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Federal Politics

When Did Equal Access to Health Care Become ‘Absurd’?

BC medicare challenge has stalled, but the push for better care for the rich lives on.

Jim Sinclair 19 Apr

Jim Sinclair was president of the BC Federation of Labour for 15 years.

Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason’s column rallying support for Dr. Brian Day’s legal crusade to free Canadians from the “absolutely absurd” idea that the state should determine how Canadians will get their health care would be worthy of a good laugh if it was not a life-and-death issue for millions of Canadians.

But Day, and as it turns out, Mason’s idea of freedom has nothing to do with ordinary Canadians who, despite years of underfunding of the health-care system by governments more interested in rewarding their rich friends with huge tax cuts, still hold to the “absurd” idea that we have a good system that delivers quality care to everyone.

Surely one of the most important freedoms we can have is to take a loved one to the hospital and know they will get the best care possible regardless of our income or parents’ wealth.

However it is just this right that Day and his allies wish to remove by allowing corporations the “freedom” to set up a parallel system, suck resources from the public system and serve only wealthy Canadians.

At a recent celebration of life for my son’s 29-year-old friend, who died of that particularly evil disease cancer, his friends and relatives remembered a talented, kind and creative human being we all felt honoured to know. When he was battling for his life he received the same care as all Canadians, and the family did not hold fundraisers so he could get the “best” care. Yes, those who loved him did hold two fundraisers, but that was to help the family as they struggled to pay the bills while they devoted themselves to his courageous four-year struggle for survival.

At the same memorial I sat beside a young woman who described getting sick while doing voluntary medical work in a developing country. She ended up in the public hospital, where cats and dogs ran through the halls. It was dirty and unsanitary. After a day she was moved to the private hospital, much cleaner with a better level of care.

Following Day’s logic, this young woman should be singing the praises of private health care, but nothing could be farther from the truth. She was so happy to return to Canada where we do not allow corporations or governments to create two classes of citizens and two levels of health care — one for the rich and one for the rest of us.

Day disagrees. He believes that ordinary Canadians do not deserve the same quality treatment as rich people.

“We in Canada will give the same level of services to a wealthy person as to a person who isn’t wealthy, and that doesn’t make sense,” he says.

But this is about more than turning our right to health care into a shopping experience. Day’s allies in the battle to make sure wealthy people get better care than the rest of us are a long list of well-known and well-connected right-wing extremists who believe government should simply butt out of our lives and leave the market to distribute all services, rights and freedoms.

Mason fails to mention this as he portrays Day as a lone freedom fighter, strapped for funds as he battles governments with pockets full of taxpayers’ money that will drag out the case until Day cries the equivalent of economic uncle.

But Day is actually being bankrolled by the Canadian Constitution Foundation, an organization with its own deep pockets.

Calgary-based board chair Andrew Crooks is the former head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and is now pushing to unite the right in Alberta to ensure the defeat of the NDP. He teamed up with Stephen Harper and four others to write the infamous “Firewall letter” that called for Alberta, among other things, to wrest control of medicare from federal jurisdiction so privatization could proceed unchecked.

The right-wing foundation’s board includes Fraser Institute founder Michael Walker and fellow Fraser Institute members Glenn Fox and Mark Mitchell. Vancouver doctor Will Johnston also sits on the board; he leads an organization known for its anti-choice stance on abortion. It appears individual freedom is fine when the rich are jumping the queue for health care but not for women who want control of their own bodies.

Political connections run deep at the staff level as well. The foundation’s executive director is Howard Anglin, a U.S.-trained lawyer who was leader of the New York University chapter of the far right Federalist Society. Those credentials were no doubt helpful in his previous job as deputy chief of staff in Harper’s office.

For these folks it’s not just about destroying public medicare — the foundation has given support to the fight for the right to produce hate literature against gays and lesbians, to destroy unions by making it illegal to negotiate dues check-off from the employer, and supported anti-abortion campaigners who linked pro-choice women with Nazis and posted bloodied fetus posters on university campuses.

Where do they get their money from? In part, from the same deep pockets governments are using — the taxpayers. Ironically donations to the foundation are tax-deductible so Canadians are paying to fund the fight to destroy the very system that the majority of us support. Now that makes sense.

Day’s case is on hold while he raises more money for legal fees. If it dies that would be good news, but it won’t be the last word on this issue.

There will remain powerful, well-organized forces who don’t care whether people like my son’s 29-year-old friend is given the best chance to survive or not. For them the best health care should go to the wealthiest. And if people like Day can make a pile of money doing it — all the better.  [Tyee]

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