We need a federal government that will vigorously protect public health care in Canada

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In order to ensure that all Canadians receive the same high-quality, publicly delivered health care in every community across the country, provincial and territorial governments need stable and adequate funding from the federal government.

When Canada's premiers meet for the annual Council of the Federation this week, the future of health care is a critical item on the agenda.

The timing of this meeting is critical. It is the last meeting of our premiers before the 10 year Health Accord expires. The accord sets the terms for health care funding and priorities between the federal and provincial governments. Too bad Prime Minister Harper is not even taking the time to meet with premiers for a discussion.

The federal government has been neglecting its responsibility to protect public Medicare. We are facing a federal government that has abdicated its role in upholding national standards. They cut funding to the Health Council of Canada, the body responsible for ensuring national standards for quality care were met. They have walked away from discussions with the provinces to control the cost of drugs and forge a national drug coverage program. They cut health care funding for veterans and refugees, and refused to uphold the Canada Health Act's protections for patients against user fees and extra-billing.

Now, with a new phase of funding agreements on the table, the federal Conservative government has presented a plan for health care that will mean $36 billion less for Medicare over the next 10 years.

The cuts start in 2014 with elimination of Canada Health Tranfser (CHT) equalization, then sharp cuts in CHT increases beginning in 2017. Instead of increasing at 6 per cent a year, the health transfer will be tied to economic growth, with a 3 per cent floor. Over time, the federal government's share of health care spending will shrink to a small fraction of its original 50 per cent contribution -- down to 18.6 per cent by 2024. This is not acceptable.

The federal government needs to be a full partner with the provinces and territories on health care. We need national standards for health care we need to uphold the Canada Health Act. This is important for all Canadians but cuts to health care funding will have deeper impacts on some of us. Women will continue to shoulder the biggest burden, as the primary providers of both paid and unpaid care. Canadians marginalized by class, gender, race, disability and other oppressions suffer most when federal funding and national standards are weakened.

CUPE also wants to make sure that we avoid a repeat of what happened in the 1990s when Federal health transfers were cut. Successive levels of government cut services and privatized them, and ended up imposing higher costs for families and more unpaid work for women; longer waits and two-tier care; more hospital overcrowding and avoidable deaths from medical errors and health care associated infections; and worse quality and higher costs for services delivered by the private sector. This is not a scenario we can look forward to with equanimity, not only because CUPE represents front-line health care workers but because all CUPE members, no matter where they work, depend upon Canada's health care system.

You know that the Federal government has choices. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has shown that, instead of downloading financial problems onto other levels of government, Ottawa can increase program spending and transfers by $25 billion in 2012 alone -- and more over time -- while maintaining fiscal sustainability. Over 87 per cent of Canadians -- in every region of the country and across party lines -- support public solutions to make health care stronger.

We need a federal government that is invested in improving our health care -- not one that slowly erodes the public services that make Canada great. We need a federal government that will protect Medicare by vigorously enforcing the enforce Canada Health Act's ban on user fees and extra billing. We need a government that will be proactive about creating national strategies to address pressing issues in health care, like health associated illnesses. Finally we need a government that is willing to invest in improving Medicare -- by creating a national continuing care program that will care for our growing senior population in a publicly-funded and publicly-delivered system and establishing a national pharmacare program.

The role of a premier is to stand up to federal government bullying on behalf of all Canadians. We are asking the Premiers to send a strong message to the Harper Conservative Government: Get back to the table and get back on board to support public health care for all in Canada.


Paul Moist is National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

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