OTTAWA – In the late 1970s it was Monique Begin, then Federal Minister of Health and Welfare, who suggested that citizens needed to mobilize into coalitions to make noise in society to get anything to work.
As Michael McBane, the present National Coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition said Thursday, “governments are not likely to see the light first.”
In 1979 the Canadian Health Coalition began, with many of the provinces quickly following suit with their own coalitions, including the Ontario Health Coalition.
The first project the national coalition embarked on was a campaign to abolish extra billing by doctors. Charging user fees over and beyond those provided by Medicare, the campaign eventually led to a ban on extra billing as part of the new Canada Health Act passed in 1984.
Speaking before the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat in Ottawa yesterday, McBane says that while some things have changed, we are still fighting similar “zombie” ideas that keep on coming back.
Today the coalition is again fighting extra billing by private clinics, this time without a federal government willing to enforce the principles of the Canada Health Act.
“We no longer have three parties that believe in Medicare,” says McBane.
Transfer payments from the Federal government to the provinces was originally intended to allow Canadians to access consistent national standards of health care regardless of where they lived.
The Harper government is clearly on another path.
The 2004 national health accord did more than set the rate of transfer, it also set targets around reducing unacceptable wait times.
McBane calls the accord one of the fruits of the Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada.
Now the Federal government falsely claims that health care is a provincial jurisdiction and has unilaterally set the transfer rates, maintaining 6 per cent transfers until after the next Federal election, then dropping to whatever the growth is in the economy.
“It’s a bizarre formula,” says McBane, “we’ll be cutting health care when it is most needed – during down economic times.”
The other change is how the transfer is calculated, rewarding already wealthy Alberta with a billion dollars more at the expense of every other province.
McBane says the accord did more than throw money at the wait times situation, it also created innovate public sector solutions to the problem.
What was also supposed to be part of the 2004 accord was a national pharmaceutical strategy – something the Harper government dropped despite campaigning on a pledge to honour the accord negotiated by the previous Martin government.
“The current health minister is rewriting history by saying there is no accord on this,” he says.
McBane says health care is in fact a shared jurisdiction, the Federal government the 5th largest direct provider of health care in Canada.
“How should aboriginal communities feel when the Federal government says it doesn’t have a role in health care?” McBane asks. Aboriginal health, along with health care for the Canadian Forces, veterans, RCMP, and federal inmates are the direct responsibility of the Federal government.
It now appears that without public pressure there will be no new accord, only the unilateral transfer of money from the Federal government to the provinces.
The present accord expires October 2014 and “that will be the end of it. No plan to address anything. Nothing.”
“You are on your own – good luck. That’s his (Stephen Harper’s) health policy,” says McBane.
Yet polls show Canadians expect Federal leadership on health care, including Conservative voters.
McBane says the Canadian Health Coalition is planning a campaign to lead up to the next Federal election in 2015 to get the Federal government back to the table.
“We need Canada-wide solutions,” he says. “Even Alberta is critical of the lack of leadership by the federal government on health care.”
The Tories will certainly be vulnerable if they don’t address the growing needs of seniors who are being increasingly asked to shoulder more of the costs.
“Seniors are seeing service delisted in more affluent provinces,” says McBane.
The other danger of not mobilizing is that Federal government surpluses expected by 2016 will likely be given away as Harper tax cuts rather than applied to the health care needs of Canadians.
The Canadian Health Coalition is working with its Ontario counterpart to organize a shadow summit around the last meeting of the provincial premiers prior to the end of the accord.
Taking part in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the shadow summit and rally is anticipated to draw thousands of health care activists to the Ontario resort town July 24-25.
The CHC is also planning a conference December 2nd to be followed by a Parliament Hill lobby during Medicare week.
“Seniors are getting younger and more politically skilled,” says McBane. It is a constituency that has the tools to push back for an action plan for seniors.
The CHC is also holding a conference on Pharmacare beginning this afternoon in Ottawa to revive interest in universal drug coverage for Canadians.
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