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Fact checking fevered journalism

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail ran an article regarding health care in Canada. In a classic piece of partisan elections journalism, the author seemed to be trumping the false rhetoric and talking points directly out of the Conservative’s playbook. While any discussion on health care in the media is welcomed during this election, the piece in question was bereft of quality and factual analysis the topic deserves. The follow is a version of the letter to the editor which, not surprisingly, was not printed. 

            Reading Jeffrey Simpson’s, “NDP’s prescription is mere rhetoric and poor policy,” I was surprised and dismayed by the lack of nuance in the article which seemed to echo conservative talking points and ignore the contemporary facts. While it is axiomatic that more public health care spending is not necessarily a panacea for what ail our medicare, the article only tells half the story.

            In a recent report authored by economist Hugh Mackenzie (with the forward by former PBO Kevin Page), the data shows that federal support for health care will drop from the current range of 22-23% to 19%. Compared to the Health Accord’s 6% escalator model, this means that with a Health Accord in only 8 years there will be a $43.5 billion reduction (cut) in health care transfers.  No matter how you look at it, this will result in very tangible impacts on quality care and patient well being.

             It is clear to even the most casual political observers that the current federal government has chosen to walk away from its responsibility to provide leadership in our medicare system. After unilaterally ending any discussion on renegotiating the Canadian Health Accord, this government also imposed changes to a per-capita formula for the Canadian Health Transfer; as a result CHT changes Alberta is the only province to see an increase in transfer money (overall, already a reduction of $987 million from March 2014-15). Further, we have a seen a reticence by this government to enforce the Canadian Health Act and it has absconded this responsibility onto the provinces creating a dangerous patchwork system of enforcement.

            In contrast, ensuring stable and sufficient federal funding for health care at 6% (or higher) is a commitment to show leadership and value a social program Canadians cares deeply about. The fallacy Simpson makes is assuming this commitment to federal leadership in healthcare would simply be a carbon copy of Paul Martin`s health accord and not address some of the issues that have arisen from it.  The Health Accord would need to be renegotiated with the provinces, and with this comes an opportunity to ensure the outcome of restored funding results in better quality care for patients and a more equitable public health care system.  The assumption that what the NDP is proposing is to simply a renew of the past Health Accord and that their plan is “pouring more money into training additional doctors” is misleading.  By showing leadership and not shying away from discussion on medicare there is an important opportunity to have nuanced discussion on how to protect, strengthen and expand our public health care system. 

Michael Butler

National Health Care Campaigner

Council of Canadians