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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The End of Public Healthcare. Are we Really Ready For This?

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",, April 28, 2005

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Remaking of Canada. Are we Really Prepared for This?

Like many people living in Canada, I am ashamed of our current government. I am ashamed and I am appalled by the actions it has undertaken, and continues to undertake, in our name. I have never been particularly patriotic, but I do have a Canadian passport and I do pay taxes to the Canadian state. By virtue of these simple facts, I am responsible, like any citi­zen, for my government's initiatives. For this reason, I have to take action because feeling ashamed is not enough. I have to understand who I am dealing with, exactly what it is that they want, and why this government, with considerable success to date, is changing the face of our Canadian institutions.
That is the opening paragraph to Christian Nadeau's new book, Rogue in Power, and his words are chilling. I've often wondered myself just what Stephen Harper does want with us, and why a majority is so necessary, given the enormous amount of control he currently has over every aspect of government, and all Canadian institutions.

In fact, can I still call them 'Canadian institutions', or are they 'Harper institutions' now? Much of the political discourse today centers on the bogey-man coalition, with the Harper team keeping it alive to deflect attention from other things, like their Contempt of Parliament charge. And unbelievably, there are many in the media applauding his strategy. But what is that doing to our democracy?

During an election campaign we should be presented with the issues and that's the only thing that should matter. Yes, politics is a blood sport, and attack ads par for the course, but the Conservatives have been engaged in visceral assaults on their adversaries for five years, especially on the Liberals. As Andrew Cohen writes in the Ottawa Citizen:

There is a story of a meeting between Stephen Harper and a visiting head of government. During the conversation, which took place in the Prime Minister's Office, the two leaders eventually discussed the parliamentary opposition in their respective countries. What struck the visitor was Harper's antipathy toward the opposition, particularly the Liberals. "I don't like my opponents," the visitor allowed afterwards, "but I don't hate them. He hates his opposition!"

Hatred is a strong word. Whenever we spat "I hate you!" in the schoolyard, teachers told us to watch our tongues; you disliked the bully who washed your face with snow, but, really, you didn't hate him. You have to wonder about how little personal regard Stephen Harper has for his opponents and how it affects how he runs a government and fights an election. More than any other politician in this country, this is a man with animus.

Others in his circle have said that he can't be nice. "It's not in his DNA".

We know that the coalition flap has a shelf life, and after that I shudder to think what his next move will be. To date his policies are only getting negative attention. Can we expect even more poisonous darts thrown Ignatieff's way?

The fact that he's still standing says something of the Liberal leader's strength of character. I'd have been reduced to whimpering mass months ago.

Ezra Levant already wrote of an Ignatieff ancestor who was anti-Semitic. How relevant that is today is beyond me. When I was doing my family history, I discovered that some of my Acadian ancestors, who helped to settle Louisiana, owned slaves. It hardly makes me embrace slavery.

But what does all of the poison, all of the anger, the hatred, the bullying, the secrecy and contempt, really mean? What is the endgame? Is it simply power or is it something more? Nadeau believes that "the primary danger represented by the Conservatives lies in their profound belief in certain ideas and values and in their willingness to impose those ideas and values on Canadians." But I think that's only part of it.

Tom Flanagan has said in the past that Stephen Harper himself is not a social conservative. He only sees the Religious Right in his party as a means to an end. But he is willing to allow them to impose their version of morality on the rest of us, for his sole benefit. His new tax plan for families, only helps the nuclear family. Husband, wife, children. Not single families, same-sex relationships or any other configuration. This is clearly written to draw that conservative Christian-Judeau support. They are the ones with the websites and mailing lists who can bring him the votes.

Most religious organizations are worried about the poor and homeless, not whether gays want to marry and raise families.

This same strategy, was no doubt behind his decision to drop license fees on guns, which will reduce our revenue by $21 million. Gun enthusiasts see his party as the only one willing to take up their cause. It's interesting that the budget only mentions 'sports shooters' and 'hunters'. Not farmers this time.

So if all of his policies are designed for the sole benefit of religious fundamentalists and the gun totin' crowd, what happens to the rest of us? And why should we care?

There is a reason why Stephen Harper draws on the radical right for support, and it has nothing to do with his moral values. His is a government that operates solely for the benefit of multinational corporations. Canada or Canadians rarely cross his mind, except to exploit for political gain, in a fierce, albeit ambivalent nationalism.

