Fact checking inaccuracies in responses to a Ministerial Statement on improvements to the health care system, as delivered by MLA Kate White and MLA Brad Cathers in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, April 5, 2023
April 13, 2023 – WHITEHORSE – While reality may have a Liberal bias, it is still important for members of the Yukon Party and Yukon NDP to provide Yukoners with up to date, accurate information. It is understandable that facts and figures can change over time, yet all MLAs should still strive to provide factual information, especially when the failure to do so can provide Yukoners with false information that can impact the decisions they make about their personal health and wellbeing.
Sadly, this was not the case on April 5, when opposition parties provided responses to the government’s update on improvements to the health care system.
Words are words, but facts are facts. A simple fact check of the opposition’s claims indicates the numerous inaccuracies plaguing their responses.
Misinformed claims about nurse remuneration, medical travel subsidies, the chronic disease program, harm reduction, midwifery, surgical backlogs, doctor-to-patient ratio, social assistance, funding for the health care system, the Putting People First report, seniors’ housing, and EMS wait times – alongside factual information with citations – can be found below.
ON NURSE REMUNERATION
Kate White says: [the Government of Yukon is offering] “low wages for nurses” and “when nurses called for better wages, this government refused.”
JUST THE FACTS: The Government has never refused to discuss wages and is currently in negotiations with the nurses’ union.
On January 12, 2022, the Government of Yukon announced a $6 million package of retention and signing bonuses for nurses in the Yukon.1
According to the Government of Canada’s 2022 Labour Forecast Survey, the median per hour wage for Registered Nurses in the Yukon was $9 higher per hour than the median in Canada, and the third highest median hourly wage in Canada. 2
ON DOCTOR/PATIENT RATIO
Brad Cathers says: “Under the Liberal government, the Yukon slipped to the worst doctor-to-patient ratio in the entire country.”
JUST THE FACTS: According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, in 2021, the Yukon had 165 Family Physicians (FP) per 100,000 people, and 51 Nurse Practitioners (NPs) per 100,000 people. This is the second-highest rate of FPs per 100,000 and the highest rate of NPs per 100,000 people.3
Figure 1: Nurse practitioners and family physicians per 100,000 population and NP-to-FP ratios, 2021. 4
ON THE MEDICAL TRAVEL SUBSIDY
Kate White says: [the Government of Yukon is offering a] “low medical travel subsidy.”
JUST THE FACTS: The Government of Yukon doubled the medical travel subsidy per diem for out-patients and their escorts from $75/day to $150/day on January 1, 2021, and introduced a same-day travel subsidy of $75/day for patients and escorts on same-day travel.5
Ontario’s Northern Health Travel Grant pays $.41 per kilometre between the area of residence and the location of the nearest medical specialist that can provide the required service, with a deductible of 100 kilometres. Ontario’s accommodation allowance provides a total of $100 per lodging night for up to two lodging nights, a total of $250 for 3 lodging nights, a total of $500 for 4-7 lodging nights, and a total of $550 for eight or more lodging nights. The grant does not cover expenses like meals.6
British Columbia’s Travel Assistance Program (TAP BC) is a corporate partnership between the Government of British Columbia and private travel providers, offering discounted rates for transportation.
ON THE CHRONIC DISEASE PROGRAM
Kate White says: [the Government of Yukon is offering] “limited coverage through [the] chronic disease program”
JUST THE FACTS: The Government of Yukon covers 58 diseases and conditions through the Chronic Disease and Disability Benefits Program.7 Similar programs cover 50 conditions8 in NWT and 38 conditions9 in Nunavut.
ON ‘CANCELLED’ SURGERIES
Brad Cathers says: “Hundreds of surgeries were cancelled by the hospital due to a staff shortage.”
JUST THE FACTS: Surgeries were not cancelled. Whitehorse General Hospital reduced the number of elective surgeries during February and March 2023.10 All patients whose surgeries were postponed had their surgeries rescheduled for April and May 2023. Postponement of non-urgent surgeries did not impact emergency or urgent care, and was the direct result of medical staff shortages occurring across Canada.11
ON HARM REDUCTION
Kate White says: “Prior to signing the CASA, there was no political will from the Liberals for harm reduction investments or supervised consumption or safe supply.”
