "So instead, they want it all:  the ability for the wealthy to jump the queue, for the private providers to cherry-pick uncomplicated cases and still bill the public system for some services."

"By arguing that Canadians should be able to buy private insurance to buy his services, Dr. Day is simply trying to increase the pool of patients who could afford that option, an option that would still be unaffordable for most," she said.

Private health care no cure

While the merits of public versus private health care are debated in a B.C. courtroom, the evidence is already in and conclusive. Research conducted in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia shows that with an increased use of private for-profit care, wait times become longer and there are fewer resources available in the public system.

The research also shows that health outcomes are better in public facilities. When comparing dialysis centres in the United States, researchers found that the death rate was 8 per cent higher for patients in for-profit centres than those in non-profit centres. The same study estimated there would be 2,200 more deaths per year if Canada's hospitals were converted to for-profit facilities.

Innovations and improvements can be found in the public sector

“There is no question that our public health care system needs to change to meet contemporary needs,” said Ballermann. “However, all these changes can be best met within the existing public heatlh care system. Expanded community-based primary health care and seniors' care, a national public drug plan, and a health professionals human resources strategy could bring significant improvements to the care that Canadians receive."

The defendants in the case are the B.C. Minister of Health, the Attorney General and B.C.'s Medical Services Commission. Official interveners include the federal government, B.C. Health Coalition, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, B.C. Anesthesiologists Society, as well as patients and physicians. The trial is expected to last six months.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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