Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said all options are on the table to improve long-term care across the country – including ownership structures – as the NDP questioned why a federal pension fund owns one of Canada’s largest private long-term care companies.
Revera Inc., which provides residences for seniors, has been fully owned by PSP Investments since 2006. The Public Sector Pension Investment Board is a federal Crown corporation that invests and manages the pension savings of public servants, including members of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP.
Revera is facing two proposed class-action lawsuits alleging negligence, with one seeking $50-million in damages in Ontario and another seeking $25-million in Alberta, by individuals challenging the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ottawa is promising to work with provinces in reviewing seniors’ care. In Ontario, the government has vowed to ramp up inspections of long-term care homes after a report was released earlier this week from the Canadian Forces on the conditions in long-term care facilities.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh raised the specific issue of Revera’s ownership Thursday on the floor of the House of Commons during a meeting of the temporary committee on COVID-19.
“The government owns Revera, the second-largest long-term care provider in Canada. It’s for profit and is facing a $50-million lawsuit for negligence. What is the government doing to protect seniors in the long-term care home that they own?” Mr. Singh asked.
“I do agree with the member opposite, that after what we have learned this week [in the military’s report], all options must be on the table when it comes to how care for elders will be provided in Canada in the future,” Ms. Freeland replied. “I think it is clear to us all that root and branch reform is necessary. We need to act with speed, but not haste, and work with our provincial partners.”
In response to additional questions from Mr. Singh about the federal government’s connections to Revera, Ms. Freeland went further.
“As I said at the outset, when it comes to the ownership structure of long-[term] care facilities, it is something that needs to be on the table,” she said. The Deputy Prime Minister also stressed that federal pension funds are independent Crown corporations.
“Canadian Crown corporations are not Liberal. They are not Conservative. They are not partisan. One of the strengths of Canada is that we have non-partisan government institutions and they serve us extremely well,” she said.
The public-sector pension fund had $168-billion in net assets as of March 31, 2019.
In a statement earlier this month in response to the Alberta lawsuit, Revera said it cannot comment on matters that are before the courts. However, the company defended its record.
“Our homes regularly meet or exceed government standards. We have been following government directives since the outset of the pandemic and we have been working closely with government partners as the pandemic has progressed,” the company said.
Chris Aylward, President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which is the largest union of federal public servants, wrote to PSP Investments CEO Neil Cunningham this month asking the Crown corporation to divest its stake in Rivera and have it transferred to provincial health authorities.
“Operating these facilities with financial profit as a top priority, cannot continue,” Mr. Aylward said in a statement this week. “Only by turning control of the facilities over to provincial health authorities, can we ensure that the well-being of the Canadian public and workers comes first.”
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.