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To strengthen provincial health-care services, we need to stop federal cuts

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You may have noticed that your provincial health coalition, health-care unions, community groups and friends of health care have been getting louder over the past few months. Actions and events, protests and rallies have been taking place across the country. In B.C., concern is mounting over the Dr. Day court case, in Alberta Friends of Medicare and allies performed an overnight sit-in at the Minister of Health's office, a massive door-to-door campaign is being launched in Ontario to stop the sale of hospital services to private clinics, in Nova Scotia home-care nurses were on strike just last week while the Minister of Health bashed the poor for not making healthier choices and blamed them for draining the system of its resources.

You may be wondering what's going on, why all the attacks on health care now?

According to Katherine Fierlbeck, a professor at Dalhousie University and author of Health Care Federalism in Canada, in an interview with CBC Nova Scotia's Mainstreet (February 27), provinces are trying to get their budgets in order before the federal Canada Health Transfers are cut. Those cuts will result in $36 billion being removed from provincial and territorial health-care systems by 2024, they will eliminate the equalization transfers for health care to have-not provinces and they will reduce the federal share of health-care spending from what was once 50 per cent to a mere 18 per cent.

There's evidence to support Dr. Fierlbeck's reasoning. New Brunswick Minister of Health said the cuts to CHT are "not going to be a shock to the people of New Brunswick because we're dealing with it now." New Brunswick has been cutting jobs in areas such as nursing and patient care attendants. Their plan is to cut over 400 jobs in the next three years.

By focusing on the federal government we're attempting to stop the cuts at their source and then apply pressure on the provinces to use the money (a 6 per cent escalating transfer) to strengthen public health care, expand services, and ensure all residents are covered by public health care from cradle-to-grave no matter where they live, or what their income level.

This is no small feat, the Harper government is determined to make these cuts and continue slinking away from their health-care responsibilities. On March 31, health-care activists across the country will hold public rallies, protests, concerts and press conferences to raise the alarm on the loss of a Health Accord, the federal abdication from health care, and the loss of $36 billion in federal dollars (now for the provinces to make up).   

Starting April 1, the Council of Canadians, CUPE and our medicare allies will be rolling out a door-to-door campaign in ridings across the country on the need for more federal leadership in health care. Go here for a list of the ridings we'll be visiting.

March 31 is the official launch of the Canadian Health Coalitions' townhall tour featuring Wendell Potter and Alex Himmelfarb. Townhall stops include: Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Calgary, and Yellowknife. The Tour is kicked off on March 31 with the luncheon and continues until April 16.

Public health-care allies are working together to fight back against the federal conservative attack on public health care. If we're going to convince the provinces and territories to strengthen public health care, we also have to stop the federal government from abandoning their responsibilities and underfunding health care. It's a two-prong approach that requires everyone working together.

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