Universal care? Not really

By Lee Harding

In 2012, Charlotte Morton left British Columbia to study in Newfoundland. Today, she lectures at Memorial University as she pursues a PhD. She's married to a Newfoundlander and has no intentions of leaving St. John's. "I work here, I pay taxes here, my children go to school here," she told the CBC in December.

Yet when it comes to health care, Newfoundland won't pay. The province's Medical Care Plan (MCP) denies coverage to students arriving from elsewhere. Morton has applied for coverage, but always in vain.

Students who arrive from other provinces are denied health coverage, as are their dependents and partners. All this in the province most likely to have medical test results vanish from electronic health records.

It's not supposed to be this way. When Canadians change provinces, the former province is obligated to continue coverage for the first three months. Thereafter, the new province pays ... except when they don't. Then the federal government and the two provinces try to settle the squabble.

Last September, Angelica Lauzon left Victoria with her partner Stewart Walker as he began studies in Newfoundland. Advance calls to respective health authorities left her expecting a seamless transition. But when she applied to MCP after her arrival, it refused. Walker would not qualify because he was a student and Lauzon would not either as his partner. They called B.C. but were told they were out of luck there too since they weren't coming back. After a time without coverage, a B.C. official said they would "bend the rules" and reinstate their coverage.

"I'm speechless, really," Lauzon said. "I just want that comfort of being able to call up a family doctor and make an appointment."

Until Walker is done studying, he and Lauzon are "kind of paying double," as she puts it. They will have to pay both the Medical Services Premium in B.C. and taxes in Newfoundland. An official from MCP even told Lauzon if they tried to reapply before that time, they could be charged with fraud.

The Canada Health Act is the real fraud. Its promise of universal, quality health care is just a deceptive dream.
The sobering reality is rationed care that leaves people in line while their health erodes. Doctor shortages and overcrowded facilities are the most familiar ways this occurs, but Morton discovered interprovincial squabbles can mean the same thing. She has gallstones and could develop sepsis if they aren't removed. B.C. is still paying for her health care six years after she left and doesn't want to pay for the procedure to be done in St. John's.

Morton, a working and studying mother, doesn't want the time and expense involved in a 10,000-km round trip so the surgery can be done in B.C. So she keeps making appeals, and the stones sit in her gallbladder and the bureaucrats sit on their hands.

Canada's socialist champions prided themselves on how health care is not open for business. But when government is the single payer, taxes are coerced from people whether they use the service or not. Every patient is a liability and the more services they receive, the more it costs.

The single-payer system twists incentives for both users and providers, but it's the system we have. And it's failing. Canadians need to wake up. 

Lee Harding is research fellow for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

– Troy Media


Jody's Canadian courage

By Peter Stockland

I can't remember feeling more proud to be Canadian than I have since Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke to the House of Commons justice committee.

As a little kid at Nov. 11 cenotaph ceremonies, I might have been as proud in the misty half-understood way of childhood. When Paul Henderson scored the immortal winning goal in the legendary 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series, I was certainly more euphoric.

And the way Canadians responded to 2014's perceived terror attack on Parliament, I realized in my deep heart's core how much I loved this hugely improbable country and its thoroughly good and decent populace.

But watching Canada's former attorney general, justice minister, and veterans affairs minister lay out in exquisite detail her side of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, I felt a pride that rivalled all those events. 

Much of it was attributable to Wilson-Raybould's remarkable personal presence as an Indigenous woman, levelly speaking to her peers as an MP, and implacably challenging the highest levels of political power in this country.

I grew up in small-town Western Canada where, paradoxically, we were proud to have elected the first "Indian" in Canada as an MP largely because it meant we could overlook our ingrained habit of treating our Indigenous neighbours like dirt much of the rest of the time.

So to see such a profound example of an individual transcending racist attitudes - never mind our far more serious historic obstacles to Indigenous equality - made me sit up straighter. It made me intensely aware of that rare moment when pride avoids the ever-present heinous temptation toward arrogance and goes straight to becoming full-fledged hope. Hope, that is, for this country in all its breathtaking improbabilities.

I don't mean to take an iota away from Wilson-Raybould's individual triumph of will. She did it. She achieved. She stood defiant. She called out power.

But no one, least of all a politician, flourishes in a vacuum of individuality. Wilson-Raybould's emergence is illustrative of a capacity traceable to the very seedbed of what it means to be Canadian: our willingness to atone, adapt, reconcile, grow, welcome anew.

The quality of her presence before the justice committee was hers and hers alone. But the system had room for it to happen. The institution worked.

Did the former minister's testimony root out all the rot that leads political leaders and their minions to privilege a corrupt, legally-imperilled corporate behemoth over our rule of law? No.

