'I don't feel qualified to intervene in the debate' (II)

For those unsatisfied by yesterday’s demurring, here is an excerpt from Stephen Harper’s reply to the Speech from the Throne in October 2002. Possibly the last time he’s allowed himself to say these sorts of things out loud in a public place.

Let me turn to health care. What was proposed that we do about health care in the throne speech? Three things: nothing, nothing and nothing; just rhetoric. We have heard it all before. Appoint a commission and wait for it to report.

In 1997 we were promised better access to medically necessary drugs. In 1994 the government appointed the National Forum on Health to deal with the emerging crisis on health care. It reported in 1997 and no action was taken. We have the Kirby committee appointed by the government in the Senate. Now we have the Romanow commission and we are told we must wait for the Romanow commission to act.

While we are waiting month after month, year after year for these various commissions to report, we get endless speeches from the federal government about its role as the protector of health care and health care values. In the meantime, there is no plan. There is a long history of lack of cooperation and open periodic confrontation with the provinces and, of course, the elimination of the deficit in which the cutting of health care transfers was a major priority. In fact, instead of reducing the $16 billion the government spends on grants and contributions, the Prime Minister and the former minister of finance have slashed $6 billion annually from health care transfers to the provinces as part of the deficit reduction strategy.

Not surprisingly, these actions and 10 years of excessive rhetoric have resulted in the continual deterioration of our health care system. Today, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada ranks 18th in terms of access to MRIs, 17th in terms of access to CT scanners and 8th in terms of access to radiation machines. In terms of risk of death by breast cancer, for example, Canada ranks 6th among OECD countries.

According to the Fraser Institute, across Canada “The total waiting time is high, both historically and internationally. Compared to 1993, the waiting time in 2001-02 is 77% higher in this country”. The waiting time has increased in all but one of the past eight years. Canadians deserve better health care than that, much better.

There is all this talk going on and that is typical. As soon as I point out their deficiencies in health care, the Liberals attack the provinces. The provinces are the ones that are trying to run the system and increase spending on health care. There is no responsibility, no honesty and grandiose rhetoric.

Let me talk about our approach to health care and our values on health care because it is very important that when we talk about health care that our values are clear. In this political party, we represent ordinary people. the people we represent depend on this system. They have real concerns and these deficiencies are not a big federal-provincial game. They have real impacts.

My wife, Laureen, and I ran our own small businesses. We had to pay our own health care premiums. We had to purchase our own supplemental health care coverage, like most people in the country. We cannot afford to fly to clinics in the United States to get health care when things go wrong and we certainly cannot afford to get on Challenger jets to do it.

We do not need lectures from these guys about preserving the health care system. We understand the key value of this system. It is not the Canada Health Act. It is not the federal status in health care. The key is that necessary health care must be available to every Canadian regardless of ability to pay. This cannot be accomplished by delaying critical treatment by rationing and we cannot saddle ordinary people with enormous bills for catastrophic health problems.

To achieve these things, the federal government must work with the provinces and it must begin to act now. I would suggest that it begin by reversing the damage the government did to the health care debate and to the evolution of dealing with health care problems during the 2000 election campaign.

In that campaign the Liberals opposed provincial efforts to broaden health care delivery within publicly paid health systems by not just fighting plans for private facilities in various provinces but by demonizing the provinces pursuing these reforms. This was wrong.

A government monopoly is not the only way to deliver health care to Canadians. Monopolies in the public sector are just as objectionable as monopolies in the private sector. It should not matter who delivers health care, whether it is private, for profit, not for profit or public institutions, as long as Canadians have access to it regardless of their financial means.

We must become innovative in how we deliver care while holding fast to the principle of universal care regardless of ability to pay. The federal government must be absolutely clear on this point. It must remove any barriers, any chill to increase private capital investment plans that the provinces have for our health care system.

This is only a start in this caucus. Our member of Parliament from Yellowhead, a brand new member of Parliament with a long background in health care governance and in his local regional health authority, will have more to say about this in the next few weeks.

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