MP says he's ready to defend public health care

Public or private health care

There is nothing more precious to us than our health, and good health is dependent on good health care.

For decades, Canadians have been proud of our universal health care system, but that system is now in a state of crisis. After decades of cuts by Liberal and Conservative governments, people are waiting longer for simple operations, waiting longer in emergency rooms and waiting longer to get a family doctor. Those waits are painful, full of anxiety and some even end in tragic loss of life.

So, what has happened and what can we do? When universal public health care was introduced in Canada 60 years ago, health costs were to be shared 50-50 between the federal and provincial governments. Today, Ottawa’s share has slipped to around 22% and the provinces are asking for that to be increased to 35%. The federal cabinet is meeting over the next few days to discuss what sort of increase to the Canada Health Care Transfer (the government) will offer the provinces.

While (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau agrees with Conservative-led provinces that are offering up “innovation” in the guise of a for-profit, American-style health care system, the my NDP colleagues and I are ready to stand up to rebuild and protect our public health care system.

Our public health care system clearly needs strengthening, through more investments and more professional workers. We need to help provinces train and hire more nurses and family doctors and we need to do better at recognizing the thousands of internationally trained health care professionals already in Canada and ready to work. And we need to find ways to retain those professionals.

But what we do not need is privatization. A private system is not innovation. It will make things worse.

The biggest problem right now in health care is there are simply not enough nurses and doctors. Besides needing to make a profit, new private care clinics will also need new nurses and doctors, and where will they come from, the publicly funded clinics and hospitals? So, the new clinics will cannibalize the public system, making staff shortages much worse across the country.

If health workers find jobs in the private sector more attractive, we need to find out why, and create working conditions that provide the same job satisfaction in the public sector. We need to create primary care clinics where health workers are happy to work and where every Canadian can find a team of professionals they can access whenever they need health care.

History shows more for-profit health care means less access to public health care and poorer services overall. The classic example of a private health care system is the American system, which costs twice as much per capita as the Canadian system, is highly inequitable and results in much poorer health outcomes, including a shorter life expectancy.

Instead, Ottawa needs to urgently invest in health care and partner with the provinces. As Trudeau crafts his agreement on health care with the provinces and territories, the NDP will look for a clear condition that federal money must go directly into patient care, not into the pockets of private corporations.

We will also look for significant investments for retention, recruitment and support for healthcare workers.

We can’t fall down the slippery slope of a two-tier health system. World-class health care should be waiting for you when you need it. We can best deliver that by rebuilding and growing our public system, not allowing Conservative premiers to decimate it with American-style for-profit health corporations.

We should look to other countries for inspiration. Sweden, with a per capita health expenditure about the same as Canada, provides full public health care, including dental care, pharmacare and long-term care. The NDP is working hard to bring all those service within the Canadian system as well.

Let’s all defend and expand the public health care system that makes us proud to be Canadian before its too late. Lives depend on this.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

South Okanagan MP touts NDP success in 2022

NDP helping Canadians:MP

This year has been an interesting one in Canadian federal politics, especially because it involved two of the major parties (the Liberals and NDP) agreeing to work together wherever possible.

Canadians doing everything right, still struggled with rising inflation throughout the year. Our cooperation ensured those who needed help the most were able to access federal government relief.

Through the confidence and supply agreement with the Liberals, the NDP used its power in a minority parliament to provide stable government in tumultuous times and accomplish a long list of benefits for Canadians.

One of the obvious wins was the initial stage of a dental care plan for lower income Canadians who don’t have dental coverage now. This year’s stage provided up to $650 in support for children under the age of 12.

By the end of 2023, we will have a real dental care plan that will cover all children, people with disabilities and seniors, and by the end of the following year anyone who has a household income of less than $90,000 and doesn’t have coverage now will be able to go to the dentist for basic care without cost. That will change the lives of millions of Canadians.

The NDP-Liberal agreement also includes a pledge to bring in a universal public pharmacare plan that will take shape over the next two years, giving Canadians access to prescription drug coverage, while saving billions of dollars at the same time.

NDP-led initiatives also provided inflation relief to low-income households with a doubling of the GST rebate and a one-time $500 benefit for renters. We also forced the Liberals to finally act on a child care program that will bring affordable and accessible child care across the country.

Workers have often been ignored by successive Liberal and Conservative governments who have sided with corporations, but this agreement has resulted in several major breakthroughs to change that.

Workers in federally-regulated sectors will now have two weeks of paid sick leave per year so they won’t have to make the difficult decision to come into work sick or stay at home and get well. The government will also bring in anti-scab legislation to ensure workers will have the power to fight for proper wages and safe working conditions.

For decades the NDP has sought to protect seniors who have too often been robbed of their pensions when corporations go bankrupt. Typically, bankruptcy proceedings transfer company assets, including pension funds held in trust, to the banks, leaving workers penniless. The NDP has tabled numerous bills over the years to fix this, and this year I was very happy to see one of those bills introduced by a Conservative MP to finally bring justice for pensioners.

While most Canadians are swamped by rising costs of almost everything, banks, oil and gas companies and big-box grocery stores have been making record profits. The NDP demanded those excess profits be taxed to provide funds to help those who are struggling, and the government relented by raising taxes on banks.

An NDP motion forced the House of Commons to look into the sky-high cost of food and was successful in getting the Competition Bureau to launch an investigation into grocery chain profits.

I was happy to see one of my private members bills taken up by the government without debate and included in the last budget. This was an initiative to remove the alcohol excise tax on low-alcohol beer, providing relief to this growing sector and encouraging healthier lifestyles.

My two other bills, one to promote the use of environmentally beneficial building materials in federal infrastructure and another to give Canadians the right to live in a healthy environment, will be debated this spring.

