The Ford government set for changes to the planning act, education and health care

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They’re back and should be busier than ever.

MPPs return to the legislature Tuesday after the Christmas break with a full slate on their plates.

“We’re moving at breakneck speed on all kinds of stuff. We’re going to have a robust schedule when the house resumes,” government house leader Todd Smith said in an interview Friday.

First up will be a revised version of Bill 66 to eliminate an amendment to the Planning Act that would have allowed municipalities to bypass existing development requirements and restrictions for companies creating jobs.

Projects would have been granted expedited provincial approvals within one year, allowing businesses to begin construction, but critics warned that would have put prime farmland and the 1.8-million acre Greenbelt around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area at risk.

Smith said another piece of legislation in the days ahead will be Health Minister Christine Elliott’s bill to reorganize the health-care system.

A draft version — which confirmed the incorporation of a new “super agency” called Health Program Initiatives that the Star revealed in January — was leaked to the NDP and a mid-level bureaucrat was fired Feb. 4 for the breach.

While the New Democrats claim the bill will usher in additional privatization to health care in Ontario, Elliott has dismissed that as “fear mongering.”

Also expected this month are potentially controversial bills on policing oversight from Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones and on schools from Education Minister Lisa Thompson.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who has already called for the resignation of Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod over the Tories’ contentious revamping of funding for autism services, warned the government is in for a bumpy ride on many fronts.

Horwath pledged to “fight for the services people care about, whether that’s young people, whether that’s children with autism, whether that’s our public health system that we so fiercely want to defend, that’s what we’re going to be doing.”

“Doug Ford is not the king of Ontario. He has to answer for his actions,” she said Friday.

With such rhetoric, Smith conceded it should be an emotionally charged session.

“They scream that the sky is falling no matter what we do. They seem to be a protest party and they like to plan protests,” the house leader said of the New Democrats.

Still, Smith said autism funding is “a tough file” and the Tories are bracing for the issue to dominate question period this week.

The opposition parties will also be hammering the government over its bid to appoint Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner, a 72-year-old friend of Ford’s, as commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.

That OPP posting is now subject of an ethics investigation by integrity commissioner J. David Wake.

Horwath said she will be highlighting the “tidal wave of criticism” over the appointment.

The government, which took office last June, is also looking ahead to its first budget.

Although Ford has promised to cut 4 per cent of spending — the equivalent of $6 billion on a $150 billion budget — he’s insisted “not one job” will be lost as the Tories move toward balancing the books.

“We’re going to be responsible. If it takes a year longer, so be it,” the premier said Thursday, referring to the timetable for being back in the black.

“I’ve said over and over again, I’m not going in there hacking and slashing, and with a chainsaw cutting it up. It’s not going to happen under our administration. We’re going to find efficiencies.”

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, who is hoping to reduce a $13.5 billion deficit, is signalling Ontarians to gird for austerity measures.

“We have to start with the understanding that the previous government was spending $40 million a day more than they brought in,” said Fedeli of the Liberals of former premier Kathleen Wynne.

“We know that in this budget we must also indicate our path to balance. It’s mandatory in this budget,” he said, declining to tip his hand on when the province will be out of the red.

“I like to use my Goldilocks reference: it won’t be too soon, because, quite frankly, nobody would believe it; it won’t be too long, because anybody can do that; it will be just right.”

Asked what that means, Fedeli smiled and said: “It means that the 2019 budget will see a detailed path to balance.”

With files from Rob Ferguson

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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West Island Palliative Care Residence celebrates giving at 20th annual Valentine’s Ball – Montreal

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There were flappers and jazz music as the Roaring ’20s were revived Friday night for the 20th annual Valentine’s Ball benefiting the West Island Palliative Care Residence.

A sold-out crowd of more than 500 people took part in the fundraising event at the Château Vaudreuil.

The West Island Palliative Care Residence is a 23-bed facility that provides end-of-life care and services to patients as well as support for their families.

“The money that we’re going to raise tonight goes toward operating the residence,” said Rhonda O’Gallagher, president of the residence’s board.

WATCH: West Island Palliative Care Residence gets new emotional support puppy






O’Gallagher noted that the residence only receives one-third of its funding from the Quebec government.

