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Unsuccessful at the polls, Alberta market fundamentalists go to court to impose two-tier health

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Private health care advocate John Carpay

Not satisfied with their failure in the Alberta provincial election, market-fundamentalists here in Wild Rose Country are heading to court to try to impose the destructive private health insurance agenda they couldn't finesse at the ballot box.

A key figure in the court challenge is John Carpay, the former Wildrose Party candidate in the Calgary-Lougheed riding who surely would have been in Alberta's cabinet if Wildrose leader Danielle Smith had managed to pull off her widely expected election victory on April 23.

It's mildly ironic some of this province's ideological right-wingers would try to impose two-tier privatized health care through the "judicial activism" their supporters routinely disparage when courts don't rule their way, but not really much of a surprise. After all, this legal strategy comes straight out of the Tea Party playbook we’re familiar with south of the Medicine Line.

The important lesson here is not that the right never tires of trying to undermine Canada's public health care system. That is axiomatic. Rather, it's useful to pay attention to who is behind these efforts and consider what they would do if they ever wielded unrestrained political power.

So, as the National Post reported Tuesday, two Alberta men are asking the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench to overturn this province's ban on private medical insurance for essential health care, claiming the law is unconstitutional. "Both men paid thousands of dollars for surgery in the United States because the wait was too long in Alberta," the Post said, openly putting the litigants' spin on the story. "The province then refused to reimburse them because the procedures were available at home."

Alert readers will hear some familiar refrains in this carefully scripted tale of woe.

The first, of course, is that the arguments being put forward reflect those made with partial success in the notorious Chaoulli Decision, in which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that if the Quebec Government could not succeed at the impossible task of completely eliminating waiting lists, it was obligated under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to allow wealthy citizens to buy private health insurance for superior services. That ruling only applies in Quebec.

Second, it has the ring of the sneaky "wait-time guarantee" proposed by Carpay's market-fundamentalist Wildrose Party in the last provincial election. That scheme would have seen the province pay out-of-country treatment costs up to the amount covered in Alberta for those who could afford to bypass the province's health care system.

The catch to the Wildrose plan, as was pointed out in this space during the campaign, is that the difference between public Alberta costs to be covered by medicare and private U.S. treatment costs to be borne by the patient could be literally tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The obvious intent, since nothing prevents wealthy Canadians from opting completely out of the system and going to the U.S. for private medical treatment anyway, was to establish the principle public health services should subsidize a higher for-profit treatment tier. That in turn would have paved the way for future legal challenges to allow private insurance coverage, first for services abroad and then at home.

The effect of the two-tier health care that would have resulted is well understood: longer waiting times for the rest of us who can’t afford access to the top tier and lower quality of service for the majority of patients as medical professionals defect to the private side.

It is said here this Wildrose policy and others like it were the principal reasons the party was defeated so soundly on Alberta's election day.

Regardless, while the two litigants in this latest case are no doubt sincere in their beliefs their rights were violated, it seems unlikely this is merely case of a couple of fellows concerned about their notion of constitutional rights.

Rather, they have the backing of a group founded and led by Carpay called the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which describes itself as a defender of freedom of speech, religion, association and "other individual rights." The JCCF also stands for “constitutionally limited government,” its website says, and provides free legal representation to individuals whose causes it takes up.

The JCCF website identifies governments and "government-funded and government-created entities like Canada’s public universities, and human rights commissions at the federal and provincial levels" as among the enemies of freedom it opposes. Typically, this kind of circumlocution is code for defending attacks on gay rights and women's right to reproductive choice.

In other words, the JCCF is another deceptively named right-wing front group dedicated to advancing social conservative and market fundamentalist goals under cover of protecting freedom.

So it should come as no surprise that the group brags on its website it intends to use this case "to extend the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Chaoulli v. Quebec to Alberta," although the situations in the two provinces are not analogous.

Who foots the bill for these legal campaigns? Well, that’s not immediately clear. The JCCF, which enjoys charitable status under Canadian tax laws although its activities can be fairly described as thoroughly political, says its efforts are "funded entirely by the voluntary donations of freedom-minded Canadians." But you can bet on it that this includes the usual collection of well-heeled individuals, corporations and foundations that bankroll the noble-sounding right-wing agitation groups that are as ubiquitous as lint in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Canada.

Carpay himself, a Calgary lawyer, has a history of association with such groups, including stints as a director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and involvement in the Fraser Institute. In 1994, he penned a National Post article that assailed then-premier Ralph Klein for not using the Constitution's Notwithstanding Clause to block the Supreme Court decision forcing Alberta to protect homosexuals from discrimination.

As Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne told the Post: "What we're hearing from Mr. Carpay is consistent with the leader of the party he ran for, the Wildrose Party, in the last election in his desire for an increase of privatization of the publicly funded system."

Alberta Liberal Health Critic Dr. David Swann called Carpay the Wildrose standard-bearer for health care and accused party supporters of "trying to use the courts to dismantle the public health care system" to support "the narrow interests of for-profit health companies."

Both assessments are bang on.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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