Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners sideswiped by PC labour bill

By Alan S. Hale March 2, 2022

Acupuncturists and other practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are crying foul over a little-talked-about piece of the government’s new labour reform bill they say would effectively “deregulate” their professions.

Schedule 5 of Bill 88, Working for Workers Act 2, repeals the Traditional Chinese Medicine Act, which gives the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario regulatory, licensing and enforcement authority in the province. The bill would then place the college under the control of an administrator tasked with “winding up” its operations.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Ontario president Heather Kenny told Queen’s Park Today there hasn’t been any push among TCM practitioners to have their profession deregulated. She argued doing so would hurt practitioners and their patients.

The change could mean that services such as acupuncture will no longer be listed under health plans and that Ontario acupuncturists’ credentials wouldn’t be honoured in other jurisdictions.

“This will move the acceptance of acupuncture in Ontario back decades. It will relegate acupuncture back to where it was 30 years ago: being practised in the back of shops and alleyways,” Kenny said in an interview, while warning some practitioners could leave the province.

Kenny, who served as fifth vice-president for the Ontario PCs from 2018 to March 2021 after eight years as a regional vice-president for the party, said she and other practitioners were taken by surprise by the legislative change, which they found out about after the bill was introduced on Monday. She said there was no warning the government was considering disbanding the college, much less any consultations about that possibility.

“I am completely shocked and taken aback,” she said. “Imagine if another regulated health professional college was told on a Monday night that they’re going to cease operations? Imagine what would happen if this was the college of naturopaths, or the college of chiropractors, or the college of nurses.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine Ontario president Heather Kenny said there hasn’t been any push among TCM practitioners to have their profession deregulated.

In a memo to members following the bill’s tabling, college registrar and CEO Ann Zeng noted the government said it expects it will take approximately 18 months for the college to be disbanded.

“The expectation is that acupuncture will be returned to the public domain and that TCM practitioners and acupuncturists could choose to voluntarily seek to be registered under the Health and Supportive Care Provides Oversight Authority (HSCPOA),” wrote Zeng (who did not respond to Queen’s Park Today’s request for an interview).

In the interim, the college was told it would continue regulating TCM in Ontario and investigating complaints. The statutory powers needed will continue for the time being.

Change will benefit practitioners who ‘historically faced barriers’: McNaughton

In a statement to Queen’s Park Today, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton’s office said the “government is helping to get more people working by reducing barriers to practising traditional Chinese medicine,” and suggested that regulatory oversight by a college was unnecessary.

Since the college’s inception, there has been conflict over its requirement that practitioners be fluent in English, the only language in which it offers its courses and exams.

“The practice of TCM and acupuncture has been safely practised for centuries,” noted a McNaughton spokesperson. “This approach brings Ontario in line with other jurisdictions and will support individuals who have historically faced barriers to practising, ensuring Ontarians have access to culturally appropriate care.”

Under the new system, acupuncture businesses would be treated much like tattoo parlours, with public health units providing infection prevention for other control measures.

Other TCM practitioners, his office confirmed, could also voluntarily register with the HSCPOA (which also oversees personal support workers). The authority will “put in place the necessary registration requirements, code of ethics, and professional standards for TCM practitioners.”

The minister’s office did not explain why the industry was not consulted beforehand.

Kenny said Traditional Chinese Medicine Ontario plans to push back on Schedule 5. It is reaching out to McNaughton’s office and is asking members to contact their MPPs.

Two lobbyists from Counsel Public Affairs, Caroline Pinto and Devan Sommerville, have been representing the regulatory college since last year. Per their filings with the integrity commissioner, they aimed to educate the PCs on the “importance of maintaining effective governance and oversight of these professions in the public interest” and to urge the government to more promptly appoint necessary members to its board of directors so it could reach quorum.

No such appointment has been made since 2017.