“Every year, we have to fundraise more than $4 million to ensure the services are offered to the residents,” she said.

Support from the community is more important than ever, as construction has begun on a brand-new, 30,000-square-foot building.

WATCH: West Island-based initiative launches to improve palliative care across Canada







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West Island Palliative Care currently has 23 beds, but they are divided between the organization’s main residence on André-Brunet Street in Kirkland and a second location nearby.

The new facility will house all 23 beds in one location.

The new building will also house the Montreal Institute for Palliative Care, which aims to improve palliative care not just in Quebec but across the country.

READ MORE: West Island Palliative Care Residence breaks ground on sprawling new building

O’Gallagher said the fundraising goal for the consolidation project was set at $12.5 million.

“I’m very pleased to say that so far we’ve raised $9.5 million, but we still have $3 million to go,” she added.

“Any support we could get from the residents, from the community within the West Island is much appreciated.”

A net total of $580,000 was raised at Friday night’s gala event.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Child care costs dropping across Canada, but prices still high in some provinces: study – National

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Daycare fees have dropped — or barely inched up — in some Canadian cities in what might be early signs of the influence of federal child-care money, a new survey says.

The fifth annual survey of child care fees from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives being released Thursday says that fees for full-time, regulated child-care spaces have risen faster than inflation in 61 per cent of cities reviewed.

READ MORE: Children who go to daycare are better behaved, more advanced, study says

The left-leaning think tank found that costs were the highest in Toronto and the surrounding area, where fees for children under 18 months average $1,685, and $1,150 a month for older preschoolers.

Cities in Quebec had the lowest fees for full-time, regulated spaces across the country, followed by Winnipeg and Charlottetown – in the three provinces that have fixed fees for years.

The federal treasury is set to spend $7.5 billion over a decade to help fund child-care spaces across the country, with the money flowing through one-on-one agreements with provinces.

WATCH: A look at child care costs across Canada in 2016






The first three years of spending will be $1.3 billion and potentially create or maintain 40,000 subsidized spaces, a target the Liberals say is on its way to being achieved. Once the three years are up – after this year’s federal election – new funding deals will have to be signed.

David Macdonald, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said he expected that government policy aimed at lowering fees will lead to an overall decrease in prices for the first time in five years.

“For the survey that we’ve been doing, it’s just been fees going up every year, year after year, far more than the rate of inflation and we’re seeing fees actually start to go in reverse in a couple of the provinces,” Macdonald said.

He says the initial federal spending appears to have helped provinces moving to regulate the prices parents pay for child care.


READ MORE:
How much child care cash do you qualify for? New website, application process goes live

The federal Liberals didn’t expect provinces to set lower fees when it signed funding agreements with all of them last year, but did envision that provincial governments – which are responsible for child care – would find ways to make daycare more affordable for those who need it.

A set-fee regime in St. John’s, N.L., led to a 13-per-cent decline in the fees parents pay, the report says, even though the costs still remain similar to those found in Ottawa, where the rates are set by the market. Reductions were also noted in Edmonton where the provincial NDP has rolled out government-supported $25-a-day daycare.

“There’s a measurable effect,” Macdonald said of federal funding.

“While federal money is certainly flowing out, it in all cases supported pre-existing provincial efforts. So it’s not that the federal money initiated those efforts – the provinces initiated those efforts usually several years prior to the federal bilateral agreements being signed.”

WATCH: More than 40% of kids live in ‘child-care deserts,’ study says






Other provinces are using federal funding towards other efforts, such increasing subsidies for low-income families, Macdonald said, although the impacts won’t be captured in the centre’s survey of what providers charge.

Groups interested in seeing the Liberals boost their child-care pending have come away from talks with the view that the government won’t unveil any new measures in the 2019 budget.

Other groups argue that providing more money to families and letting them make their own child-care decisions is better federal policy.


READ MORE:
How did Trudeau’s taxes and benefits affect you? Find out with our calculator

Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think-tank, released a report last month arguing that federal spending should be used to expand the income-tested child benefit, allow parents on leave to earn more income before their employment-insurance benefits are clawed back, and allow for a market-based, independent child-care system.

“We are witnessing unnecessary discrimination against market-based, home-based, or other private/independent child care,” the paper argues. “These forms of care are some of the most popular for parents as they often mimic the home environment more closely.”

