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UPDATE: Will health care be the ballot box issue in October 2015?

Will health care be a top issue – perhaps even the determining ballot box issue – when voters go to the polls as expected in October 2015 for the next federal election?

– Why would health care be a critical issue in 2015?

In December 2011, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unilaterally announced a non-negotiable federal funding plan that runs to 2024. Under the Harper government’s plan, federal health care transfers will continue to increase by 6 per cent per year until 2016-17, but after that (and the 2015 election) the transfer payments will be tied to the rate of economic growth, now at about 4 per cent.

In January 2012, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said he expects that under this formula federal transfer payments to the provinces will grow on average at about 3.9 per cent annually from 2017-2024. But he also forecasts that provincial health care bills will grow by 5.1 per cent per year.

According to Page, the Harper government’s new funding formula will cost the provinces about $31 billion over the life of the 2014 Canada Health Accord. While $31 billion is a staggering figure, in July 2012 the provincial premiers forecast the cut would be closer to $36 billion.

– What are the implications of billions of dollars of cuts to health care by the Harper government?

Roy Romanow has stated that as a result of this funding mechanism, our public health care system will grow weaker, we’ll have more privatization in more provinces, more for-profit medical companies will be doing business, more public-private partnerships, and we’ll see a patchwork-quilt series of programs by the provincial governments based on their fiscal capacity.

– Is this what voters will want?

In November 2012, a Leger Marketing poll commissioned by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies found that 94 per cent of Canadians view universal health care as an important source of collective pride. One year earlier in November 2011, a Nanos Research poll for the Canadian Health Coalition found that 94 per cent support public – not private, for-profit – solutions to making the country’s healthcare system stronger, up from 86 per cent in August 2010. And years before that, the 2001-2002 Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada found that Canadians viewed health care as a ‘social good’ and that the national medicare system should be built on that foundation.

With 32 months until the next federal election and up to $36 billion in health care funding at stake, campaigning for public health care has never been more critical.

To find out more about the Council of Canadians campaign to defend public health care from the Harper government, please see http://canadians.org/healthcare and http://canadians.org/blog/?author=6.