Canada’s premiers are meeting in Whitehorse, Yukon this week and health-care transfers from Ottawa may be high on the agenda.
A recent testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee by Dr. Danielle Martin, former head of the Canadian Doctors for Medicare, has given Canadians the chance to indulge in what may be a favourite pastime - criticizing the American health care system.
The Conservatives 2007 budget contained substantial increases in cash transfers to the provinces through equalization, the Canada Social Transfer, and the Canada Health Transfer. According to the government, the intention is to address the fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces and to improve Canadians access to government services such as health care.
But an examination of the history of federal transfers for health care suggests that Mondays announcement is likely to produce little benefit while costing a great deal.
When it comes to healthcare, Canada remains out of step with the rest of the industrialized world. Over the past 15 years or so, many countries with universal access health programs have been increasingly tapping into the competitive market for solutions to their health care woes. Others, like Japan and Switzerland, have always depended on competitive health care markets to deliver access to care regardless of ability to pay. Unfortunately in Canada, governments of all stripes remain steadfast in their dismissal of private sector solutions.
On Monday, Finance Minister Goodale tabled legislation to implement the governments 10-year plan for improving health care. Though the legislation itself is simply part of the process of implementing the plan that was agreed to last September, its tabling should spur Canadians to again consider the merits of the 10-year Plan to Strengthen Health Care.
In Canada, it is difficult to have an honest debate about the problems facing the medicare system. After almost forty years of government monopoly health care, the special interests that gain from the current system do everything to stifle discussion. The latest tactic that the government used to hinder reform was to appoint a friendly thought-leader to conduct a national inquiry and churn out a report praising the benefits of government monopoly health care.