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Mario Canseco: Trust in Canada’s health-care system is falling dramatically

Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about the state of the country’s health-care system
Canadians are still worried when they ponder the biggest problem facing the health-care system, writes Mario Canseco

Over the past few months, health care has clearly positioned itself as the most important issue for Canadians aged 55 and over

The country’s most mature residents are not as preoccupied with housing as millennials, and not as worried about the economy and jobs as generation X. 

When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about the state of the country’s health-care system, the results did not outline any positive momentum. Our views have become more unenthusiastic since October 2021, when many Canadians were voicing satisfaction with the way COVID-19 was being managed.

This month, only one in five Canadians (20 per cent, down five points since 2021) believe Canada's health-care system works well, and only minor changes are needed to make it work better. A majority of the country’s residents (56 per cent, down three points) feel that there are some good things in health care, but many changes are required, while 17 per cent (up five points) say the system has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it.

For decades, Quebec was the one province where dismay about the health-care system was practically a given. This year, continuing a trend that started in 2021, Atlantic Canada stands way ahead of other regions. More than a third of Atlantic Canadians (37 per cent) think the health-care system should be rebuilt. No other province or region reaches 20 per cent on this indicator.

For the most part, Canadians are still worried when they ponder the biggest problem facing the health-care system. More than a third (34 per cent, up two points) continue to identify a shortage of doctors and nurses, followed by long wait times (23 per cent, down four points) and bureaucracy and poor management (17 per cent, up three points). 

Fewer than one in 10 Canadians point to other matters, such as inadequate resources and facilities (nine per cent, up one point), lack of a wider range of services for patients (six per cent, up one point), little focus on preventive care (also six per cent, unchanged) and insufficient standards of hygiene (one per cent, down one point).

A shortage of professionals who can take care of patients is the biggest issue in five of the six regions: Atlantic Canada (52 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (39 per cent), British Columba (37 per cent), Ontario (31 per cent) and Quebec (30 per cent). In Alberta, more than a third of residents (35 per cent) are primarily preoccupied with long wait times.

In 2021, more than three in four Canadians (77 per cent) were “very confident” or “moderately confident” that Canada's health-care system would be there to provide the help and assistance that they would need if they had to face an unexpected medical condition. This year, the number has fallen to 67 per cent. 

What is particularly striking about this finding is that trust in the system being there for all of us fell across the entire country. The highest proportion of confident prospective patients is seen in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (72 per cent, down eight points), followed by Alberta (71 per cent, down two points), Quebec (68 per cent, down seven points), British Columbia (67 per cent, down 11 points), Ontario (63 per cent, down 16 points) and Atlantic Canada (59 per cent, down seven points). 

There are also noticeable shifts on the questions about spending and privatization that we track. The proportion of Canadians who believe the federal government should make cuts to health-care funding in order to reduce government debt fell from 23 per cent in 2021 to 18 per cent in 2023. A third of Canadians (33 per cent, up six points) believe health care in Canada would be better than it is now if it were run by the private sector.

It is clear that the endorsement of the health-care system is not as strong as it was in late 2021. We had already identified a swing when the proportion of Canadians who looked at the system as a source of pride fell from 77 per cent in 2019 to 58 per cent in 2022

One statistic will be key, especially in the context of an early federal election campaign. The level of confidence in the health-care system being there when we need it has fallen by 10 points in 18 months. Optimists may look at this finding as a good thing: This is a level of trust that is seldom observed for legislative bodies, police forces or the courts. Pessimists would be unable to steer clear from a double-digit drop in less than two years.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from April 16-18, 2023, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.