Ford government reverses move to deregulate traditional Chinese medicine

The Ontario government is rolling back a controversial section of a newly proposed labour bill that would dissolve the province’s regulatory body for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Premier Doug Ford defended the move last week as a way to break down language barriers for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers who couldn’t write exams in English and get certified to practice.

In a statement Monday, Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene says it will instead begin working with the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario to offer entry exams in Chinese languages.

“We know how important the practice of traditional Chinese medicine is to many Ontarians, which is why we intend to break down language barriers and fix this unfair system put in place by the Liberals,” said Hilkene.

The move comes as advocates against the removal of the college gathered for a protest in front of the legislature on Monday morning — a week after the bill was proposed and almost 40,000 signatures in a petition in support of the college were gathered online.

The bill was criticized by other political parties. Andrea Horwath, the leader of Ontario NDP and the Official Opposition, tweeted she was relieved by the change and would focus on fixing “language and accessibility barriers” if her party forms government after the June election.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the policy should have never been proposed in the first place. 

“It shouldn’t take fierce backlash like this to make the government change its mind on a bad idea,” he said in a statement. 

Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca said last week his party would reverse the move if elected. He was seen at the protest Monday morning celebrating the Ford’s government’s reversal.

Practitioners were concerned the removal of the college, which currently sets and enforces standards to practice, would endanger patients.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra says the next version of the bill will order the college to offer tests in Mandarin and Cantonese.

Rebuilding trust

The next step, according to the head of a TCM advocacy group, is to rebuild the trust between practitioners and the government. 

“Trust was shaken, but I think trust is beginning to be restored and it will continue to be restored if these dialogues continue,” said Heather Kenny, president of Traditional Chinese Medicine Ontario.

Mary Wu, president of the Toronto School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, hopes the recent attention on the industry will pave the way for other opportunities — such as creating a more advanced class of practitioner in the form of a doctor of TCM, and for government funding to make TCM more accessible for Ontarians.

“Our health-care system is facing tremendous challenges,” said Wu. “And I think TCM, our profession, can contribute.”

Leaders and practitioners in the Traditional Chinese medicine industry Mary Wu, left, and Heather Kenny say the Ford government’s decision to stop the winding down of their profession’s college is a major relief. (Submitted by the Toronto School of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Heather Kenny)

Wu was a key player in organizing a coalition of provincial and Canada-wide stakeholders to save the college.

She says the quick change they achieved shows why more unity across the industry is needed to protect and advance traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture in Ontario.

“We fought for years to get the profession recognized,” said Wu. “Now we are going to take another 30, 60 years to do better.”