This article appeared in the National Post on Wednesday, January 4th, 2006, and in the Vancouver Sun on Friday, January 6th, 2006.
Federal Election Op-Ed by Brian Day
Jan 04, 2006
By Brian Day
For the third federal election in a row, health care is at the top of the agenda. The 40-year propaganda campaign that only government can deliver quality health care has led to the myth that Canada's medicare system is the envy of the world. Although none of our political parties offer any creative solutions to the medicare crisis, it is ironic and hypocritical that Jack Layton's NDP portrays itself as the saviour of our public health system. A touch of truth and a few rations of reality are in order. "New Democrats will defend public health care," said Mr. Layton in a recent election speech in Alberta. This was a few weeks after he told a Vancouver radio show host that he would let his wife suffer in pain on a wait list for 18 months rather than spend money to get her treatment. If he left a pet animal suffering for that long, he would likely be charged with animal cruelty.
Would Tommy Douglas really be proud of a "universal" health system that is more expensive than any other, is near the bottom of OECD countries in access to new technology and is ranked 30th overall by the World Health Organization? How would he relate to the NDP's advocacy for a system that leaves millions of patients suffering and dying (in the words of the Supreme Court of Canada) while they await necessary care?
Despite Mr. Layton's rhetoric, the NDP has a history of propagating the growth of private health care. In B.C., an NDP government oversaw the largest growth of private clinics in Canadian history. Our own Cambie Surgery Centre, the largest private facility of its type in Canada, was launched in the middle of the 10-year term of a NDP provincial government. Among our clients are numerous NDP politicians, union leaders and their families who profess to be proponents of a public system, yet abandon their loosely held values when it comes to themselves or their friends.
The story of InterHealth Canada raises questions about how genuine the NDP's claim to being the protector of public health care is. This "private for profit" company was the brainchild of a former Manitoba NDP minister of health Wilson Parasiuk and a former NDP deputy minister of health, Michael Decter. InterHealth shareholders were a Who's Who of public medicare supporters, including the then NDP governments of Ontario and British Columbia. InterHealth's business was the development and operation of offshore private for profit health care facilities, including one such project in Communist China. More recently, the company has developed private surgery clinics in Britain. Their activities included the recruitment of Canadian doctors and nurses, enticing them to leave the Canadian system and move offshore. And we think the NDP should be entrusted with saving Medicare?
The federal Liberals apparently believe the NDP is qualified to save the system. Why else would they appoint one retired NDP premier (Roy Romanow) to lead a commission on medicare reform and another (Ujjal Dosanjh) to lead their Ministry of Health?
When Mr. Romanow led the NDP government in Saskatchewan, he oversaw the biggest increase in wait lists in Canadian history. Mr. Romanow's former NDP finance minister in Saskatchewan, Janice Mackinnon, describes in her recent book how her government diverted resources from other essential social services into medicare, but failed to halt its decline. In the 1999 election campaign, the Saskatchewan NDP was re-elected on a promise to cut wait lists by 30% over four years. How did they perform? They actually increased wait lists by 61%, yet were returned to office again in the subsequent election.
As for Mr. Dosanjh, he has kept with tradition in presiding over inflated spending and a massive increase in wait lists. The recent news that health spending will rise by $12-billion this year exposes the gross inadequacy of Paul Martin's plan to "fix health care for a generation" by adding $4-billion a year over 10 years ("a deal for a decade"). The NDP, and its leaders past and present, have not earned, nor do they deserve, any respect for their efforts in health care policy.
Only with the introduction of market forces, competition, consumer empowerment and responsibility will we see improved performance. In facing our third consecutive election in which health care is the number one issue, we must demand accountability and support those who stand for meaningful action and reform.
Brian Day MD, is president of the Canadian Independent Medical Clinics Association (CIMCA) and Medical Director, Cambie Surgery Centre.