On May 8th, 2005, then leader of the Opposition, Stephen Harper, made a bold announcement. He promised that if he was elected Prime Minister of Canada, one of the first things on his agenda would be to privatize the Canadian Healthcare System. (1)
This was just a week after he gave a lecture at the Fraser Institute, where he was in fact introduced as Canada's next PM.
He doesn't speak about that now, but then he doesn't really speak about anything of substance. Have his views changed since 2005? Hardly. On a visit to the United States during the debates over Obama's healthcare plan, he was asked by CBS about Canada's healthcare system, which is the envy of many other nations. He told the reporter that he really didn't know much about it, because it was a provincial issue.
The CANADA Health Act and the country's leader claimed not to know much about it? Given that he once headed up the National Citizens Coalition, a group founded to abolish public healthcare in this country, I contend that he probably knows the Canada Health Act better than most.
Then and Now
In the Spring of 2005, many were worried about the direction of our medicare. Preston Manning and Mike Harris had just released a Fraser Institute report calling for more healthcare privatization. The report said that those who could afford it, should have the "freedom" to choose their own healthcare – whether it is for-profit or non-profit.
The report failed to recognize the demise of the non-profit healthcare system for everyone, once for-profit health care is allowed to escalate.
Why should we care? I can give you an example.
When Mike Harris was premier of Ontario he began to introduce user fees. My daughter, who is disabled and on the Ontario Disability Support Program, injured her knee when at a soccer tournament for the Special Olympics. The injury required surgery, and the surgeon recommended physical therapy, during the healing process. But there was a catch. We were told that if she wanted to use the public healthcare system, she would have to go on a waiting list, and it could be months before she was called.
Or, she could attend a private clinic, partially subsidized, which would cost her $15.00 per visit. I know that doesn't sound like much, but the doctor recommended three visits a week. ODSP wouldn't cover it since there was a public option available.
$45.00 per week for someone on a pension, or who is a member of the "working poor", is a fortune. It means roughly $200.00 out of the monthly budget. She couldn't afford it so we paid for her therapy sessions. I was later told by her worker that if we gave her money for this, she was supposed to claim it, to be deducted from her benefit.
I don't think that worker ever recovered from the strip I tore off her. I was livid. She never pursued it further. (they have since laxed the rules but only slightly) Of course what this means, is that only the wealthy will get top rate care, while everyone else is at the mercy of what will eventually be a virtually bankrupt public system.
And in the spring of 2005, the hot topic at Canadian water coolers was the future of something, that we by then took for granted (2). That the letter and spirit of the Canada Health Act guaranteed the same level of medicare for everyone, and that this was now being threatened.
It didn't help the Neocons that the Alberta premier at the time, Ralph Klein, was traversing about praising the fact that there would be lots of money to be made in the industry (3). And now Stephen Harper had come out publicly with his pledge. And while Harper retracted his statement six years ago, what has he done since becoming prime minister to strengthen, or at least not further weaken, our medicare?
Our health minister has snubbed important medical conferences, prompting the question: "Does Canada still have a federal health minister? And, more important, does it have a government with the slightest interest in maintaining the national health-insurance program called medicare? For all practical purposes, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “No.”
Erroll Mendes, lawyer, author and Professor of law at the University of Ottawa, was interviewed recently about the Contempt of Parliament charges against the Harper government, and he brought up another important point. Renegotiation with the provinces and the Canada Health Act, is scheduled for 2014.
With Stephen Harper refusing to provide the costs of big ticket items like the fighter jets, corporate tax cuts and his new law and order agenda, how will Parliamentarians know whether or not there is any money to sustain medicare?
Which brings us to another concern. Instead of allowing Parliament to examine the issue, Harper has handed it over to the unelected senate. A senate that he now controls.
Healthcare vs Sickcare
Another issue with the corporate sector taking over the industry, is that the focus will be on what Liberal health critic, Carolyn Bennett, calls "sickcare". An auto mechanic doesn't care what kind of car you buy or its gas mileage. Their only interest is fixing it when it breaks down.
With health becoming a for-profit industry, again the focus will only be on fixing you when you break down. We will be reduced to a series of pay scales, based on the plan that we or our employer has purchased. There will be free plans for the poor, but what quality of care will they receive?
But healthcare is about more than just tending the sick. It's also about prevention of illness, and under corporate care, prevention is a word to avoid at all costs.
Those in the medical profession understand the need to eat healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle. But poverty is one of the root causes of illness. So healthcare must also address feeding and housing the poor, if we want to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
The working poor or those engaged in precarious employment, often have no sick leave plan, so they go to work when they shouldn't, not able to lose even a day's pay. Under a corporate system none of these things will be factored in. The more sick people, the more profit. Healthcare should not only be an election issue, but it should be the election issue. And remember, just because Stephen Harper no longer discusses it, does not mean that he has changed his plans. He's just hoping we won't notice until it's too late.
1. Stephen Harper Promises To Privatize Canadian Healthcare, Lilith News, May 17th 2005
2. What separates a wrestling match from a health care, Globe and Mail, April 28, 2005
3. "Tories to Klein: keep your mouth shut", cupe.ca, April 28, 2005