End of a deal

Health accord's expiry imperils health care

Written by Paul Moist and Maude Barlow as published in the Winnipeg Free Press, April 17, 2014

Manitobans should receive the same high-quality, publicly delivered health care available to all Canadians. But for that to happen, Manitoba needs stable and adequate funding from the federal government.

This spring, that funding was unilaterally cut. Every Manitoban should be asking members of Parliament what they are doing to stand up to protect health care.

The 2004 Health Accord expired last month. It set the terms for health-care funding and priorities between the federal and provincial governments.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, however, unilaterally dictated terms for a renewal -- not even taking the time to meet with premiers for a discussion.

By refusing to negotiate a new agreement, Ottawa has abdicated its role in upholding national standards and walked away from its responsibility to protect our public health-care system. The Conservatives have refused to discuss ways to control the cost of drugs and forge a national drug-coverage program. They have cut health-care funding for veterans and refugees and refused to uphold the Canada Health Act's protections for patients against user fees and extra-billing.

Instead, the federal Conservative government imposed a plan for health care that will mean $36 billion less for medicare over the next 10 years. Over time, Ottawa's share of health-care spending will shrink to a small fraction of its original 50 per cent contribution -- down to 18.6 per cent by 2024. For Manitoba, this will mean a cut of $1.3 billion for the health-care services all Manitobans depend on.

This is not acceptable.

This week, some of your neighbours are discussing what these cuts will mean for Manitoba at a town hall meeting in Winnipeg, as part of the Campaign to Protect, Strengthen and Expand Medicare.

Part of that discussion will focus on the need for the federal government to be a full partner with Manitoba and the other provinces and territories on health care. As partners, the federal and provincial governments need to establish national standards for health care, and uphold the Canada Health Act. For a public health-care system that will best serve Manitobans we need public home care and long-term care. And we must move forward to universal pharmacare. With fair federal funding, we can create the health-care system we need, with quality public health care for every Manitoban and every Canadian.

We know the federal government has choices. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has shown Ottawa could have increased program spending and transfers by $25 billion in 2012 alone -- and more over time -- while maintaining fiscal sustainability. More than 87 per cent of Canadians, in every region of the country and across party lines, support public solutions to make health care stronger.

What we're missing is real federal leadership. For Manitobans, this starts with their own MPs; whether they are backbenchers such as Lawrence Toet or Manitoba's senior minister, Shelley Glover.

The role of MPs is to stand up on behalf of their constituents. We are asking Ms. Glover, Mr. Toet and their fellow Manitoba caucus members to uphold this responsibility and stand up for the health of the people they represent.

Let's get back to the table and get back on board to support public health care for Manitoba and all of Canada.

Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, will join former Manitoba health minister Tim Sale tonight for a town hall meeting on the future of health care at Canad Inns Club Regent, 7-9 p.m.