Are we out of the woods in terms of the threat the SNC-Lavalin scandal poses to Canada's political ecology? By no means. As the justice committee members agreed during Wilson-Raybould's testimony, the real work has only just begun.
But begin it has. Proceed it can. And Wilson-Raybould gives hopeful evidence of enough quality individuals in place to see it through. 

Peter Stockland is senior writer with the think-tank Cardus and publisher of Convivium.ca.

– Troy Media

Food for a lonely Canada

By Sylvain Charlebois

The number of households in Canada with just one person has never been higher. And the food industry is taking notice.

More than 28 per cent of Canadian households have just one person. It's one of the fastest growing demographics in our country.  

Having ignored this trend for a long time, many industries are now adapting to it, including the food industry.
Notice how much grocery store ready-to-eat counters have expanded in recent years. In some cases, the space has doubled, as many grocery stores turn into small cafeterias.

Grocers are increasingly mastering this merging of food retailing and food service, also known as the 'grocerant' concept.

In many communities, grocery stores have become a sort of community centre. You find solo shoppers chatting in a grocery store. Some grocers have even placed park benches between aisles so people can sit and visit. The grocery store is becoming a place where you can meet and interact with other people over coffee or even lunch, and without paying too much for your food.

Selling single servings can generate more profits for grocers and the food industry. Instead of losing money on shrinking package sizes while retail prices remain idle ('shrinkflation'), the wide assortment of single-serving food products can increase profits per unit sold

In the bakery section, for example, the single-serve economy can help grocers increase margins. Whole cakes are typically sold from $18 to $25 and offer eight servings. A single serving of cake often retails at $3.99, which is 30 to 100 per cent higher than selling the entire cake.

With single servings, food waste for single dwellers is less of an issue. Buying only what's needed is a sound strategy. That said, single servings can increase plastic usage and, of course, waste. This is something the industry will need to address.

On the other end of the demographic continuum, given our car-centric economy, many of us are obsessed with buying food in bulk. Walmart and particularly Costco have benefited from this phenomenon. Walmart and Costco combined now sell more food products to Canadians than Sobeys, the country's number two grocer. But the growth rate is nowhere near what it is with the single economy.

Other than trying to serve singles, what's pushing the industry to offer more individualized meals and food solutions is a highly fragmented marketplace. Valuing customizable solutions and the individualization of food requirements is ever more critical. Every one of us is different, with different needs.

Don't be surprised if you see the food industry trying to capitalize even more on the single-driven food economy. As a result, our dinner tables and restaurants may become lonely places, or places where lonely people congregate. 

A recent survey suggests that 64 per cent of customers are comfortable with retailers identifying their characteristics in an effort to individualize their experiences. In fact, customers expect this more and more from grocers and restaurants. The digitalization of our food economy will only help the sector gain the ability to customize their offerings, based on each customer's interests and needs.

So a lonely Canada can pay off for the food industry. But what could get overlooked is the power of food to bring people together. This should never be forgotten.

Sylvain Charlebois is scientific director of the Canadian Agrifood Foresight Institute, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, and a senior fellow with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

– Troy Media


Grad's inspiring message

An Okanagan College grad's inspiring story has touched staff and students.

"Shortly after Okanagan College’s winter convocation ceremony on Jan. 11, we received a very brave and inspiring note of thanks from a graduate, Andrea Thiessen, who completed the business administration certificate," says college communications manager Tyler Finley.

"Andrea shared with us her struggles with addiction, and how she overcame them to go on to return to school and pursue a new career path in business."

Here is Andrea's story in her own words:

This year might mark the end of my studies, but it also marks an important beginning.

My first job was at the age of 12 as a dishwasher at a family owned and operated restaurant in small-town Manitoba, and I began work as a cook within a year. This inspired me to become a professional chef, and after I graduated high school in 2002, I enrolled in the professional cook program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, completing the diploma in 2003. I worked in fine dining restaurants across Canada, in addition to several years as a cook in Northern Alberta. I loved cooking.

My passion for food and drive in the industry brought me across Canada, and while I functioned well in the kitchen, I was struggling in many other ways. The first time I experimented with chemical drugs I was 18 years old. Partying on weekends was a regular part of my lifestyle. In 2008, I experienced traumatic events and turned to substances as a means of coping with the pain. It wasn’t long until I was addicted to cocaine and using on a daily basis to get through the day. A year later, I was smoking crack and experimenting with basically whatever I could get my hands on. Drugs were an escape for me from feelings of depression and anxiety, a way to self-medicate and forget my problems. I thought I could escape my addictions by moving to another city, so I left Calgary in 2009 only to realize that addiction follows you anywhere you go.

