By CCU President Gregory Ball
For over half a century, the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU) has proudly supported a universal health care system that is properly funded and publicly administered. Yet for far too long, entire sections of health care in Canada remain in the private sector, benefiting giant corporations who seek to maximize profits above all else.
Let me be clear right from the start: there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why any major element of health care in Canada should be run on a private, for-profit basis. Ever.
Period. Full stop.
That’s why the CCU actively campaigns for the creation of universal pharmacare, as well as publicly controlled home and long-term care for our seniors. Yet one sector that is still largely under for-profit control is Canada’s blood supply system, including the private sale of blood and plasma.
The privatization and deregulation of Canada’s blood system poses a threat to accessibility, safety, and equality. And perhaps the greatest failure of this for-profit system was the tainted blood scandal of the 1980s, where 30,000 Canadians were infected with hepatitis C and 2,000 were infected with HIV. Tragically, approximately 8,000 of those who received tainted blood have died or are expected to die as a result.
It is widely known as the single largest, preventable health disaster in Canadian history.
That’s why the federal government began a major investigation in 1993, which included years of hearings and written submissions. This led to the Krever Commission in November 1997, which concluded that that the Canadian government failed to take precautionary screening and testing measures to protect our blood supply.
It also uncovered cost-cutting attempts, which favoured for-profit paid-plasma schemes, cover-ups, widespread medical neglect, and political interference, as well as careless importation of blood collected from high-risk, for-profit American donors.
The Krever Commission’s final report also suggested that Canada’s blood system be governed by five key principles: blood should be a public resource, no one should be paid to donate blood or plasma, Canada should collect enough blood and components to satisfy it own needs, all citizens should have free and universal access to blood components and products, and the safety of the blood supply should be paramount.
Yet after all this, private blood and plasma brokers continue to operate in most of Canada. Although Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario have at least banned the payment for blood and plasma.
Thankfully, there’s a movement growing in Canada, supported by labour unions and CCU affiliates like the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees (NSUPE), that are advocating for the implementation of the Krever Commission and other common sense proposals to take blood and plasma collection out of the hands of private profiteers.
Kat Lanteigne is Executive Director of Bloodwatch.org, a not-for-profit organization advocating for a safe, voluntary, public blood system in Canada. She spoke at the last CCU Convention in October 2023 in Halifax. Our delegates were left stunned listening to the horror stories of for-profit blood systemic failures that she discussed during her presentation.
Historically, Canada has prided itself on a healthcare model that transcends economic boundaries. Yet under a privatized model, the potential for corner-cutting in testing, screening, and storage procedures is obvious – and people end up paying the price. The imperative to maximize profits leads to lax enforcement of safety protocols, endangering the very lives the blood system is supposed to protect.
Deregulation and privatization sever the ties between the blood system and the communities it serves. In a public system, community engagement is intrinsic to the donation process, fostering a sense of shared responsibility for the health and well-being of fellow citizens. With profit-driven entities, however, the communal aspect of blood donation diminishes, giving way to transactional, impersonal relationships.
Community-driven initiatives lose their prominence in a privatized setting. Blood drives organized in collaboration with schools, workplaces, and local organizations become less frequent, eroding the sense of community involvement and shared responsibility that underpins universal healthcare ideals.
The privatization and deregulation of our blood system represents a major departure from the nation’s commitment to universal healthcare and progressive values.
The CCU, as well as labour unions throughout the country, understands that all Canadians deserve a blood and plasma system that prioritizes inclusivity, safety, and community engagement over profit margins. The true measure of a nation’s progress is not in its ability to generate revenue from essential services, but the commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of all its citizens, irrespective of economic standing.
The struggle against the privatization of the blood system is, at its core, a fight for the preservation of our country’s ideals and the protection of its most vulnerable citizens.
It’s time for a nation-wide ban of private, for-profit blood and plasma collection and storage and the creation of a fully universal, publicly administered system to take its place. Canadians deserve nothing less.