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The Trouble with Evidence: Cuts to the Health Council of Canada

The Council of Canadians is saddened by the news of the cuts to the Health Council of Canada. While some analysts are correct to point out that the HCC had little bite, the bark that they had was valued.

The Health Council of Canada reported annually on provinces and territories’ progress on the benchmarks agreed to in the 2004 Health Accord. The HCC reported on Northern Canadians’ experiences with accessing care, seniors care, access and wait times, electronic health records, and they condemned the increasing dependency of provinces on informal home care providers pointing out that the policy puts pressure on women and fails to provide support for caregivers. Most of all, they showed the growing inequality in access to health care services across Canada.

While I didn’t agree with every report or conclusion that the Health Council of Canada produced, their voice was none the less important and I often relied on them for pan-Canadian analysis and provincial and territorial access to care comparisons.

Some commentators have argued that the cuts to the Health Council of Canada are okay because HCC couldn’t get the information it needed to provide a complete picture of health care in Canada. It seems to me that the answer to this is not to cut the HCC, but to enforce and strengthen rules for provincial and territorial reporting. The Health Council has shown that even with the limited information they were given, they were capable of providing important reports.

I believe the cuts to the Health Council of Canada are the same cuts and limitations being felt by other evidence-based organizations. Environmentalists and scientists have been silenced by the Harper government from speaking out and sharing their research with Canadians. Libraries and Archives Canada has been told to keep quiet and ask permission before presenting at conferences for fear that they will embarrass the federal government. Our scientists and researchers are under attack, and those who report on health care will not be given an exemption. After releasing several reports showing the growing gap in access to healthcare across Canada and the refusal of the Harper government to play a role in health care, the federal government has now silenced the HCC by taking away their funding. It seems anyone who shows the federal government in a negative light has to be prepared to suffered immense consequences.

So while I appreciate the comments that the HCC was not as effective as it could have been, I do not agree that this move is simply a fiscal decision. Nor am I optimistic enough to believe that the Harper government is ending the Health Council of Canada so that it can fund something with more “bite”. This is simply another act of the Harper government silencing those who use evidence and research to show the growing inequalities in this country.

Last week during a media interview on the cuts to the Health Council of Canada, a reporter asked me if this was the signal from the Harper government that it wasn’t interested in health care. I snickered, “this isn’t the signal, but one of the many signals from the Harper government. There have been cuts to refugee and RCMP health care, a complete failure to enforce the principles of the Canada Health Act, a scrapping of the 2004 Health Accord recommendations and the continued encouraging of provinces and territories to ‘experiment with alternative service delivery’-ie, privatize”.

The Council of Canadians was not shocked by the de-funding of the HCC. But we are appalled by the continued assault on science, research and the truth. For health care advocates, the loss of the Health Council of Canada sends yet another signal that the Harper government is not interested in Canadians’ ability to access health care.