JUST THE FACTS: The Yukon Liberal Government has expanded the safe supply program and worked with physicians to ensure they are trained and feel comfortable in their prescribing role.12
Prior to signing CASA, the Yukon Liberal Party committed in its 2021 election platform to“ create a wet shelter program and develop a safe drug supply program for the Yukon.”13 The platform also committed the party, if elected, to “work with Yukon First Nations governments and the Government of Canada to fund a rural, on-the-land mental health and substance treatment centre.”14
In 2018, the Government of Yukon released Yukon’s Opioid Action Plan15, designed to guide the territory’s response to the opioid overdose crisis through 2020. In this document, the Yukon Government reminds reader that as of 2018, the Yukon Government and Partners had distributed over 1,900 take-home naloxone kits to allow people to respond to opioid overdoses, trained staff in 45 organizations and schools, made kits available at 45 locations across the territory, and sought and received a Health Canada exemption to support Blood Ties Four Directions’ Fentanyl Drug Checking Service, which was ultimately granted in September 2020. Also in 2018, the Government of Yukon opened Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services hubs in Watson Lake16, Dawson City17, Carmacks and Haines Junction18.
The Yukon Government now provides prescription coverage for PrEP, which reduces the risk of individuals contracting HIV.19
In 2018, the Government of Yukon and the Government of Canada signed the 2018 to 2022 Canada-Government of Yukon Home and Community Care and Mental Health and Addictions Services Funding Agreement20, which provided more than $30 million to support health care services in the Yukon.21
In 2019, the Government of Yukon provided Blood Ties Four Directions with money to purchase and equip a new outreach van, allowing Blood Ties to offer mobile fentanyl testing and provide enhanced supports to marginalized individuals.22
Under the Yukon Liberals, the Government of Yukon also created 11 additional mental health services positions to join community hubs, including eight new mental wellness and substance use counsellors, two new mental health nurses and one new mental wellness substance use therapist.23
The Government of Yukon also partnered with the Royal Canadian Mountain Police to launch a new Mobile Crisis Response Team in Whitehorse – Car 867 – which responds to calls for service related to mental health issues. Car 867 is staffed with a police officer and a mental health nurse from the Yukon Government’s Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services Unit.24
The Government of the Yukon also secured additional federal funding specifically to support health care professionals working and living in long-term care, in 2021.25
Minister McPhee and the Government of Yukon also declared a substance use health emergency in the Yukon, following a drastic increase in overdose related deaths in the territory occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.26
Brad Cathers says: “We saw government ban midwives operating in unregulated private practice, fumble the ball for over a year on starting the program, briefly run it, and then abruptly shut it down.”
JUST THE FACTS: When the Yukon Party was in government, the Yukon and Prince Edward Island were the only provinces or territories where midwifery was unregulated and unfunded,27 leaving midwifery as an option only for those families who could afford it, and the practice of midwifery operating without oversight.
The Yukon Liberal government, in 2021, regulated the profession of midwifery.28 Regulating midwifery in the Yukon ensures midwives practicing in the territory follow standards of practice, a code of ethics, and territorial legislation.29Due to staffing shortages, the Yukon Midwifery Program has temporarily placed clients under Solstice Maternity’s care for prenatal care and births. Midwives, however, are still practicing in the territory, offering postnatal care, emotional support, and information for clients during pregnancy.30
ON SOCIAL ASSISTANCE
Kate White says: There is “no political will to increase social assistance rates, or to create a public dental program or open a managed alcohol program or invest in students pursuing medical studies.”
JUST THE FACTS: The Government of Yukon has committed publicly to increasing social assistance rates. Most recently, social assistance rates increased in 202231 to provide more support to low-income Yukoners feeling the pressures of inflation and in April 2023, the Government of Yukon provided an average 39% increase to Yukon Seniors Income Supplement payments to reduce the impact of inflation.
