When you get all 10 provinces agreeing on an issue, you have to think they are on to something. Provincial governments say that Health Care in Canada is underfunded and that the federal Liberals should pay up.
Yet, Health Minster Rock wants to study the problem further. If health care was Rock’s own neglected car, he’d get out of the car during one of its frequent breakdowns, look at the threadbare tires and stalled engine and think, “I should get a committee together to study this problem, or maybe redesign the car.” Well no, Mr. Rock, what’s needed is immediate repair.
To premier Mike Harris, the lack of federal funding leaves few alternatives, “Either private sector is going to have to pay more, individuals are going to have to pay more, or somehow or other we can run this system on far fewer dollars than we have today”. If it’s obvious to Harris, its obvious to all — fund public health or expect private health care. The Liberals talk about defending public health care but I wonder.
Oh sure, Rock berates Alberta for their proposed Bill 11 that would privatize health care. But then the Prime Minister visits Alberta and says “I’m sure all those acts have within them absolute adherence to the Canada Health Act.” The message may be mixed but the intent is not. The Liberals intend to do precisely what Rock criticises Alberta of doing — bring private health care to Canada.
To find what the Liberals are up to, watch what they do, not what they say. They cut funding to health care because, they said, we have to balance the budget. But now that there is a surplus of $100 billion in the next five years, they are only putting $2.5 billion back. If the budget was the problem, then health care funding would be restored by now.
Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew knows the routine. Before the talks of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, he publicly said over and over again that education and health care were not on the table — he would not endanger these valuable programs. Canada, he said, would not be trading health care and education as part of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
The GATS proposes that services such as health and education be globally traded much the way goods are traded now. The Americans, of course, support such a deal. The Liberals have probably already signed agreement to the deal by now.
We don’t know exactly what Pettigrew said behind the closed door meetings on GATS. But we do know what the reaction of others at the table was. Through a leaked confidential memo from David Hartridge, head of the WTO services division, a picture of compliance appears. The memo was obtained by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
It seems that in private Minister Pettigrew wasn’t so vocal in his defence of Canada’s public health care. In the memo, Hartridge says that the GATS agreement was the “least controversial element” of the Seattle agenda. Canada’s Trade Minister apparently didn’t express opposition.
Its not just me who is suspicious. A provincial health official recently said that “there’s a deliberate federal strategy afoot to talk about things other than funding”. The Liberals know that if they stall long enough, Canada’s health care will continue to unravel to the point where the only solution will be private health care. And, they can say that the WTO made them do it.
As Canadians watch health care fall apart, they are getting more desperate. The majority want a universal, well funded public health care system and they are willing to pay for it. But, failing a public health care system that works, they will spend additional money at private clinics.
It’s only human nature: when faced with the choice of keeping their health or their money, Canadians will spend every cent they have to buy health, even if it means that they spend the rest of their lives poverty. A government that plays on citizen’s basic survival fears to achieve its own political ends is unconscionable.