The administrative components of the 2003 and 2004 health care accords were still being developed when the Supreme Court of Canada entered the medicare debate with its ruling on Chaoulli v. Quebec (Attorney General) on June 9, 2005. In their split decision, four of the seven judges agreed that George Zeliotis had been made to wait too long for his hip replacement, that his doctor, Jacques Chaoulli, had not been able to obtain faster treatment because Quebec’s health legislation prohibited purchasing private insurance and that this contravened Zeliotis’s right to “life, liberty and security” under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Although the judgement applied only to Quebec, it provided an impetus for other provinces to review their legislation and to consider how best to deal with wait times, and, in 2006, for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to make this issue one of his government’s first priorities.
In Alberta and Ontario, private clinics for MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) testing opened, raising fears of queue jumping and loss of health care technicians to the private system. In other provinces, health ministries grappled with the issue by agreeing to support the creation of a national Wait Time Alliance, whose goal was to determine medically acceptable waiting periods for various procedures. For the public, these developments seemed either to reflect the rights of citizens to determine their own health care spending or to herald the end of the medicare system. Press reports, letters to the editor and public forums on the issue still indicated that the majority of Canadians favoured publicly funded and effectively delivered services based on need rather than ability to pay.