Canada's health care: Premier downplays dangers while critics warn of creeping privatization

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Following a roundtable on public health care held yesterday, Libby Davies, Vancouver-East Member of Parliament and the New Democratic Party (NDP) health critic, said Canadians expect more leadership from Ottawa.
 
“The Canada Health Act is a federal act,” Davies told the Vancouver Observer. “There is a key federal role that has to be adhered to.
 
“The Conservatives are abandoning that. (They are) opting out and abdicating any kind of leadership role in our health care system. They're basically saying, 'Look, here's our financial formula, you guys go figure it out – you go do whatever you want.'”
 
Davies said that the new hands-off federal approach risks “undermining the Canada Health Act,” which sets in place consistent accessible medicare across the country. She called upon provincial leaders in the coming days to form a united front and ask Ottawa to step back to the table.
 
“We know that the number one issue Canadians care about is their health care system,” Davies said. “They expect the federal government to be accountable and to show leadership in working with the provinces – not being unilateral, but actually coming up with agreements that will not only protect our health care system, but actually expand the services covered under medicare.”
 
Maude Barlow, also attending the two-day meetings as chair of the Council of Canadians, told the Vancouver Observer the federal government's new formula – and how provinces respond to it – could spell the “beginning of the end” of public, universal health care.
 
“Canadians need to know those are the stakes here,” she said. “Stephen Harper has never liked public health care, he's always said it belongs to the provinces, it's their responsibility.
 
“On the eve of these negotiations – going into this very important renegotiation of an accord – we're looking at either extending, deepening, recommitting to our health care system, or perhaps the beginning of the end of it.”
 
Premier Clark responded to critics, who fear the new funding formula will move Canada towards a two-tier health system and create a patchwork of unequal services across the country.
 
“Over the next few days, we're going to be talking about how we step up, share our practices between each other, and deliver health care in a consistent way across the country but also in a way that will be unique in each of our provinces,” she said. “The challenges are big. And the premiers are prepared to step up to these challenges – that's why we're meeting.
 
“We have a job to do to make sure we are sharing best practices.”
 
Barlow said that many Canadians are concerned about problems in the health care system – from wait times to rising medical costs.
 
“We understand when people feel there may be parts of the health care system they're not happy with,” she said. “We're not saying the status quo is perfect – what we don't want affected is the underlying public nature of our health care system.
 
“This is a very deep value for Canadians. Even Stephen Harper with his ideology and with his majority cannot stand up and say, 'I'm going to kill medicare.' So what he does is say he can't afford the financing, and destroy it a piece at a time. It's death by a thousand cuts.

"We're not going to let him do it – we're here to stand on guard for our health care system in this country," she added.

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