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Don’t panic over Ontario’s looming health care overhaul, former top bureaucrat says

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A prominent member of Premier Doug Ford’s health advisory council is urging Ontarians not to panic over a looming overhaul of the health-care system, saying “relax” until the plan is made public.

The advice from Michael Decter, deputy health minister in former premier Bob Rae’s NDP government of the early 1990s, comes amid conflicting versions of the shape a “transformation” acknowledged by Health Minister Christine Elliott will take following the leak of confidential draft legislation.

While New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, whose office has received other leaked documents related to the creation of a new health-care “super agency” with powers to increase privatization of medical services, Elliott flatly denies the charge and has insisted nothing is “finalized.”

“People should just relax a little bit and not see this as the start of a war,” Decter said Wednesday, noting he was speaking for himself and not for the council headed by Dr. Rueben Devlin.

“Nothing really moves that fast in health care.”

A “status report” from the second week in January warns of several risks, including moving home care from existing Local Health Integration Networks to new integrated care models could lead to “service disruption” during the transition period and “potential labour disruption” by care co-ordinators who are members of the Ontario Nursing Association, whose labour contracts expire in March.

“Ford and his government have been doing all this behind closed doors, in secret,” Horwath said in a statement.

Elliott’s office said earlier this week that “much of the material released by the NDP has ever even crossed the minister’s desk, let alone made it to the cabinet table.”

However, the super agency has been incorporated as the Health Program Initiative, as indicated in the documents released by Horwath, according to a search of public records.

Decter, who has advised governments of all three stripes on health-care matters over the last three decades, said health is a massive ministry and that opposition parties need to be cautious when receiving leaked papers.

“I’m sure all of the documents are real but when the minister says I never saw those ones I tend to believe her. I had a minister that used to say that to me fairly often: ‘where the heck did this come from?’”

In regard to the leak, an unnamed civil servant was fired Monday by acting secretary of cabinet Steven Davidson for breaking the oath of confidentiality, with the Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets squad now considering whether to investigate. Horwath’s office said it has not been contacted by the OPP.

In the meantime, the bargaining agent representing civil service managers and professional staff is representing the worker in a grievance, as is “routine” in cases of dismissal.

“We have no comment on the concern expressed by some that the person dismissed is not the person who leaked material to the NDP,” the Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario.

Horwath and others including former deputy health minister Dr. Bob Bell, who served under the most recent Liberal government, have raised concerns that the world-renowned Cancer Care Ontario would be subsumed into the super agency and lose effectiveness.

But Decter said this could be a way to use the cancer agency’s expertise and model to improve mental health and other forms of care.

“Rather than seeing it as cancer loses, maybe you see it as mental health learns from cancer how you run something province-wide and measure quality,” he added, noting Cancer Care Ontario is already helping improve kidney dialysis.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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Toronto parents pay the highest child care fees in the country. Elsewhere in Canada, provinces are capping the burden

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More than half of Canadian provinces are using fee caps to rein in parents’ galloping child-care costs, but Ontario isn’t one of them, according to a national survey being released Thursday.

“For the first time in five years we are seeing movement, with more provinces using public policy to make child care more affordable,” said study co-author David Macdonald of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Jessica Dumelie and her daughters, one of whom is almost 3 and the other who is 18 months. Dumelie and her husband will be paying $3,400 a month for child care when Jessica returns to work next year.
Jessica Dumelie and her daughters, one of whom is almost 3 and the other who is 18 months. Dumelie and her husband will be paying $3,400 a month for child care when Jessica returns to work next year.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

“But these bright spots are overshadowed by the fact that fees in Canada remain astronomical, outpacing inflation in most cities,” added Macdonald, senior economist for the left-leaning think tank.

Toronto parents continue to pay the highest median fees in the country, with infant care topping $1,685 a month or $20,220 a year, says the centre’s fifth annual report on child-care affordability.

Parents in Mississauga, Hamilton and Kitchener pay $1,490, while median infant fees in Vancouver are $1,400 a month, according to the study, which surveyed fees in licensed centres and homes in 28 cities across the country last summer.