In the video provided at the bottom of the page, you'll hear Harper first tell the Canadian media that we will not be expected to "surrender our sovereignty", yet in his speech to the G-20, he's pretty clear that he understands why people oppose the notion of global governance, because it "means a loss of national sovereignty". He also goes on to say that there is no longer a Canadian economy only a global economy.

Did we miss the memo? Or do Canadians really not care if we are still a united Canada? For all the hoopla over the Bloc wanting to break us up, it would appear that there may be nothing to break up. His speech certainly doesn't sound like a commitment to this country. His only commitment is to a Global economy. Multinational corporations.

Policy is designed to keep us passive. And if he can't pacify us, he'll turn us off the entire process, by making Parliament so toxic we no longer have the will, or even the desire, to save ourselves.

Journalist Russell Wangersky has a suggestion: "So, while you’re out there, caring about your wallet and the economy and little else, ask yourself this: regardless of how you’re going to vote, is that the kind of place you really want to live? It’s certainly a different country than the one I grew up in, and treasure."

We cannot give this man another mandate. It's that simple. Sources:

1. Rogue in Power: Why Stephen Harper is remaking Canada by Stealth, By Christian Nadeau, Lorimer Press, ISBN: 978-1-55277-730-5

Harper's Claim That Canadians Don't Care About Contempt Charges, is Only Showing Further Contempt

Stephen Harper claims this week that Canadians don't care that his government was charged with Contempt of Parliament. And indeed, given it's toxicity, in some respect he's right. I've been a little contemptuous of it myself.

However, let's imagine for just a moment, a board meeting at a corporation, where the pitch for a new product line is being presented. Those involved in the design believe it to be a good product. But when board members notice that there is no cost analysis, they question those with the sparkly eyes.

"What's it going to cost?"

Now imagine being told that the cost was none of their business. Or when pressed, a box of receipts was dumped in the middle of the table, with the message "figure it out for yourself".

How long do you suppose it would take for board members to call security?

Here's another scenario. Your company enters into an agreement with a supplier. Contracts are drawn up and duly signed. But then an employee decides to change the contract AFTER those involved bargained in good faith.

By changing one word to 'not' it nullifies the entire thing. But worse yet, it is made to appear as though the signatories agreed to 'not' being paid, or 'not' being granted the contract for future services.

How long do you suppose it would take for that employee to be fired? Because that's what Bev Oda did.

As Thomas Walkom wrote recently in the Star: Yes, contempt of Parliament does matter

Contempt of Parliament means that you hold contempt for those that we elected to represent us. Thus it means that you hold contempt for us.

I would like to ask Conservative candidates this question. If your boss and your party have such little regard for Parliament, why do you want us to put you there? Wouldn't it be more like a sentence, than the honour it is supposed to be?

Monday, March 28, 2011

We Can't Think About a Harper Majority. We Have to Focus on a Harper Unemployed

Heather Mallick asks: What if Harper's dream of a majority comes true? It should read what if our nightmare of a majority comes true. But it won't. We won't let it happen.
A Harper majority government would be dishonest. That's an easy one, they're Dodgy Inc. now, with their in-and-out campaign financing, lying to Parliament, allegations of illegally blocking freedom of information, killing the long-form census to cater to invented online outrage, wildly underestimating the cost of those Lockheed Martin jets, padding the Senate they previously vowed to reform, accepting fat MP pensions they once decried . . . I could go on but lack the space and sometimes the will to live, frankly.

A recent poll shows that Canadians know the Harper government tells whoppers. For the Harper regime, lying is a core value, to the point where there's a bouncy aggressive incredulity when they're questioned about it in the House of Commons. They regard opposition MPs as dogs lunging at a G20 wire fence when they've already been trained with electroshocks to never do that again.
Murray Dobbin in the Tyee is also Contemplating the Unthinkable Harper Majority. Five years of minority has frustrated their ambitions:
They couldn't slash Medicare or gut the Canada Health Act. They couldn't cut transfers to the provinces, or further weaken EI. They left the public services unions with their rights intact. They had to leave education alone (more or less). And they didn't risk slashing the civil service they hate so much. Even the CBC has been spared (though they raised millions from their loyalists attacking it in fundraising letters).

The frustration level, especially for Harper, must have been almost unbearable. Remember, this is a man who got so frustrated being in Opposition as right-hand man to Preston Manning that he bolted from politics altogether. The place he chose to cleanse himself after all those years having to play the democrat was the National Citizens Coalition, by a big margin the most right-wing organization on the national scene. He said he was glad to be out of politics so he could say what he really thought.
So we can't even use the "M" word anymore than we can use the "C" word. And in fact, we can't even contemplate another mandate. I have to be able to sleep nights.

Jason Lietaer and Stephen Harper's Tea Party Campaign Not Going so Well

I watched Power and Politics yesterday, something I haven't done in quite awhile, and despite the fact that the whole 'reckless coalition' mantra is tanking, Harper's communication point man, Jason Lietaer, suggested that it would continue to be at the center of their campaign.

A big mistake.

It took just two days for the media, with the help of Gilles Duceppe, to nullify. Stephen Harper did indeed try to become Prime Minister in 2004, with the full support of the Bloc. Duceppe is far more credible on this because he not only has the original letter, but also video and Tom Flanagan's book. It's time to move on.

This only validates what Harper's critics have said all along. That he is deceitful.

It took a lot of courage for Duceppe to go public with this, because across Quebec people are saying "you've get to get rid of Harper", so admitting that he was once prepared to be kingmaker for him is a risky move. It's also interesting that Jack Layton is stepping away from it, despite the fact that he was key to both coalitions, and instead is allowing Michael Ignatieff to shoulder all of the "blame".

But I don't want to talk about the "C" word because it's enough already. On the weekend Gilles Duceppe referred to Stephen Harper's Tories 'as a retrograde Tea Party', and I think that's one of the things the other parties should focus on.

Not only on Harper's long and deep connections with the Republican Tea Party, but his style of campaigning. Stick to a few talking points and hammer them home. This might work in the U.S. where their battle cry is "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness", but in Canada, we follow the creed of "Peace, Order and Good Government".

In his five years, Harper has made no attempt to be peaceful, orderly or to provide good government. Instead it has been just a never ending election campaign, much of it at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer. His caucus rarely answer questions in the House, preferring to be glib and stick to their scripts. They have a 200 page manual instructing them on how to make committees dysfunctional, to avoid accountability. And they have a vetting system for handling access to information, that would rival Joseph Goebbel's.

So pitting himself against the other parties in such a manner, only validates what his critics have said all along. That he is impossible to deal with. I also found his choice of those to lead his campaign interesting. Guy Girorno, a corporate lobbyist, who once choreographed Ontario Premier Mike Harris's every move, and Jason Lietaer, another lobbyist and Mike Harris top aide.

It was once thought that Lietaer might replace Kory Teneycke as what Kady O'Malley called Director of Uncomfortable Silences. Even Jane Taber, top Harper cheerleader, listed him as one of the lobbyists in Harper's revolving door.

Which only validates what Harper's critics have said all along. That his government is run by corporate lobbyists.

This brings me to the second talking point of this campaign. That "only Stephen Harper can lead us to economic stability". They cite the fact that we did better than most countries during the collapse, despite the fact that many in the financial world agree that it was only because of measures put in place by the former government, many of which have since been torn down by Harper and Co. However, it would appear that our economic prowess was only in the short term. Many other countries are now leaving us in their dust.

That could have something to do with the fact that we were the only ones who saw the need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on "aren't we doing a great job" ads and signs, instead of focusing on the actual economic strength of recovery.

The Montreal Gazette gives us a Reality 'cheque': Harper's claims on the economy

- Canada's economy has been improving, but not at the same rate as the leading economies. Australia and Sweden are expected to lead in economic improvement in 2011, according to the report

- "Any likely post-election government can also be expected to stay on a course aimed at deficit reduction, with only the specific mix of spending and tax policy priorities under real debate."

- The Harper government increased program spending faster than the inflation rate. Between 2006-07 and 2008-09, program spending increased by an annual average of 5.1 per cent.

And the suggestion that only Stephen Harper can handle the economy, and not the Conservatives, validates yet another criticism, and perhaps the most important of them all.

Stephen Harper is a government on one. He listens to no one, not even the Canadian people.

It took just two days to tear down the entire Conservative strategy. They'd better change the channel soon because they've still got a long way to go