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Don’t be fooled by the numbers, funding health care is a political decision

New Brunswick fights to stop health care cuts

New Brunswick is fighting to keep their public health care. The Alward government is planning to cut 131 health care jobs and find an additional $12 million in savings.

Health Minister Flemming commissioned a report that recommended $250 million in cuts. Flemming is currently floating trial balloons on policies such as emergency room closures, hospital closures and large layoffs. Of course, he’s telling the public that none of this will come at a cost to patient services.

To educate the public and send a strong message to the Premier of New Brunswick that these trial balloons weren’t going to take off, CUPE Local 1252 organized a rally outside of the provincial legislature. Five hundred people gathered on the Queen Street lawn in Fredericton to listen to speeches about what these cut backs could mean for their jobs and their next hospital stay.

I was delighted to be invited to speak to the Fredericton crowd (thank you, CUPE). Sorry to other communities I have spoken too, but New Brunswick, you are one loud and amazing group of medicare allies! I was thrilled with the energy of the crowd and had a lot of fun conversing with them.

Stop the bleeding of our health care…cuts threaten lives

My message to New Brunswickers was simple: funding for health care is not an economic decision, it’s a political decision. Our federal government had $28 million to spend commemorating the war of 1812, but not enough money to continue funding long term care beds for veterans- they offloaded that onto the provinces and territories.

Our federal government spent $30 billion on broken fighter jets, but they’re cutting the Canada Health Transfer- the money that the federal government gives to the provinces and territories for health care- by $36 billion!

Health care is not a financial decision, Ottawa has lots of money. A political decision has been made to stop spending on health care and force provinces and territories to privatize and offload as many public services as possible. At the end of the day, it’s New Brunswickers and all of us in Canada who lose the most.

Sadly, New Brunswickers are set to lose a lot. The changes to the Canada Health Transfer will mean a loss of $715 million for this province. That’s the equivalent of the annual operating budget of Vitality Health Network (the French health care system in the province), plus an additional $55 million. That is 11 hospitals and 30 medical clinics that would need to be shut down for one year, and $55 million would still need to be cut.

Health care is front page news in NB

Another example would be to cut the province of New Brunswick in half from north to south, $715 million would be closing down all of hospitals and clinics on the eastern side of this province for one year.

But that’s not all New Brunswick is dealing with. The federal government has also downloaded onto provinces and territories health care for the RCMP, veterans long-term care beds, and health care for refugees.

Super bugs love contracted out cleaning services!

When Medicare began in Canada, the federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed to a 50-50 cost sharing arrangement. Today the federal government contributes only 20% of that funding and by 2024, the provinces will have to fund 82% of the health care system.

This has to change, and it can. Right now our premiers and Prime Minister should be sitting down at a table and negotiating how they are going to protect, strengthen and expand public health care for the next generation. For decades this type of discussion has been happening. It’s called a Health Accord. The last Accord was created in 2004, it set benchmarks and national standards that brought wait times down significantly and gave the provinces the funding they needed to run a health care system that looks after you and your family.

But Stephen Harper has refused to meet with the provinces. If things continue the way they’re going now, March 2014 will bring in a new Accord with no national standards of care. This means you will not be able to travel from one province or territory to another and be able to expect the same quality of care within a similar amount of time. Our country will become a patchwork system of health care services and I’m sorry to say it, but the Atlantic Provinces will be the worst hit.

Premier David Alward surrounded by health care workers and media

So I left the crowd in Fredericton with a challenge, “you must get Premier David Alward to stand-up to Stephen Harper and demand a 2014 Health Accord with adequate funding that will ensure all New Brunswickers get the care they need regardless of where they live or what stage of life they are at”. The crowd roared at this and started chanting for Alward to stop hiding in the legislature and come out. Surprisingly and to his credit, he did! So, New Brunswick, time for step two, get Alward and Harper to the 2014 Health Accord negotiation table and let’s talk about how to strengthen and expand public health care for everyone.

Thanks again to CUPE Local 1252 for the invitation and thanks to an incredible Fredericton crowd, you made the trip so enjoyable! Good luck with your fight. So, so, so, solidarity!