Spaces for preschoolers (age 2-1/2 to 4), which make up more than half of the 717,000 licensed spots for young children in Canada, are still the most expensive in Toronto with median monthly fees of $1,150. Preschool fees in Brampton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Markham, London, Kitchener and Ottawa follow close behind at $1,000 a month, the report says.

Quebec, Manitoba and PEI enjoy the most affordable child care in the country, thanks to long-standing provincial fee caps. The median monthly cost for all age groups in Quebec is less than $200, while median monthly preschool fees in Manitoba and PEI are $451 and $586 respectively, the report notes.

But the recent introduction of fee caps in Newfoundland, British Columbia and Alberta are starting to make a difference for parents in those provinces too, Macdonald said. For the first time, median fees for preschoolers in St. John’s and Edmonton went down last year, the report says.

Read More:

Child care costs just $10 a day for these B.C. families — and it’s changed their lives

Alberta expanded a $25-a-day pilot project launched in 2017 from 22 centres to 122 locations last year.

B.C.’s new fee-reduction initiative has lowered parent costs by $100 to $350 a month in participating centres. And the NDP government rolled out its promised $10-a-day program in 53 centres last fall.

As part of a 10-year plan launched in 2012, Newfoundland introduced operating grants in 2018 to centres that agreed to cap daily fees at $44 for infants, $35 for toddlers and $30 for preschoolers.

“Almost half of the spaces surveyed in St. John’s in 2018 were participating in the Operating Grant Program, which is reflected in the more than $100 drop in median monthly fees since 2017,” the report says.

In all cases, provinces used federal funding to cap or reduce fees, the report notes, adding such collaboration “can hopefully create a foundation for improving child-care affordability in the future.”

But in Ontario, where the previous Liberal government had planned to introduce free preschool starting next year, Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have promised a child-care fee tax rebate instead.

Toronto parent Jessica Dumelie, 30, who is on maternity leave with her second child, is bracing for the financial fallout when she returns to her health-care job next January.

Monthly child-care costs for her daughters, who will be 18-months- and almost 4-years-old when she goes back to work, will be $1,750 and $1,650 respectively and easily eclipse her family’s mortgage payments.

Fortunately, the whopping $3,400 monthly child-care bill will drop when Dumelie’s older daughter starts kindergarten in the fall of 2020. But Dumelie and her husband, who works in finance, will still be paying more than $2,000 a month for toddler and after-school care.

“We were very excited about the possibility of free preschool for our younger one,” said Dumelie, a member of parent group Toronto East Enders for Child Care. “But now that doesn’t look like an option.”

She’s not sure how the tax rebate would work or even if her family would qualify.

In the meantime, Dumelie said her family is “making sacrifices” and putting money aside to pay for child care when she returns to work.

“Costs are wild,” she said. “We’ll just have to find some way to make it work.”

Thursday’s report also takes a closer look at child-care costs in Quebec, where about two-thirds of centres and home daycares are publicly funded with fees set at $7 a day and the rest are private businesses that charge “market” rates.

Since the mid-2000s, Quebec has offered parents who use private centres a child-care tax rebate to help cover the cost. But even with the tax rebate, parents in those centres pay fees that are between two- and three-times higher than those in publicly-funded programs with a set fee, the report notes.

At an annual cost of about $800 million a year, Quebec’s child-care tax rebate clearly isn’t as effective as set fees when it comes to parent cost, Macdonald said.

Quality in Quebec’s private centres isn’t as high as in $7-a-day programs either, added the report’s co-author Martha Friendly, citing recent research in that province.

“Since we have been doing these studies, the fees (across the country) have continued to go up, up, up,” said Friendly executive director of the Child Care Resource and Research Unit.

“What this report found is that in provinces that set fees, it has an effect in the centres covered by the policy. But it doesn’t have an effect on market-fee centres,” she said.

The experience in Quebec shows Ontario would be making a mistake if it introduces its promised child-care fee rebate, added Friendly.

“We are moving from free child care — the most affordable — to a mirage,” she said. “You don’t create accessible, affordable and quality child care by sending (parents) a cheque or giving them a tax rebate.”

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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Ontario health care ‘super agency’ would allow more privatization, confidential draft bill shows

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A confidential draft bill from Premier Doug Ford’s government would establish a health “super agency” to create “efficiencies” in the system and empower cabinet to privatize more services and sell medical data, according to a leaked copy.

