On nation's number one issue, debate doesn't register

By Walter Robinson
web posted November 13, 2000

After the debateWhile the English language leader's debate provided some interesting camera clips, when it came to substantive policy debate, little was to be found. From their approaches on federalism to fiscal policy to health care, only minor differences between the leaders are discernable.

On federalism, all espouse a cooperative approach between Ottawa and the provinces. As for finances, all profess to have respect for your tax dollars. And on health care, the nation's number one issue as measured by pollsters or talk-radio hotlines, the only answer the Prime Minister and his four challengers could muster is … we'll spend more.

David Gratzer, author and Donner Prize winner for his magnificent book on health care entitled Code Blue (in its fifth printing) said the health care debate is dominated by the spendthrifts and the magicians. All federal party leaders fall into the former category with no one even offering up a hocus pocus solution.

Gratzer goes on to note that what is really needed is to return control of the health care system to its consumers, Canadian patients and taxpayers. And this control must be wrested from the maze of politicians and bureaucrats that have botched the system since its inception.

When it comes to health care, our politicians are so far behind the general public, it is tragic. In a paper prepared by the Conference Board of Canada, Canadians' willingness to embrace and accept fundamental change in health care is well documented. Consider the following extract:

"There has been substantial support to include pharmacare and home care under the Canada Health Act, with priority going to home care. Canadians preferred option for financing these additional services is to cost-share between users and the government."

Wow! People are actually willing to pay for some new services. This is sure to drive the proponents of 100 per cent state-controlled Soviet-style medicine around the bend.

The Conference Board also reports that public support for the five principles of the Canada Health Act (CHA) is also shifting. The following table indicates the percent of Canadians indicating how "very important" it is to maintain each of the CHA's five principles.

1991 1999
Universality 93 per cent 89 per cent
Accessibility 85 per cent 81 per cent
Portability 89 per cent 79 per cent
Comprehensiveness 88 per cent 80 per cent
Public Adminstration 76 per cent 59 per cent

While support for universality – understandably and justifiably – remains high, support for the government monopoly provision of health care services is plummeting.

Sadly, this shift does not resonate with our politicians. The CHA has become like a Kevorkian death pump for health care, with our politicians all too willing to gleefully embrace it while they blindly destroy medicare. This inability to read the public mood does nothing to further needed health care reforms.

Would you tolerate a government monopoly in groceries? Would you trust the government to build every housing unit in the country? Would you benefit from a government run airline monopoly? Oops, we already know the answer to this one. So why do our politicians continue to defend the state-run system to the exclusion of all others?

Polling indicates that Canadians are looking for more courageous solutions, but warriors for this cause were nowhere to be found during the debate. When it comes to addressing Canada's number one social and future fiscal policy challenge, none of the current crop of party leaders is up to the job. We deserve a crash cart of new ideas, not five leaders who have flatlined.

Walter Robinson is the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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