Friday, 28 August 2009

Do What Doer Did: the Canada Health Act Needs a Champion in the Federal NDP

I know what I hope Gary Doer does now that he’s resigned as head of Manitoba’s NDP and premier of the province: see that the federal NDP takes on defence of the Canada Health Act as a major campaign.

After 10 years as premier of majority NDP governments, Doer says it’s time to step down. "I thought, if you ever get a chance in this job to go out on your own timing, you better take advantage of it,” he said.

But he didn't say he was getting out of public life, and I take that as a good sign.

Two weeks ago at the federal NDP convention in Halifax I heard him talk about how important health had been to successful NDP campaigns in Manitoba. His government has also recently eliminated “tray fees” paid by patients: physicians will be able to bill the province for them, just as they bill for the medical acts they perform. Tray fees are extra charges for disposable equipment and material that are being levied more and more frequently by medical providers, particularly in clinics owned privately. In a report last fall the Canadian Health Coalition said requiring patients to pay such fees directly is likely a violation of the Canada Health Act since they limit access to medically necessary services. The federal government could withhold federal financing as a penalty for allowing such fees, but it has done so very infrequently.

Manitoba also stepped in ten days ago when the Feds were dithering about providing flu kits to First Nation reserves in the province. The federal government is responsible for health care to First Nation people but the province charges that the Feds have not responded in a timely manner to provide the kits, containing masks, gloves, tissue, hand sanitizer, headache tablets, thermometers and information on flu symptoms, to homes on the reserves.

Doer’s government understood just how important it is to stop erosion of our universally accessible health care system. The federal New Democrats ought to take up the fight just as vigorously as Doer and his Manitoba team has. I’d like to think that Doer’s resignation in Manitoba will mean more action by the NDP on the federal level. By resigning effective sometime this fall, he's going to have time to run federally whenever the next election is called, and that sounds to me like a very good idea.

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