The new “super agency” to oversee health care was first revealed by the Star on Jan. 17.

The leaked version of the Health System Efficiency Act 2019, obtained by the New Democrats and revealed Thursday, states the super agency — yet to be named — would implement the new Progressive Conservative government’s health system strategies, hinted at in a new report released Thursday from Ford’s health care czar Dr. Rueben Devlin.

Devlin said the complex health-care system is too “difficult” for patients to navigate, pointing to the need to make treatment paths more efficient and, for example, take better care of people with chronic diseases like diabetes.

Under the draft bill, the super agency would have the powers to “designate” providers of integrated care providing a mix of at least two of the following: hospital care, primary care, mental health, addictions, home care, long-term care, and palliative care.

The bill would also give Health Minister Christine Elliott the power to “consider whether to adjust the funding (of the super agency) to take into account a portion of the savings from efficiencies that the super agency generated in the previous fiscal year and that the super agency proposes to spend on patient care in subsequent fiscal years.”

A source told the Star an official announcement on the super agency, which the legislation says will have a 15-member board of directors, is expected in late February.

More to come

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Doctor voices concern over possible location for Okanagan urgent care facility – Okanagan

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An urgent care centre could be coming to the Okanagan, but not everybody is happy about its possible location.

Dr. Toye Oyelese, medical director at Westside Medical Associates, is worried that West Kelowna is being overlooked.

“There are already a lot of resources concentrated in Kelowna. Residents on the west side and area have to go to Kelowna to access these resources, and I think it makes more sense to have an urgent care [facility] on this side,” he said.

An urgent care centre is for patients needing help beyond the typical care provided in a clinic but who aren’t in need of the emergency room, Oyelese said.


READ MORE:
Surrey is unveiled as fourth Urgent Primary Care Centre in British Columbia

“You can do things like casting, IV’s on people who might be dehydrated, things like suturing,” he said. “The whole idea behind it is you don’t have people who aren’t that seriously sick plugging up the emergency room.”

WATCH: No changes on horizon after two Okanagan care home deaths linked to resident aggression






MLA Ben Stewart agreed that improved medical services need to be available to people in the West Kelowna area.

“With the over 50,000 residents just in West Bank First Nation and the City of West Kelowna, there are health services that are needed here,” Stewart said.


READ MORE:
New Urgent Primary Care Centre to open in Vancouver on Monday

“KGH is great, but seniors that live in our community end up with issues during the night are having to take a taxi or ambulance back in to KGH, and I don’t think that a large portion of the population should have to subject themselves to that.”

Interior Health is hoping to operate an existing clinic as an urgent care centre. Clinics were invited to express interest by submitting details of their facilities, including the number of exam rooms and parking spaces.


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Oyelese believes his West Kelowna walk-in clinic is one of the best-suited facilities in the region. Unlike most other places, it has a designated hallway entrance where an ambulance can come from the back.

“We have about 7,000 square feet of office space, 16 examining rooms, four offices and two huge treatment rooms,” he said. “We are ideally situated just off Highway 97, and we have unlimited parking.

“We thought, wow, it’s really a no brainer,” he said.


READ MORE:
West Kelowna mayor, council meeting with B.C. ministers at UBCM

But even though West Kelowna has been lobbying for better health facilities for years, the clinic was turned down, Oyelese said.

“We hadn’t heard anything back, so we sent an email a couple of days ago,” he said. “And we were told that we had somehow been overlooked when all the other clinics were informed that they hadn’t been chosen, that we’d somehow been overlooked and they’d forgotten to call us.”

Oyelese is concerned that if the urgent care centre is close to Kelowna’s hospital, it’s possible that more people would go to the emergency room anyway because it’s so close.

“I’m not really sure it’s a good idea to concentrate so many resources in the same area,” he said. “I think it makes more sense to spread things out.”


READ MORE:
New clinic in Kelowna for mental health patients

Locating the new urgent care centre in Kelowna also adds to recruitment challenges West Kelowna is already facing, Oyelese said.