I will continue to work hard for everyone in the South Okanagan-West Kootenay and across the country.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2023!

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan – West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

When it comes to biodiversity, how is Canada doing?

Protecting biodiversity

This week, Montreal is hosting a major United Nations conference on the biodiversity crisis around the world.

COP 15, as it is called, is being convened in hopes of galvanizing action to halt the loss of species around the globe, and the meeting is focusing attention on Canada’s efforts to do the same here at home.

So how are we doing?

Last month, the federal government produced a report on the status of more than 50,000 species across the country. The report—the fifth in a series published every five years since 2000—found more than 2,000 of those species are at risk of being lost in Canada. More than 100 of those species are found only in Canada and are at risk of extinction.

Bird populations are collapsing at very worrisome rates in North America, and now are over 30% below the levels they were 50 years ago. That represents a loss of about 3 billion birds.

So what can we do? Well, most of the species declines around the world are caused by habitat loss and that is certainly the case in Canada. Providing some level of protection for important habitats is clearly the best way to start stemming the tide of biodiversity loss.

The federal government has pledged to protect 30 percent of Canada’s land and water by 2030. Right now, only about 12 percent of Canada’s land and water habitats are protected and we rank 128th in the world in that regard—behind the United States and well behind Australia and New Zealand.

That 30 percent target is a good start, but Canada hasn’t been doing well with meeting other environmental targets in recent years. We haven’t met a single climate target ever, and we didn’t see any significant progress on reducing emissions until last year when the NDP opposition forced the government to table legislation that actually made governments accountable for their pledges to meet targets.

And that’s what we need to meet the challenge of biodiversity loss in Canada. We need legislation that has a process to set meaningful targets, a real plan on how we are going to meet those targets, and public, transparent accountability measures to make sure we succeed.

The plans for biodiversity protection must include a variety of habitat management models that include measures to protect wide-ranging species such as caribou as well as specific sites for other vulnerable species.

We have to be mindful that many of our most endangered species are found along the southern edge of Canada, in remnants of the warm broadleaf forests of southwestern Ontario, the tallgrass prairie of Manitoba and the dry grasslands of southern British Columbia.

So, the biodiversity plan must include key biodiversity areas as well as larger representative sections of more widespread eco-regions such as the boreal forest.

This will all involve partnerships with Indigenous peoples, non-government organizations and, of course, the provinces, which control most of the public lands in Canada.

It will take dedicated effort to ensure success. It is a task we must give utmost priority to. The health of the environments we live in, the environments that provide us with clean air, clean water and rich soils to grow our crops, relies ultimately on a rich array of species.

In Montreal, the world is watching what Canada will do to protect biodiversity here at home and around the globe.

Like climate action, we must take bold steps now to maintain a liveable world for future generations.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Federal climate adaption strategy good but we have a more to do

Handling climate change

Two months ago, in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, I wrote a column about the necessity of climate adaptation in Canada.

Adaptation efforts recognize we are experiencing the impacts of climate change now, and ensure our communities are as safe as possible from future floods, fires, heat waves and hurricanes.

Two events last week prompted me to revisit the subject of adaptation. First, we marked the sombre anniversary of the floods that ravaged Princeton, Merritt, Abbotsford and many other communities and rural districts in southwestern British Columbia in November. Second, the federal government released its long-awaited National Adaptation Strategy and I’d like to comment on the actions proposed in that strategy.

The anniversary of the atmospheric river that hit B.C. a year ago has prompted renewed media coverage of that event and how communities and rural residents are faring one year later.

It’s clear small communities like Merritt and Princeton are still suffering. Many residents of Princeton still don’t have potable water and have to drive to a central depot to get clean water every day. Temporary housing is available for some Princeton residents who lost their homes, but others are still waiting.

The residents of Merritt still feel unsafe. They have a diking plan that would create flood protection to provide some comfort ahead of the spring freshet season, but it is estimated to cost $90 million and there is, as yet, no funding available for that expense.

The federal government has pledged more than a $1 billion to cover some of the rebuilding costs after climate disasters across the country in the past year, but that is only a small portion of the more than $5 billion annual cost of repairing damages from extreme weather events. It also provides nothing for adaptation costs that would make communities safer across the country.

So what does this new national strategy propose?

Off the top, it promises $1.6 billion to help communities across the country prepare for climate change. That is indeed a good start, and I’m happy to see it includes a top-up to the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund that will be available for both disaster repairs and adaptation. The problem is the fund is already over-subscribed and overwhelmed, and I’m very concerned little will be spent on adaptation when governments are faced with rising pressures to help communities that have suffered disasters.

As I said in my last column on this subject, recent analyses have showed that economic climate impacts will rise steeply in the coming years. By 2025, just three years from now, climate impacts will slow economic growth by $25 billion every year.

Investments in adaptation have huge paybacks. Every dollar spent on adaptation will save $15 in future damage repairs. We need to make sure that funds for adaptation are more or less on par with those for repairs, and we need to make sure that both are increased substantially to reflect ever-increasing costs.

Rebuilding a community after a flood or fire is not easy. It’s not just a matter of cleaning up houses and building new dikes. The human impacts are immeasurable.

Grand Forks suffered disastrous floods four years ago. The rebuilding process was very difficult and painful in the community. It would have been so much better had the region been prepared for that flooding, so no-one was affected, no-one lost their home and had to move away and no business had to close.

We need to plan for the future and spend the money up front to make sure our communities are safe from future climate disasters. This new strategy begins that shift but it has a very long way to go.

The need for climate adaptation is crucial and I will keep pushing the government and sharing my work on this issue in columns until we are truly making the investments that build safer and more resilient communities.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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