'I don’t feel qualified to intervene in the debate'

The Prime Minister sat down with ABC’s Jake Tapper today for a chat about continental relations, trade and health care.

Most interesting might be the exchange on health care, during which Stephen Harper proved rarely reticent. That portion of the conversation after the jump.

Those interested in what Stephen Harper might say if Stephen Harper had something to say about wait times in Canada might consult his party’s 2006 election platform. A report this June from the Wait Times Alliance—entitled Unfinished Business—noted slight improvement from 2004.

Tapper:  I know you don’t want to get involved in the domestic U.S. health care reform –

Harper:  You bet.

Tapper:  But, there is a Canadian woman who is appearing in a TV ad.  She is from Ottawa and she had a brain tumor and she said that if she relied on Canadian health care, she would have died.  But she came to the United States to have it treated.  And as you know, this is a criticism even within Canada of Canadian health care that the waits are too long.  Are you concerned about this problem in the Canadian health care system and how do you respond to those criticisms?

Harper:  Well, first of all, I am not going to get involved in the health care debate in the United States.  I know that this is a – I know from our own health care debates historically in Canada that this is a very difficult, very tricky issue.

All across the world, health care systems of all kinds of different shapes and sizes have significant – have significant challenges.  And, obviously, I can’t comment specifically on a Canadian woman who may have had one type of experience with our health care system, with the American health care system.

In Canada, health care is principally the responsibility of our provincial government.  The federal government provides some transfers.  We do some of the drug regulation, a number of other activities.

But it is principally a system run by our provincial government.  So first of all, I don’t feel qualified to intervene in the debate.  And it is a very complex debate.  And as President Obama said, “there is a unique American health care system that’s evolved in a different way.”  And I think that the American public themselves has to arrive at its own solutions for reform.

Tapper:  But are waits in your country too long?

Harper:  I say, once again, that-

Tapper:  That’s not about your health care system-

Harper:  Yes, but the responsibility for the health care waits, in our country, are the responsibilities of provincial governments.

I have taken the view, as the federal prime minister very different than some of my predecessors as I don’t lecture the provinces publically on how they should be running their health care systems.

What we try to do is work with them in a cooperative manner so we can be helpful in addressing the challenges.

All around the world, what we are seeing all around the world is important to understand is that there have been tremendous breakthroughs in medicine.  We can treat more things, more ways through new technology, drugs than ever before.

At the same time, all of this costs money.  If you are prepared to spend an unlimited amount of money, you can do an almost unlimited number of things in people’s health care.  But you don’t have an unlimited amount of money no matter what your system is.  And these are challenges that every system has to address.

But I’m not – I’m not going, quite frankly, criticize how our provinces are running their health care systems because I know the challenges that face them are very big.

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