“Physicians tend to want to work where they have the resources that they can use to do their work properly,” he said. “So what ends up happening is West Kelowna ends up being the ugly step-sister doing recruitment, and it’s been fairly difficult to convince physicians to come to the west side.”

Interior Health and the Ministry of Health did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Premier John Horgan opens door to including dental coverage within B.C.’s health care system

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B.C. Premier John Horgan is not opposed to the idea of the province covering dental care as part of the provincial health care system.

Horgan was asked about the issue as part of a year-end interview with Global News.

“We have been looking at it and hopefully we will be able to do something about it in the next budget,” Horgan said.

WATCH: March 2018 — B.C. to increase number of annual dental surgeries






The Ontario NDP unveiled a campaign promise in March in to extend dental care to people in the country’s most populated province without insurance coverage.

The NDP estimated the plan would provide dental benefits to 4.5 million Ontarians at a cost of $1.2 billion.


READ MORE:
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath pitches public dental plan

The plan would cover basic procedures such as dentures, exams, X-rays, fillings, cleanings and restorative work.

“It would take pressure off of our doctors’ offices, and off of our hospitals, where people are now forced to go when they’re in absolute crisis when it comes to their mouth and their oral health and their dental needs,” NDP leader Andrea Horwath said during the election campaign.

Horwath is now the leader of the official opposition, losing to current Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Under the plan, public cash would cover care for seniors without insurance and those on social assistance.

For employers, the NDP would make offering a minimum standard of dental coverage mandatory, including for part-time and contract workers.


READ MORE:
Overcoming barriers to affordable dental care

British Columbia’s Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums currently cover medically necessary services provided by physicians and midwives, dental and oral surgery performed in a hospital, eye examinations that are medically required and some orthodontic services.

Horgan said that his own experience has made it clear to him how important dental services are.

WATCH: March 2018 — Vulnerable B.C. children will have quicker access to dental surgery






“I got my two front teeth knocked out playing basketball when I was a kid and it meant that I was always tentative about smiling. Dental care, dental health is critically important to physical well being as well as mental well being,” Horgan said.

“I believe it’s an area we need to move into with kids and get good habits with good oral hygiene and make sure that is funded.”


READ MORE:
Is better training the answer to cutting wait times for dental surgery?

In 2008, the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) supported a motion to ask the province to take immediate steps to remove access barriers to dental health care, allocate more funding for basic dental health care insurance for low income individuals and families in the province, and work with the BC Dental Association to resolve the discrepancy between the BC Dental Fee guide and the actual fees charged by dentists.

In 2018, UBCM discussed requiring the Ministry of Health to add basic dental care to MSP coverage and to have B.C. mandate a provincial requirement for all public water source treatment to include fluoridation where naturally-occurring levels do not meet the minimum suggested level of 0.07mg/L.

  • With files from Kerri Breen

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canadian spending on health care expected to increase by 4.2 per cent over last year, report says

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Canada is expected to dole out $253.5 billion in total health spending in 2018, or about $6,839 per Canadian, according to a Canadian Institute for Health Information report.

It’s a 4.2 per cent increase over last year, and adds up to almost 11.3 per cent of our gross domestic product, says the not-for-profit organization that studies national health care data.

Canada is expected to dole out $253.5 billion in total health spending in 2018, or about $6,839 per Canadian, according to a Canadian Institute for Health Information report.
Canada is expected to dole out $253.5 billion in total health spending in 2018, or about $6,839 per Canadian, according to a Canadian Institute for Health Information report.  (Toronto Star file photo)

Increases in health spending are typically tied to economic growth, said Jordan Hunt, the organization’s manager of pharmaceutical information.

“Health spending grows when the economy grows and might shrink when the economy shrinks,” Hunt said in an interview Monday. “Over the past decade — it has been stable, in terms of its share of GDP.

“We did see a bit higher public health spending per person in urban areas versus those living in rural areas — a little less than $200 per person,” he said. “It’s the first time it was something we looked at, at a high level.”

As the conversation about federal pharmacare gathers steam, the study indicates that Canada’s drug spending growth outstripped increases linked to hospitals and physician services.

Roughly $33.7 billion is expected to be spent on prescribed drugs this year, marking a 4.2 per cent annual increase in that category, compared with 4 per cent and 3.1 per cent for hospitals and doctors, respectively.

