Monday, 27 September 2010

Who's Going to Defend Canada's System of Universally Accessible Health Care?

What politicians say about Canada's system of universally accessible health care varies a lot. Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberals, has flip-flopped a bit in the last few months. During two weeks in April, following the presentation of the Quebec budget that would have instituted user fees he first said:

“In our opinion, what counts is maintaining universality of access to the system. We believe, and it’s a question of details, that Quebec’s propositions conform to the Canada Health Act.” Michael Ignatieff, quoted by Norman Spector in the Globe and Mail, April 1, 2010

But two weeks later he thought better of himself.

“I want to make it very clear that our party and I personally, am a passionate defender of the Canada Health Act. If the government of any province were to introduce user fees, it is our belief that that would be in contravention to the Canada Health Act and we would oppose it.”National Post, April 14, 2010. (Thanks to Graham Carpenter for bringing the quotes to my attention.)

Better late than never, one might say, although I haven't heard Iggy talking about health since. But a bigger question is what the NDP is going to do to defend the system.

In his April 2 column Spector, of whom I am no fan, went on to write: "It will be interesting to see where Jack Layton and his Québec lieutenant Tom Mulcair come down on the issue — particularly with a Leger poll published this morning indicating that Quebeckers are overwhelmingly opposed to the measures. While the NDP presents itself in English-speaking Canada as the chief defender of public health care, it is seeking to make inroads in Québec and...criticizing the provincial government comes at a high cost, even when you are right."

Five months later it seems that neither Layton nor Mulcair are going to do much on this one for reasons that Spector outlined. The NDP's new health critic Megan Leslie mentioned the importance of Canada Health Act once during the summer. Speaking about comments made by the President of the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine, Jean-Luc Urbain, accusing the Conservative government of failing to provide all Canadians equal access to cancer diagnostic technology, she said: “It’s absurd we have a law to ensure equal care for all Canadians but the government does nothing to enforce it." Since then: silence.

The strongest voices against the continual erosion of the health system come from the edges of the political spectrum. For example, Amir Khadir, Québec Solidaire's only deputy in the Quebec National Assembly, has been fighting the good fight for a long time now. He introduced a bill into the National Assembly in April to reaffirm the universality of the health system and to prohibit user fees. He also was front and center last week, congratulating the Quebec Liberal government's retreat when it comes to user fees, but condemning the imposiiton of an annual one-time fee for all Quebeckers.

Such steadfastness is to be congratualated--and rewarded at the polls. Canadians and Quebeckers care a great deal about their health system, and it's about time that the left/centre politicos recognized this.

(For more news about the fight to save Canada's health care system, check out this blog.)


Anonymous said...

I'll gladly defend it when it stops being a massive subsidy program for pharmaceutical producers and medical device / hardware suppliers.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Certainly much can be said about the way that fragmented programs can be used by the folks who make medications and devices, but that does not stop the fact that we need a health system that is universally accessible anyway.