Leading Canada's public healthcare to the free-market guillotine

| December 22, 2011
Art: Elisabeth Belliveau/www.elisabethbelliveau.com

National discussion in Canada on the Conservative government's new healthcare financial ultimatum, a take-it-or-leave-it-style proposal, largely revolves around myths. First that financing alone is key to securing a sustainable public healthcare system and second that free-market economic winds will provide sustainable guidelines, via GDP, for viable future government healthcare financing.

A surprise delivery from Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to provincial finance ministers, over a fancy lunch-in at the Chateau Victoria Hotel this past Monday, the plan offers no space for negotiation toward collective national solutions for public healthcare.

Essentially, the Conservative proposal works to strip federal responsibility in crafting, via national negotiations, coherent and sustainable healthcare systems in Canada's provinces and territories. A clear move away from the flawed but important Canada Health Act and a political node to provincial governments already working to allocate federal healthcare financing toward enhancing the corporate, for-profit sector role in delivering healthcare, as already seen extensively in Alberta and Québec.

In reality, the Conservative plan will see six per cent healthcare funding increases until the 2016-17 fiscal year, with little regulation over provincial governments increasing experimentation with public-private partnerships. Beyond 2016-17 the plan is to bind federal healthcare spending to GDP growth, a fundamentally dangerous move toward codifying Canada's public healthcare into capitalist economic terms.

Essentially, the Conservative deal stands as cash for healthcare in the near future and uncertainty for the long term. Cash solutions are never long-term solutions to collective challenges, fast money and free market thinking will not solve the deep problems facing public healthcare in Canada.

Beyond important calls for the Conservative government to negotiate viable terms to sustain public healthcare in Canada, with politicians from provincial and territorial governments, also note that zero official opportunity for the people of Canada to contribute ideas toward the future of public healthcare have been outlined.

In reality, a viable and democratic process in Canada, relating to public healthcare's future, would encourage neighbourhood assemblies and participatory political processes coast-to-coast, similar to the general assembly model celebrated by the Occupy movement.

Certainly Conservative ministers, along with most politicians across party lines walking the halls of power in Ottawa, would have zero interested in launching a real democratic process on shaping the future of public healthcare in Canada. However there is nothing stopping people and social movements from engaging on the issues and broadening national grassroots discussions on public healthcare in Canada, noting that public healthcare in Canada is rooted in social movements demands voiced by past generations.

Consistent opinion polls illustrate deep support for public healthcare in Canada, an issue that Conservative politicians worked to avoid addressing in substantial ways during the 2011 election campaign. In direct terms the recent Conservative healthcare plan contradicts 2011 election claims, via Conservative politicians, to sustain Canada's healthcare system, openly violating the majority opinion and trust of people in Canada.

Enforcing ideological policy without space for negotiation is quickly solidifying as a cornerstone to Canada's Conservative majority government, from moves to scrap Canada's gun registry, to the omnibus crime bill C-10, that is projected to greatly expand Canada's prisons, little political space has been granted for democratic process.

Next move is toward the public healthcare system, first to close off negotiations and second to place government support for healthcare in volatile economic winds.

Linking public healthcare funding to GDP, announced to start in five years, is another salvo in a long-term campaign to derail public healthcare institutions in Canada.

In moving healthcare policy away from the domain of universal rights toward the fuzzy logic of the market place, Conservative politicians have taken a further step toward constructing a framework for privatization, branding public healthcare as inherently tied to free market economics.

Certainly Canada will never see a Conservative proposal to link military spending to market fluctuations via GDP, given primary importance increasingly diverted toward the Canadian military in Conservative moves to reshape contemporary Canada's political identity toward militarism.

Linking national military financing to free market flux would certainly create financial future uncertainties for Canada's military, a monetary risk that Conservatives are willing to divert toward healthcare but not military spending.

Public healthcare in Canada is being addressed in 2011 by Conservative politicians as a financial annoyance, thrown to the provinces and territories in relation to free market winds, while in contrast securing billions in financing for U.S.-constructed military fighter jets is locked down without question.

In a time of economic crisis that is washing over global markets, a continuing crisis that will manifest in more severe ways on Canadian shores soon, this Conservative proposal will link public healthcare financing to the whims of domestic and international financial winds, largely dictated by an economic logic that has led to our contemporary financial crisis.

In short, our public healthcare system will suffer free market blues in the not-so-long future, if this 2011 Conservative plan on healthcare is not struck down.

Shifting federal healthcare spending in relation to GDP fluctuation, points to a much broader Conservative vision to reshape Canadian policies and institutions with a free market chisel that will only threaten our collective health and well being long into the future.

Now is the time to stand up and fight back, not only for public healthcare, but for collective social policy not regulated by fundamentally unjust free market economics.

Stefan Christoff is a Montreal-based writer, community activist and musician who contributes to rabble.ca & who is on Twitter.

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