Hospitals continue to eat up the lion’s share ($1,933 per person) of 2018 spending, representing 28.3 per cent of total expenditures, while physician services accounted for 15.1 per cent.

The $33.7 billion in drug costs constitutes 15.1 per cent of the overall pie; with the remaining 41 per cent dedicated to a variety of health-care goods and services.

CIHI, which has been tracking health spending for 40 years, noted three classes of drugs fuelling this year’s spike in prescribed drug cost; with medications for rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease accounting for the highest proportion of drug spending (8.2 per cent) for the sixth consecutive year and antiviral treatments for hepatitis C coming at a close second, accounting for 5 per cent.

“There were two new drugs that came in 2016, that covered a wider range of the viral-types of hepatitis C, so people that maybe weren’t able to be treated with the older drugs a couple years ago are now able to be treated,” Hunt said.

Ontario’s former health minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins, now tasked with chairing a national pharmacare advisory council, scanned the CIHI report Monday, saying the prescribed drug figures mirrored some of those being generated in his committee’s ongoing survey of the country.

“It reinforces the importance to develop a blueprint for national pharmacare,” Hoskins said. “We’re paying too much. We’re third-highest in the world, in terms of per capital expenditure.”

“It will give us bulk purchasing power — if we’re all coming together as a unit,” Hoskins said touting the push for national pharmacare.

Challenges of affordability are being laid bare, Hoskins said, as upwards of three million Canadians queried in the advisory groups data finding mission, “said they had not filled one of four prescriptions in the last year because they couldn’t afford it.”

The council’s federal report on pharmacare is due by spring of next year.

In 2018, the public sector will shoulder $14.4 billion (42.7 per cent) of prescribed drug spending.

“That’s gone down a lot,” said Don Drummond is the Stauffer-Dunning Fellow in Global Public Policy and adjunct professor at the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University of the public-supported portion.

“We keep saying that we have a public health care system and less than 50 per cent of the pharmaceuticals are covered by the public domain,” Drummond said. “It definitely strengthens the case for national pharmacare as the public share keeps going down.”

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German tourist shot in head near Calgary still requires 24/7 care

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A German tourist, who visited Alberta to celebrate his 60th birthday, still requires 24/7 care and likely will never work again, says the Honorary German Consulate in Calgary.

Horst Stewin, 60, was randomly shot in the head on an Alberta highway this summer.

« He is still very limited when it comes to communications, so he cannot speak and he can’t walk … which has a huge impact of course on his life and of everyone else, his family, » Honorary Consul Hubertus Liebrecht told CBC News in a phone interview, his first time speaking to media since the incident.

While driving from Banff to Calgary with his wife, his son and his son’s girlfriend on Aug. 2, another vehicle pulled up beside them on Highway 1A.

Stewin was shot in the head near the Morley rodeo grounds, about 55 kilometres west of Calgary. He was flown back to Germany and had the bullet lodged in his head removed.

The trip to Alberta was a 60th birthday present for the man, Liebrecht said.

The 16-year-old accused of shooting him is out on bail and court-ordered to live with his grandmother as a condition of his release.

The details of the alleged crime discussed during the bail hearing in the Provincial Court of Alberta are all protected by a publication ban. The Youth Criminal Justice Act protects the teen’s identity.

The teen faces 14 charges including attempted murder and eight gun-related offences.

Liebrecht raised $13,435 for the family through a GoFundMe to help pay for expenses in Alberta and to get back home.

« Canadians contributed in a really impressive way, » the honorary consul said. « Especially the comments were very touching in many ways and I forwarded them all to the family. »

Never work again

But Liebrecht said the family still has major financial challenges ahead.

Stewin was a 50 per cent shareholder in his company, and his business partner had a stroke last year.

« So, now the company is in a difficult position as well, which creates financial stress, » Liebrecht said. « It’s very difficult to really make a reliable forecast at this point but he will never be able to work again, that seems to be sure. »

Liebrecht said he’s been contacted by many tourism agencies in Germany since the incident, inquiring about safety in Alberta.

He said he feels the shooting was a one-time incident, but noted all parties involved will be carefully watching what happens now in the court proceedings.

With files from Elizabeth Snaddon

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