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.