While not typically considered to be a “social assistance” program in the traditional sense, the Yukon Liberal government also introduced a universal childcare program, saving parents approximately $700 per month.32
In January 2023, the Government of Yukon launched a new Yukon Dental Program, providing $1,300 per year in dental benefits to eligible Yukoners.33
In 2021, the Yukon Liberal Party committed in its election platform that a re-elected Yukon Liberal Government “will create a wet shelter program and develop a safe drug supply program for the Yukon.”34
The Government of Yukon offers health education bursaries programs to support Yukon students entering fields of study relevant for health professionals, as well as medical students and nursing students. Each year, 16 new Yukon students receive health education bursaries.35 The Government of Yukon has also has a bursary program for nursing studies, to provide funding for Yukoners to attend baccalaureate nursing education programs.36
ON FUNDING FOR THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
Kate White says: “This government is chipping away at the foundation of our public health care”
JUST THE FACTS: Putting People First is the Government of Yukon’s road map to improving the territory’s health and social services system.
According to then-CKRW reporter Tim Kucharuk, in the Yukon Government’s 2020 territorial budget, “Health and Social Services led the way in department spending at $461 million”37 The 2022 budget “increase[ed] spending on health, education, energy retrofitting and dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic”38 according to the Canadian Press. The 2023 budget included investments and a funding expansion for the healthcare system.39
In 2022, CanAge rated the Yukon as the “most improved” province or territory on its cross-country report card on seniors’ vaccination rates. CanAge’s CEO said: “The Government of Yukon’s commitment to preventive health is commendable, especially given the inherent challenges with health care delivery in the territory compounded with the impacts of COVID-19.”40
The Government of Yukon expanded the scope of practice for pharmacists so they can prescribe and administer vaccines41 and extend prescriptions42. The Government of Yukon also expanded the Yukon’s publicly-funded vaccine program to include more seniors in the shingles vaccine program43 and extended eligibility of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to include all Yukoners up to and including age 2644.
In 2021, a researcher working on Trans PULSE Canada, a national community-based survey of the health and well-being of trans and non-binary people in Canada,45 said “the new [trans and gender-affirming healthcare coverage] policy in the Yukon is undeniably the gold standard” and “even on an international level, it is the standard of care that advocates and trans people have been calling for.”46
ON THE PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST REPORT
Kate White says: “They are ignoring a list of evidence-based solutions listed in the Putting People First report.”
JUST THE FACTS: The Government of Yukon committed to the 76 recommendations brought forward in the Putting People First final report. As of September 2022, 14 of these recommendations have already been implemented, and 39 are in progress.47,48
The Yukon’s 2023 budget includes $10 million to continue with the implementation of the Putting People First report.49
Minister McPhee’s mandate letter from Premier Pillai emphasizes that “The Putting People First plan is shaping our government’s transformation of the Yukon’s health and social services system [and] it is the road map we are following to build a people-centred healthcare system that provides wraparound supports for all Yukoners.”50
ON SENIORS’ HOUSING
Kate White says: “They are selling off the publicly owned Macaulay Lodge, and because of the shortage of seniors housing, they turned to a private, for-profit facility.”
JUST THE FACTS: In 2020, the Government of Yukon developed an Aging in Place Action Plan to ensure that Yukoners can access supports in the community. It is the Yukon Liberal Government’s belief that seniors and elders should be able to live safe, independent, and comfortable lives for as long as possible, regardless of age, income, or ability level.51
The Macaulay Lodge site is being used to develop much-needed housing in the City of Whitehorse.52
The Government of Yukon’s “Rent-Geared-to-Income program assists Yukoners in need of affordable, suitable and accessible housing for individuals, families, or seniors applying to live in Yukon Housing Corporation housing.”53
Jointly, the Government of Canada and the Government of Yukon funded an 84-suite seniors’ supportive living community in Whitehorse at Normandy Living.54
Additionally, the Housing Initiatives Fund has supported over 350 new units in 33 housing projects across the territory.55
Recently, the Government of Yukon announced that it is funding new long-term care beds in Watson Lake.56
ON EMS WAIT TIMES
Kate White says: There are no “plans to resolve wait times for EMS.”
JUST THE FACTS: The Government of Yukon is following the recommendation of the Putting People First report to have a more integrated health care system. On April 1, 2023, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was transitioned from the Department of Community Services to Health and Social Services to allow for closer collaboration with other health care service providers.57
The Government of Yukon is actively recruiting paramedics.58,59