One night, while homeless and lost in my addictions on the streets of Toronto, I was having a cigarette outside a hostel. A homeless man approached me, and my immediate reaction was to think he is probably going to ask me for a cigarette or money. But the man walked up to me and gave me a big hug and said, “Take care of yourself, sister.”

As he continued on his way along the street, my eyes welled up with tears. I took a long hard look at myself and realized how selfish I had been. I was being stubborn, with too much pride. But I could change. I could ask for help. I could do something to turn my life around. But here I was feeling sorry for myself… I called my mom the next day, and went home.

I have since been sober for three years, and have learned more about myself through my recovery journey than I ever imagined possible.  

I was struggling physically in the kitchen, with so much pain I had to put ice packs on my legs after every shift. WorkBC recognized my health necessitated a career change, and enabled me with the ability to attend training for a fresh start. During the application process for sponsorship, I had to explore a number of institutions to find the best fit. Although all of the schools I researched were great options, I chose Okanagan College because it is a leading business school with professors who have years of experience.

Graduating with a business administration certificate, I learned more this past year than I believe I have learned in any single year in my life before. Not just in school, but in life. I am considering coming back in the future to complete the diploma program, or get my bachelor of business administration. But for now, I am just going to enjoy working full time, and taking time to enjoy life and everything ahead for the future.

My future after school looks bright. I have been working as an executive assistant to the CEO of marketing app company Maxogram in Kelowna since July 2018. It is exciting ... and I am looking forward to moving forward in my current position. I have a great mentor, who I learn from every day.

I still love cooking, and always will. I cook a lot at home now for the simple joy of it. I am grateful to all the people in my life who have stood by me through thick and thin: my fiance, Joel, friends, and family – and for all the support I received from professors who I shared my story with during my time at the college.   

Now, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I know I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without having the experiences I have had in my life. I still have bad days, we all have bad days, but I recognize now that I need to focus on the present and leave the past behind. 

I want to encourage others that no matter how hopeless life may seem, no matter what struggles you are facing, you have the power to change, and the ability to take the positive from the negative. It is never an easy journey, and at times you may feel like you have lost hope, but have courage because when you start to control your own story, start asking for help and being honest with yourself, there is nothing that you can't accomplish.

Andrea Thiessen, Kelowna

BC schools perform well

By Angela MacLeod

While other Canadian provinces experience decline in student performance despite increased education spending, in the opposite is true for British Columbia.

The province's kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education system is performing well while keeping spending on public education relatively low. Other provinces should look to B.C. to see that student achievement doesn't require a large increase in spending.

A new Fraser Institute study compares the changes in spending on public schools across the provinces between 2006-07 and 2015-16. B.C. stands out for keeping spending comparatively low, in terms of both dollars spent and the increases over the decade.

To properly take increases in education spending into account, changes in both public student enrolment and inflation must be considered. In 2015-16, B.C. spent $11,656 per student compared to $11,059 in 2006-07 (in 2016 dollars) - an increase of 11.3 per cent. This is still a substantive increase, but compared to other provinces, B.C. has shown considerable restraint. Only Alberta had a lower percentage increase in per-student spending over the period.

B.C.'s annual per-student spending in 2015-16 was also second-lowest among the provinces (only Quebec spent less) and lower than the Canadian average of $12,791.
What's this all mean?

If low levels of education spending in B.C. were coupled with declining student performance based on test scores, this would be worrying. However, based on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests 15-year-olds worldwide in reading, science and math, B.C. performed better than the Canadian average in all three subjects in 2015 (the latest year of available results). In fact, B.C. had the highest score among the provinces in reading and the second highest in science and math.

Conversely, other provinces with higher levels of spending on public schools, and greater spending increases over the decade, are seeing declines in student performance.

Why are B.C. students performing so well?

One potential explanation is how B.C. delivers education. Where several other provinces - such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario - offer religious education and other programs, which may focus on the arts or science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) within their public systems, B.C. provides all religious education via independent schools.

Unlike other provinces, B.C. also financially supports parents who choose independent schools with per-student grants of up to 50 per cent of the operating funds provided to public schools. As a result, B.C. leads the country in independent school enrolment, with 12.9 per cent of students enrolled in independent schools in 2014-15 (the latest year of comparable data).

Clearly, based on the experiences of other provinces, improving student academic performance is not a matter of simply spending more money.

B.C.'s education system leads the country in achievement while keeping costs comparatively low and offers a successful example for the other provinces to follow.

Angela MacLeod is an analyst with the Fraser Institute. 

– Troy Media

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