Minister accuses Conservatives of trying to sabotage federal dental program

OTTAWA — Health Minister Mark Holland is accusing the Conservatives of trying to "sabotage" the government's dental care program by calling up dental associations and "bullying" them — accusations the Tories are calling "unhinged."

The Liberals began covering dental care services for seniors last month as part of a new federal dental care program.

As the government has slowly expanded eligibility for the program over the last few months, it has also made tweaks to the program in an effort to get more dentists on board.

So far, more than 40 per cent of dental-health care providers have signed on to the program, Holland said at a news conference Tuesday.

Still, the Canadian Dental Association and provincial associations have raised concerns, saying patients don't always know they will have to pay out of pocket for some services that aren't fully covered by the government program.

Holland said he's worked with the associations to improve the program each time they've raised an issue, but now it's time to "move on."

"I'm in a frustrated position now where I don't really understand what their issue is," he told reporters.

He said the associations are "actively seeking" problems, and he blames the Conservatives.

"I think they're actively seeking it, if I could be really blunt, because the Conservative party doesn't want this to succeed and (is) calling these dental associations and screaming at them and getting angry at them," Holland said.

"I think that the dental associations, who are normally just dealing as dentists with patients, suddenly are dealing with rabid Conservatives who ... want to see this program fail, because they're concerned that it's going to benefit our party."

He said he believes there's a "recklessness" and "a chaos" in the Conservative movement right now, which "seems to be more interested in ripping things down to prove they're broken than they are about providing solutions."

The Canadian Dental Association did not directly address Holland's allegations about the Conservatives, but said in a statement that the association has never explicitly instructed any oral health care professional to oppose the program, or discuss it with any political party.

"We are trying to ensure that the patient and dentist visit is as positive as possible, with information to help educate patients with necessary information they need before visiting a dental office," the association said in a statement.

The Opposition says the Liberals have no one to blame for the dentists' reaction to the program but themselves.

"It is Canada's dentists, the ones who deliver care to Canadians right across our country, who are calling out this NDP-Liberal government for delivering a broken dental program and breaking their promises to Canadians," spokesman Sebastian Skamski said in a statement Tuesday.

"If Minister Holland is looking for someone to blame for yet another broken promise to Canadians, then he should take a look at himself, Jagmeet Singh and Justin Trudeau."

The dental association said it has offered advice to the government about how to improve the program, and recently sent a letter to outline the remaining concerns.

The group said it looks forward to working with the government and "all political parties to make sure the program is positioned to best cater to patients’ needs."

More than two million seniors have enrolled in the program so far, and the government has processed some 200,000 claims.

The government is set to expand eligibility for the program to qualifying children under the age of 18 and people who receive a disability tax credit at the end of the month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2024.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press