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FIRST READING: Amid ‘crumbling’ health care, man dies in waiting room


Get ready for Canadian Space Force!

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Saturdays), sign up here.

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Canada was notoriously unable to obtain any meaningful convictions for the 1985 Air India Bombing, which until 2001 ranked as the world’s deadliest terrorist attack. This week, one of the suspects acquitted, Ripudaman Singh Malik (above), was killed in a brazen daylight shooting in Surrey. Click here to learn more.
Canada was notoriously unable to obtain any meaningful convictions for the 1985 Air India Bombing, which until 2001 ranked as the world’s deadliest terrorist attack. This week, one of the suspects acquitted, Ripudaman Singh Malik (above), was killed in a brazen daylight shooting in Surrey. Click here to learn more. Photo by Richard Lam/The Canadian Press

TOP STORY

Mere hours after Canada’s assembled premiers declared that the country’s health-care system was “crumbling,” reports emerged of a New Brunswick man who died in a hospital waiting room while awaiting care.

The “unexpected” death may have gone unreported if not for a witness account by John Staples, a residential support worker who was in the waiting room of Fredericton’s Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital on Tuesday.

In a widely circulated Facebook post, Staples said a man in “great discomfort” seemed to fall asleep in his wheelchair. An hour later, when an emergency room staffer went to check on the man, they noticed he wasn’t breathing.

I was there to see a fellow New Brunswicker pass away in a hospital waiting room,” he wrote.

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The death is just the latest horror story from a Canadian health-care system that, by all available metrics, is coming apart at the seams.

Wait times for Canadian health care have never been longer. According to the latest numbers from Health Quality Ontario, the average emergency room patient in Ontario spends 20.1 hours waiting for care. Although provincial hospitals aim to cycle patients into care within eight hours, only 24 per cent of patients meet that threshold.

It’s a similar situation when it comes to wait times for surgery or specialist consultations. A December report by the Fraser Institute found that the average Canadian now waits 11.1 weeks for a specialist consultation — a 201 per cent increase over 1993, when the wait was just 3.7 weeks.

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Across the country, the number of Canadians without a family doctor continues to swell. Just this week, Nova Scotia’s doctor waiting list hit an all-time high of 100,000 names, meaning 10 per cent of the population does not have access to primary care. Every day, an average of 241 Nova Scotians add their names to the list.

In slight more than a year, the number of Nova Scotians without access to primary care has grown by a third.
In slight more than a year, the number of Nova Scotians without access to primary care has grown by a third. Photo by Nova Scotia Health

The situation is far worse in Western Canada. In B.C., nearly one million residents do not have a family doctor. And that number is particularly high in Victoria, the city where Canada’s premiers made their “crumbling” pronouncement earlier this week; one in five Victorians do not have access to primary care.

Health care is even becoming seriously backlogged for the most basic services. In P.E.I., an 811 telehealth service intended to reduce pressure on hospital emergency rooms is now experiencing hold times of more than 12 hours. Recent numbers by the online wait time tracker Medimap are showing that the average British Columbian is now waiting 58 minutes to access care at a walk-in clinic. And in some jurisdictions, that average wait time is higher than two hours.

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It’s nothing new for the Canadian health-care system to operate on the brink of collapse. Even in normal times all it took was a particularly nasty flu season to overload Canadian hospitals to the point where capacity was hitting 150 per cent.

Before the pandemic, Canada had one of the lowest rates of hospital beds per person among peer countries in the OECD. There are approximately 2.5 beds for every 1,000 Canadians, as compared to 5.7 in France and 7.8 in Germany.

OECD graph tracking hospital beds per 100,000 people. That’s Canada near the bottom.
OECD graph tracking hospital beds per 100,000 people. That’s Canada near the bottom. Photo by OECD

After COVID-19, health-care capacity has been strained even further by a wave of staffing shortages and backlogged surgeries. Back in March, the Canadian Medical Association was warning that “without immediate action, there is little to hope for in the future.”

