Canada’s healthcare challenges in the 1990s

The global economic recession in the 1990s significantly influenced how the Canadian government spent taxpayer dollars. This was particularly true when it came to healthcare. In this video, Professor Terrence Sullivan describes the Canadian experience managing healthcare systems during the recession. At the time, the Canadian financial outlook was grim.

  • a 6% drop in GDP over a three-year period
  • exploding federal debt (approaching 70% of GDP)
  • bond rating agencies worried about further lending
  • provinces struggling to stay afloat

Against this backdrop, the federal government made it a priority to balance the books within a decade.

  • transfers to the provinces were reduced
  • hospital beds–and sometimes hospitals–were closed
  • nurses were laid off
  • physicians wages were capped

To complicate matters, these changes had to occur without compromising the quality of healthcare delivery. While hospital productivity increased during this timeframe–due to a leaner workforce–access to care represented by lengthy wait times became a major issue. The public feared that healthcare was in jeopardy and reinvestment was required. The government responded by reinvesting heavily in the years to follow.

Professor Sullivan is an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.