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Canada's health care: premiers gather in Victoria to discuss system's future

Photos by David P. Ball

With Canada's health accord expiring in 2014, the country's premiers are meeting until Tuesday to discuss plans for the future of medicare. Health care is a top issue for many Canadians, and VO is on the ground at this crucial conference in Victoria.

Tuesday, January 17: 2:30 p.m.

The meetings are over - without any clear strategy for how premiers will try to convince Ottawa to return to the medicare table. Stepher Harper refused to budge on upcoming cuts to payments starting in 2016, and premiers balked - suggesting a federal fund for innovation.

Harper then said 'no' to that fund. So premiers this morning announced they'd start a working group on innovation, to report back in July.

Really, there was nothing new announced at the final press conference today. No plans on how they will convince Harper to reverse his decision. No plans on how an innovation will actually help face the system's new challenges - other than "innovate."

I got front-row seats in the final press conference, though unlike yesterday I wasn't allowed to get close-up photos (only four media were allowed behind the cordon). Alberta premier Allison Redford did smile at me twice - what does it mean?

Afterwards, I spoke to the two representatives of the Council of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents off-reserve Indigenous people across Canada. They said the issues go well beyond funding models - but hit at the heart of this country's lack of consultation and inclusion of First Peoples.

As a sign of premier Christy Clark's stunning about-face on the federal abandonment of health care, she and vociferous Harper critic Jean Charest of Quebec, side-hugged and laughed as they left the stage today.


10:30 a.m.

Last night saw several hundred people pack into the Da Vinci centre to hear from a number of public health care advocates - who are calling for the expansion of medicare.

The audience heard from the Council of Canadians' Maude Barlow - who I'll be writing about in-depth later today on VO - as well as Mike Luff of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the Parkland Institute's Diana Gibson.

Yesterday, I sat down with Barlow and the Council's health campaigner, Adrienne Silnicki - who expressed afterwards what an honour it is to work with the Council's long-time national chairperson. Barlow has been a public face in Canadian politics for decades, since the 80's anti-free trade campaigns. 

She didn't doubt for a second that Barlow would draw a large audience, based on her name recognition, but considering the fact there was a blizzard warning yesterday, an audience of 300 is pretty impressive.

This morning, I spoke to former Kanesatake Mohawk nation grand chief Jerry Peltier - who is here representing the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

He told me how outraged his organization is that Indigenous peoples were not even consulted as premiers headed into these critical meetings, which will have an impact on health care decades into the future. He said that Aboriginal people - both on- and off-reserve, face major health challenges that need to be addressed urgently. 

His hopes of having Indigenous health needs addressed are fading as meetings come to an end today. "It's like the weather," he joked with me. "Dampening."

Indeed, the snow outside is tumbling thicker and thicker.

Today saw the premiers announce a "health innovation working group," in spite of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to back down on his flat-out 'No' to suggestions for financing an innovation fund. 

Interestingly, the press release uses the term "health care systems" - plural - despite premiers' avowals that Canada is a single medicare system with varying provincial challenges and approaches. Have they resigned themselves to not getting the feds back at the table?

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