Federal budget tackles vital determinants of health; misses opportunity to address nursing crisis and primary care needs

April 17, 2024

In the midst of a housing crisis that shows no signs of abating and concerns over affordability, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) applauds the ambition of the federal government’s housing plan, including funding to support an industrial strategy and necessary infrastructure. Noting housing is a social determinant of health, RNAO highlights the value of protections for renters and measures to increase the supply of affordable housing.

In Ontario, thousands have been forced out of their homes because of so-called renovictions. Nurses say any effort to protect tenants must have teeth. A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives revealed average rents increased 54.5 per cent over the past decade even though provincial government guidelines limited such increases to 16.5 per cent. “No amount of funding will help if landlords can take advantage of tenants in this way,” says RNAO President Dr. Claudette Holloway.

Helping people who experience homelessness must be a key focus of all levels of government. Holloway reminded the federal government that its “National Housing Strategy Act (passed in 2019) recognizes housing as a human right.” RNAO says Ottawa must ensure provinces put laws and policies in place that make housing affordable and accessible to all. Holloway welcomes the “renewed support for programs such as the Rapid Housing Initiative and Reaching Home, as well as the new Cooperative Housing Development Program.” She added the Ontario government has “an obligation to participate in federal cost-matching programs to prevent homelessness and ensure people who are unhoused have a safe place to live.”

RNAO also lauded Tuesday’s budget commitment of $1 billion over five years to provide meals to children who do not have access to school-based programs. “No child should go hungry,” insists Holloway citing the high cost of food inflation – up 22 per cent since 2021. “RNAO calls on Ontario to support this program by ensuring it’s implemented permanently across the province,” adds Holloway.

Welcome news is a $500 million fund to help community health organizations provide more mental health care to young people. “Rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues demand urgent attention and nurses are thankful for this investment,” says Holloway.

The budget earmarked $1.5 billion in funding over five years to provide coverage for diabetes medications and contraceptives as part of the federal government’s commitment to a national single-payer pharmacare program, an agreement reached between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh earlier this year. “It’s a good start for an urgently needed program and we look forward to ongoing federal government leadership to achieve a comprehensive, single-payer universal plan, says Dr. Doris Grinspun, RNAO’s CEO. “Pharmacare helps close the inequity gap. Also, it makes economic sense as purchasing prescription drugs in bulk will lower health expenditures.” This is why RNAO has already discussed with Premier Ford the urgency of signing onto the pharmacare agreement.

In February, Ontario signed a $3.1 billion health transfer agreement with the federal government. RNAO celebrated this partnership and hoped Tuesday’s budget would contain specifics to address two critical areas: Canada’s nursing workforce crisis and primary care. In Ontario alone, more than 25,000 additional nurses are needed to ensure the right care can be delivered across all sectors. And, 2.5 million Ontarians lack regular access to a primary health provider. “Without nurses there is no health system. And, without a robust primary health-care sector we will never achieve a high functioning system,” says Grinspun, adding “Ottawa must continue to increase its share of total government health spending to 35 per cent – with strings attached – to ensure deliverables.”

On the environment, RNAO commended Trudeau’s government for remaining firm on its carbon pricing program despite naysayers. “The only way out of the climate crisis is by implementing strong measures that stop our reliance on fossil fuels and Ottawa is advancing that,” says Grinspun, urging the federal government to go much further to address the climate crisis. An easy step is to support Bill C-372 and ban fossil fuel advertising. “Nurses have joined the campaign by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. Together, we need to ensure Canadians are fully informed of the health hazards that result from burning fossil fuels,” says Grinspun.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public we serve. For more information about RNAO, visit or follow us on X (formerly Twitter)Facebook and Instagram.

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Contact info

Marion Zych
Director of Communications
Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO)