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History: 19781988 FROM COST CONTROL TO HEALTH PROMOTION: IMPLEMENTING MEDICARE, 19681978 SAVING THE SYSTEM: THE CANADA HEALTH ACT, THE OTTAWA CHARTER AND ACHIEVING HEALTH FOR ALL, 19781988 THE ENDLESS CHALLENGE: BALANCING CHANGE AND CONTINUITY, 19892007



The Ontario Doctors’ Strike, 1986

In Ontario and Alberta, animosity against the federal legislation ran high. Doctors in both provinces rejected what they saw as attempts to “dictate how medicine should be practiced” (Health Insurance and Canadian Public Policy, p. 451). In Ontario, the election of a minority Liberal government meant that David Peterson, with the support of Bob Raeand the New Democratic Party, would have to resolve the issue. Beginning with a series of public forums held around the province in October, November and December 1985, the new government laid out its plan for implementing the ban on extra-billing and introduced the Health Care Accessibility Act on December 20. The second reading was followed by a long period in committee, as the government attempted to negotiate a new fee schedule with the Ontario Medical Association (OMA). In the interval, the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens’ Organizations and the Ontario Health Coalition held public meetings and rallies to make it clear to the government that “[t]he health care system of this province does not belong to the doctors. It belongs to the people of this province who pay for it with their taxes and premiums” (Robert White, President of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, quoted in Health Insurance and Canadian Public Policy, p. 453).

Ontario’s doctors, however, argued that their right to extra-bill provided a “safety valve” for expressing their disapproval of current fee levels and government administration. To indicate the strength of their convictions, some doctors attended mass rallies on May 7, 1986, closed their offices on May 29 and May 30 and went on strike on June 12. Four days later, a rally at Queen’s Park degenerated into a confrontation between doctors and security guards, which attracted national news coverage. Ten emergency wards in Toronto were closed on June 18, and York County Hospital in Newmarket closed completely on June 25. At this point, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario intervened to remind doctors that essential services had to be provided or they would face charges of professional misconduct.

Public support for the strike was very limited, and allied health professions such as nursing had come out strongly in opposition. Indeed, the Medical Reform Group, while smaller than the Ontario Association of Independent Physicians, used the strike to demonstrate that some doctors supported all the principles of medicare and were prepared to work with government to improve the health care system. As the media focused more attention on the OMA’s intransigence, the job action lost momentum. Twenty-five days after it started the Ontario doctors’ strike ended. The profession had badly damaged its credibility, and the public now expected the government to implement its legislation.



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    Date Created: March 31, 2010 | Last Updated: April 21, 2010