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“On top of severe exhaustion and burnout from working through two years of COVID-19, health-care workers now face both massive system backlogs and a shortage of colleagues to cope with demands,” the group wrote in a statement.

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Beyond the worsening statistics for Canadian health care is also a regular stream of nightmare scenarios from citizens looking to obtain care.

Ontario man Ron Prickett reported this week that he was left in a hospital hallway for four days with a shattered leg awaiting surgery. “What century are we in?” he told CBC.

On Tuesday, a joint statement from Canada’s 13 premiers suggested that failing health care should be remedied with a boost to federal health transfers. “Canadians should be able to receive the tests, procedures and health services they need when they need them,” read the statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau countered by saying that the crisis is not necessarily one of funding, and hinted that “huge investments” made by prior federal governments have been misspent at the provincial level.

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IN OTHER NEWS

Canadians really, really don’t like Justin Trudeau, according to the results of a new Postmedia-Léger survey. A mere 40 per cent of respondents expressed some gradation of approval for Trudeau, against 55 per cent who disapproved. Sixty per cent agreed with the sentiment that Trudeau has been a “divisive” figure as prime minister. The results aren’t all that surprising. For years, Trudeau has governed a country where most of his constituents don’t like him, a fact best illustrated by the fact that his party only obtained 32 per cent of the popular vote in the 2021 election. According to a Trudeau approval rating tracker maintained by the Angus Reid Institute, Trudeau’s disapproval rating has been higher than his approval rating pretty consistently since 2018.

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The brief exceptions were at the start of COVID, and after Ottawa secured sufficient shots for mass vaccination.
The brief exceptions were at the start of COVID, and after Ottawa secured sufficient shots for mass vaccination. Photo by Angus Reid Institute

Also in Trudeau news, the prime minister defended his decision to violate his own government’s Russian sanctions in order to supply Moscow with a set of turbines needed to maintain its Nord Stream 1 pipeline. “Canada has been one of the strongest countries in the world in standing with Ukraine in being there to support President Zelenskyy and the heroic fighting that people in Ukraine are doing,” said Trudeau. He also said that returning the turbines – which effectively gives Russia the means to continue selling billions of dollars in gas to Western Europe – was needed to help stop Moscow from “weaponizing energy.” This whole line of argument has been strongly opposed by Ukrainian leadership. In a week that has seen no shortage of Russian atrocities and civilian casualties in Ukraine, Zelenskyy took particular aim earlier this week at Canada’s “manifestation of weakness” in returning the turbines.

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It’s been two years since the Americans founded the U.S. Space Force, a new branch of their military devoted to conducting “global space operations.” Not wanting to be left behind, Ottawa has just approved the creation of the Canadian Space Division. It’s not immediately clear what this division will do. With rare exceptions, most of Canada’s actions in outer space to date have involved hitching a ride on whatever NASA happened to be doing at the time. But the division’s first major task may be to install a satellite system enabling easier communication in the Canadian Arctic.

It’s not a great time to be a statue in Canada, but it still may seem somewhat surprising that Gandhi, of all people, saw his effigy defaced in Richmond Hill, Ont. this week. While known to non-Indians primarily as the spiritual founder of non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi is occasionally attacked as a symbol of the Indian state. Here, someone has defaced his statue with the word “Khalistan,” the name of a proposed Sikh homeland which extremist groups have attempted to carve out of the Indian state of Punjab. “We are deeply anguished by this hate crime that seeks to terrorize the Indian community,” was the reaction of India’s Canadian embassy.
It’s not a great time to be a statue in Canada, but it still may seem somewhat surprising that Gandhi, of all people, saw his effigy defaced in Richmond Hill, Ont. this week. While known to non-Indians primarily as the spiritual founder of non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi is occasionally attacked as a symbol of the Indian state. Here, someone has defaced his statue with the word “Khalistan,” the name of a proposed Sikh homeland which extremist groups have attempted to carve out of the Indian state of Punjab. “We are deeply anguished by this hate crime that seeks to terrorize the Indian community,” was the reaction of India’s Canadian embassy. Photo by Vishnu Mandir Hindu Temple

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