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'Ordinary' Canadians in need of strong health-care system long before budget 2014

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Photo: Mike Gifford/flickr

On February 11, we heard Finance Minister Jim Flaherty brag about moving closer to a balanced budget. He's even continued his promise of a budget surplus next year. Instead of providing relief or excitement, or whatever sort of emotion is supposed to be conveyed when thinking of the Harper government sitting atop a pile of money, I find this type of 'promise' threatening.

I know the federal Conservatives aren't looking to balance the budget off the backs of multinational corporations. Instead they're cutting public services in order to offer multi-million-dollar corporations bigger tax cuts. They of course then send those savings to an offshore account and leave the Canadian economy drained of those resources. Instead of fairly taxing the rich and corporations, the federal Conservatives are most likely to continue down the path they've taken us, cutting public services like health care.

Flaherty claims that he's not balancing this year's budget on the backs of ordinary Canadians, Canadians in need, or the provinces and territories, but that's not true. The federal Conservatives are finding savings at the expense of ordinary Canadians, provinces and territories and not just Canadians in need, but anyone in need.

Ordinary Canadians

Ordinary Canadians are having a difficult time accessing the services they need. Prescription drug costs are one example. The cost of medication is too high and prices are continuing to rise. This has left many Canadians (one in ten) unable to adhere to their medication requirements.

The federal government could create a national pharmacare program to address out-of-control drug pricing. Such a system would save all of us (though provincial and federal drug plans and out-of-pocket expenditures) $10.8 billion a year! Canada is the only country that has a universal health-care system that doesn't include pharmacare. In the 2004 Health Accord, the federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed to a national pharmacare program, but in 2006 when the Conservative government came to power, Canada went back on promise and now ordinary Canadians are left struggling to afford the drugs they desperately need.

The lives of many ordinary Canadians would greatly benefit from universal pharmacare, vision care, dental care, and the implementation of the national mental health care strategy. But all of these items require federal leadership, time and resources. Stopping the national pharmacare program and the implementation of the national mental health strategy are ways that the federal government is balancing the budget off the backs of ordinary Canadians. But it's not just what the federal government is cutting, it's also what they're refusing to implement that is hurting ordinary Canadians the most.

Many ordinary Canadians and the parents of ordinary Canadians are in hospital beds waiting for more appropriate care at home or for access to a long-term care bed. In fact five per cent of people in hospital care today are waiting for more suitable care options and 1 in 5 of those people will wait at least one month.

Public long-term care beds are being sold to the private sector at an alarming rate. Private care has been shown to be inferior to public and much more expensive for ordinary Canadians. As of 2005, in B.C. 95 per cent of single women and 89 per cent of single men over age 65 could not afford a private-pay facility.  Eighty-nine to 95 per cent of a population sounds pretty 'ordinary' to me.

The federal government could negotiation a 2014 Health Accord and tie financial transfers to national standards on long-term care and home care. They could create a national aging strategy to help all of us prepare for our aging population. But the federal Conservatives refused to play a role in national health care. They refused to provide leadership. They've turned their backs on ordinary Canadians.

Provinces and Territories

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that he didn't cut spending to provinces and territories for health care in the budget, but that's only because he cut their spending long ago. In December, 2011, the federal Conservatives announced that they would halve the amount of the Canada Health transfer from its current 6 per cent escalator to one tied to GDP (around 3 per cent). This will cost provinces and territories $36 billion by 2024 and take the federal share of health-care spending from what was once 50 per cent to just 18 per cent.

More recently, the federal Conservatives announced that these costly changes to funding were going to come early to Ontario. Instead of keeping with their 2017 deadline, the federal Conservatives announced that Ontario's cuts would start in 2014.

Flaherty and the federal Conservatives didn't announce funding cuts in the budget because they've already done the damage. I'm not confident that more isn't coming -- just wait for the next omnibus bill -- but for now the Conservatives prefer to keep health-care cuts out of the budget news cycle.

Those in need

Flaherty said that he wasn't balancing the budget off of the backs of Canadians in need. And while I'll argue that all Canadians are in need of a strong health-care system, I'd like to point out that those most in need, like refugees, had their health-care funding cut years ago.

Changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (health care for refugees) have left refugees with little or no care. People in our country at their most vulnerable are being denied access to every basic and primary health, this includes pregnant women and children even when in need of life-sustaining treatment.

And those provinces that Flaherty said he wasn't downloading costs onto, well they've picked up the tab for refugee health care, the cuts the federal Conservatives made to all veterans long-term care beds, and the RCMP health-care system. They've jettisoned their responsibilities onto the provinces and territories and instead of compensating them; they've drastically cut their funding.  

Finance Minister Flaherty told the Canadian public on Tuesday that he wasn't balancing a budget off the backs of ordinary Canadians, provinces and territories or Canadians in need. But in fact this government has been doing just that since elected in 2006. And now we're finding financial savings by denying our most vulnerable access to life-sustaining treatment. The federal Conservatives are making Canada a meaner, rougher and less caring society all year long and that affects all of us.

Photo: Mike Gifford/flickr

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