Observations – Canadian Medical Association’s Annual General Council Meeting, Halifax, August 2015


CARP is pleased to learn that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is committed to making seniors’ care a major issue in the upcoming federal election.

At their AGM in Halifax this August, the CMA declared that physicians must be leaders in calling for a national seniors’ care strategy. Almost 1000 delegates, observers, and physicians were asked to personally involve themselves in the federal election campaign by endorsing the Demand A Plan campaign, meeting with their local MPs, using social media to share information about seniors’ care, contacting their local candidates to discuss seniors’ care, writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and participating in local riding events.

CARP members should find this very encouraging. We hope the CMA’s members will heed this call to action, since it has become clear that many politicians do pay attention to doctors’ opinions.

The CMA AGM was an interesting gathering of older physicians and younger activist physicians.  Discussions around various resolutions were primarily carried by young physicians, but because the majority of eligible voters were older members, the final vote often did not always reflect the tone of the discussion. The varied and diverse issues discussed included the role of physicians in a national seniors’ strategy, reducing stress in physicians’ working environments, medically assisted dying, post-graduate medical training and changes in Canada’s health system caused by demographic shifts.

In addition, attendees discussed looking at healthcare for seniors as an economic driver and catalyst for innovation.  Many delegates believe physicians should be promoting new methods of dealing with seniors’ healthcare needs to bolster economic activity and challenge the belief that seniors’ care is a drain on the economy. Delegates were told that Canada has unrealized potential to punch above its weight in the development, commercialization, and export of innovative healthcare products and services.

At the conference, organizers introduced the creative, social-media based “Don’t Leave Seniors Out in the Cold” campaign, headquartered online at www.demandaplan.ca. The campaign aims to communicate that Canada’s seniors are not being given the support they deserve, whether they receive care at home or in a long-term facility. It asks how this situation will worsen in coming years without a comprehensive seniors’ strategy. It was exciting to hear that the CMA hopes to sign up 10,000 supporters for this campaign, with the ultimate goal of bringing seniors’ care into party platforms and campaign debates.

It was clear that the majority of the CMA’s members strongly support the health policies CARP has been promoting for some time. Attendees’ top three concerns were long wait times for surgery, lack of access to long-term care, and insufficient home-care services.  The physicians agreed that better home care and improved long-term care placement processes are not just “nice to have,” but medically necessary. It was also heartening to hear doctors call for greater support of friend and family caregivers. There was strong agreement that the concept of an integrated continuum of care was not being implemented by provinces, nor understood by federal policy-makers, and strong agreement that this must change.

Keynote speaker Dr. David Naylor, chair of the recent Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation, said Canadians don’t benefit as much as they might from health spending due to a lack of integration and coordination of health care services. For instance, far too many seniors with chronic conditions are being cared for in hospitals rather than in their communities, and their care is therefore disjointed. Naylor suggested fixing the problem by reorganizing the roles of various health professionals, including physicians, nurses and pharmacists.

It was standing-room-only in the large Halifax conference centre for a discussion on medically assisted death. 79 per cent of members voted against a policy proposal to limit patients’ access to assisted dying. They also voted against allowing physicians who oppose assisted dying to refuse to refer patients to other providers. It was a victory for the right of patients to make their own decisions.

A slight majority of members indicated they were not in favour of being personally involved in the process of assisted dying. However, many were not against the principle of assisted dying, but merely expressing a need for nation-wide standards and training for doctors who would be involved in the process. Many participants pointed out the need to provide formal education, certification, and other support for physicians providing assisted dying. Apparently, the CMA is in the process of developing such educational tools.

An underlying theme to the discussions was the importance of palliative care services. The interaction between palliative care and assisted dying was noted by many physicians. As one respondent stated, “My greatest fear is that people end up having easier access to lethal injection than palliative care, which is currently accessible to only 30% of Canadians.”

Written on August 31, 2015 by Bill VanGorder, member CARP National Board of Directors and Chair, Nova Scotia Chapter.

Further detail and documentation can be found at: