While Canada is internationally known for its universal healthcare, our valuable public healthcare system may soon become a shadow of what it used to be.
When a mass movement won Medicare two generations ago, the federal government provided 50 per cent of the funding. But successive Liberal and Conservative governments cut healthcare—including massive cuts by the Liberals in the 1990s—to the point that the federal government only provided 10 per cent in 1998. This artificially increased the amount provinces had to spend on healthcare to make up for the short fall, leading to claims that health spending is out of control and encouraging provincial governments to make their own cuts. The biggest increase in healthcare spending is in those areas not covered by Medicare, such as pharmaceuticals or dental care, so rather than being reduced our public healthcare system needs to be expanded to include those areas.
Health Accord partially restored Liberal cuts
In 2004, the “10-Year Action Plan on Health,” aka the Canada Health Accord, was signed by federal and provincial governments. The Liberal Government at the time agreed to increase Canada Health Transfers by $41 billion over the 10 year period in order to make a “quick fix” to the crisis that was triggered by their own government after hacking away at our public healthcare during the 1990s.
The Health Accord partially and temporarily increased federal funding up to 20 per cent, still far away from the original 50 per cent. It also included wait time goals that encouraged competition from privatized medicine like MRI clinics, without restoring the cuts that encouraged privatization.
Then, in 2011, the Conservative Government unilaterally announced it would not renew the Accord when it expired in 2014. Without consultations with the provinces and territories in Canada, the federal government has now made plans to reduce public healthcare spending by $36 billion dollars over the next ten year period, which could lead federal funding to drop back down to 12 per cent. What does this mean?
A prescription for privatization
First, it is made clear that both the Liberal and Conservative governments have no problem making up for deficits with cuts to healthcare, for it was the Liberals who got us into a healthcare disaster in the early 2000’s, and it is the Conservatives who are making matters worse. Secondly, it is evident that Harper and his Conservative Government are not listening to the families and front-line workers who experience the crisis in healthcare every day.
And thirdly, in 2017 federal transfer payments will decline from six to three per cent, and be tied to economic growth. Now how is economic growth going to help wait times, you may ask? We’re not sure – what we are sure about is that quality healthcare should be easily accessed to all people in need, plain and simple. Instead, the Harper Government is looking at population size instead of pertinent concerns for health such as income level, age, and demographics. With such massive cuts, inequality within Canada’s healthcare system will be exacerbated.
The Harper Government isn’t naïve, they know these cuts will have significant impacts on peoples’ access to quality healthcare – so what is their plan? As NDP MP Libby Davis explains, “It’s a lack of planning and a lack of foresight at minimum, and at worst, it’s another indication that the federal government is abandoning its role in health care.” With the current federal government walking away from its fundamental healthcare role, it causes one to question their intent. As in Saskatchewan, where Conservative Premier Brad Wall mused about privatizing MRI clinics due to long wait times, it is not at all presumptuous to assume the Harper Government is intentionally eroding public healthcare in order to push it into a privatized direction; this is despite overwhelming support for public healthcare.
Polls in 2011 found that 94 per cent of people across Canada supported public healthcare, including Tory voters. Clearly the Tories need a major distraction to get away with gutting a public service that people fought for and that has such massive support.
This explains why the Tories are so stubborn in their cuts to refugee healthcare, including wasting more than $1.4 million in legal fees to defend their cruel cuts. The Interim Federal Health Program that provides basic healthcare for refugees costs the federal government very little, but the Tories are scapegoating refugees—blaming them for the healthcare crisis created by government cuts. Harper is cutting millions from refugee health in order to distract from the billions he is cutting by ending the Canada Health Accord.
The Canadian Health Coalition and many labour unions are conducting research and organizing campaigns to reverse the Harper Government’s plans to slash our healthcare system. Instead of acting in isolation and in a way that is primarily based on ideology, we need a federal government that will listen and make plans with provinces to ensure all people have equal access to quality healthcare. We need to defend refugee healthcare as part of defending and expanding universally accessible public healthcare.