Premiers receptive of Houston’s call to stop interprovincial recruitment of health-care workers


Canada’s premiers ended a two-day meeting in Halifax on Monday by promising to collaborate more often and be more open to sharing innovative ideas on delivering health care.

And for some premiers, that pledge included support for Premier Tim Houston’s suggestion that provinces and territories should stop trying to recruit health workers who are already on the job elsewhere in Canada.

The issue came up during what was billed a health-care summit in a news release, where the focus for several hours was on what individual provinces were doing to manage “health human resources” and expand “medical education, recruitment and retention.” 

“The health-care summit was really about finding ways to support each other,” Houston told reporters following the meeting. “To support our own citizens, whether it’s through innovative approaches, whether it’s through technology.”

“Trying to poach workers from another jurisdiction is not really supporting each other,” said Houston. “I think there was some agreement on that aspect of it.”

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew called that discussion notable.

“The reason why I think that that’s so significant is in the absence of that sort of collaboration, we may compete against one another into a future in which none of us can afford to staff our health-care systems, in which none of us can sustainably do so,” Kinew said during the meeting’s closing news conference.

The premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Andrew Furey, echoed that sentiment.

“Canada has an absolute imperative to continue to provide top-notch care in our own jurisdiction,” said Furey. “Robbing Peter to pay Paul does not help advance that agenda in any way, shape or form.”

“So I think there was a significant unity amongst ourselves to prevent an aggressive act of recruitment campaign in other people’s backyards.”

A group of people sit at a long table with provincial flags behind them.
Several premiers voiced support of Premier Tim Houston’s suggestion to stop recruiting health-care workers from other provinces and territories. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

The provinces agree that job fairs aimed at luring university graduates are acceptable, but specific attempts to entice those who are already working are not.

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai said the provinces and territories should be focusing on recruiting health workers internationally and getting those people their credentials.

“It’s not about poaching anybody else’s health-care workers, but it’s about … how to streamline getting people to the front line,” said Pillai.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith noted that in her province, less than 40 per cent of nurses were interested in full-time, permanent positions. It’s an issue she felt deserved more time and effort than interprovincial recruitment. 

“Perhaps addressing some of the reasons why nurses don’t want to take on full-time positions may be a solution without having to go and recruit from other provinces,” said Smith.

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