The federal government has dramatically increased funding for health careover the past three years. So why is B.C. reducing universal healthcoverage, increasing fees on the sick and cutting health-care services? Has Premier Gordon Campbell in effect diverted funding that should besupporting health care to pay for his tax cut?

Last week, federal Finance Minister John Manley announced a further $2billion in health transfers to the provinces to be distributed over the nextthree years. B.C.’s share of this new money will be $260 million over threeyears, or roughly $87 million a year.

B.C.’s reaction to this good news was tepid, if not contemptuous. HealthServices Minister Colin Hansen claimed the new money offered only “minorrelief” and Finance Minister Gary Collins claimed it would cover about “72hours” of B.C. health-care costs. He added that “it doesn’t begin to solvefundamental funding pressures in health care.”

The announcement was just one in a series of federal health announcementsover the past three years.

There was a contribution agreement signed just before the 2001 election andin the wake of the Romanow Commission report on health care, afederal-provincial agreement on health care was signed earlier this year. Federal transfers have increased from $3.14 billion in the last year of theNDP government to $4.28 billion in the current budget year, according to theMinister of Finance’s recent quarterly report. Total federal contributionsare budgeted to rise to $4.8 billion by 2005-2006.

This represents an increase of almost 35 per cent in transfer payments toB.C. — before last week’s announcement is taken into account. In direct transfers under the health and social transfer agreements alone,annual federal funding will have increased by $600 million since the lastprovincial election. On top of this, B.C. gets a further $600 millionannually under equalization also designed to support public services.

These increases are substantial and a reversal of cuts to federal fundinglevels for health care in the 1990s. Indeed, had federal transfers been atthese levels in the 1990s, the NDP would have run at least six consecutivelarge surpluses in addition to the two surplus budgets inherited by theLiberals.

Remember as well that the Liberal government imposed a 50 per cent increasein Medical Services Plan premiums, representing more than $516 millionannually.

Other fee increases, targeting principally the sick, have been imposed. Theincrease of the provincial sales tax to 7.5 per cent was also designed topay for increasing health costs.

The federal government has delivered new money and support. The public —especially those earning between $30,000 and $60,000 who have been forced toreturn most of their tax cut — has had to pay increased taxes purportedlyto support health care.

The government continues to assert, however, that we cannot afford ourhealth-care system, and it is cutting public medicare.

In the past three years, health care coverage has been reduced from servicesfrom Pharmacare to physiotherapy. Essential services have been delisted anddownloaded to the sick to pay the cost themselves.

The health regions, politically appointed agencies of the B.C. government,are being forced to impose severe cuts to balance their budgets. The Vancouver Island Health Authority faces a $43-million shortfall thisyear. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority must find $175 million in cuts.Longer surgery wait lists, layoffs of nurses and hospital employees and adecline in the quality of care are the inevitable consequences of theMinistry of Health Services underfunding the systems.

Last week’s closure of St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster by the FraserHealth Authority is yet another example. It will lead to longer wait listsin the Lower Mainland and the end of a tradition of service in thatcommunity.

Finally, the government is privatizing MSP itself in violation of theprovince’s obligations under the Canada Health Act.

Governing is about choosing. Over the next three years, the governmentclaims, it will increase health-care spending by less than one per cent nextyear and less than two per cent combined in the two subsequent years(2005-06 and 2006-07), the smallest increases in decades.

Funds that should have gone into health care went instead to pay forcorporate tax cuts and income tax cuts for wealthy British Columbians. Is it any wonder that Collins and Hansen were spinning that the latestfederal announcement was inconsequential?

Campbell promised in the last election to make health care his No. 1priority. He stated in his New Era document that “NDP cuts to health care have createda crisis” and he would fully fund the health-care system. The promise hasbeen dramatically betrayed by his government, partly because its economicpolicy has failed, partly because of its lack of commitment to publicmedicare.

And with years of cuts and underfunding to come, the betrayal is juststarting to be felt.