Universal health care is so important that it is considered part of Canada’s national identity.
It is the largest single expenditure of any government, consuming an average of 40 percent of provincial budgets.
I launched this website when I did because it was outside of an election campaign. I wanted us to have a reasoned, sustained conversation about health care that was more than the clichéd campaign race to see which political party can out promise the other on spending.
Until I became exposed to our health care system, I, like many Canadians, believed that health care would be fine if only it were properly funded. When I stopped grumbling about funding and started to listen and think I realized money wasn’t the answer. Otherwise we would have bought our way to good health. Over and over again, every study says the problems and issues with health care are greater than money.
Former TD Bank economist Don Drummond, who studied Ontario’s public service came up with a 100-item list for improving the province’s health care. He wrote, “Among those we talked to, none who manage parts of the system argued that more money alone is the solution to the problems of the health care system, including the ones they face. Indeed, some argued that the system is now well funded and that too much money would simply impede needed reforms. Certainly, the evidence of the recent past is that more money — political rhetoric notwithstanding — did not buy change, only more of the same, at higher cost.”
More recently, Dr. Danielle Martin, of Women’s College Hospital, Toronto, has written a book, Better Care, in which she agrees money isn’t the issue.
One of the long-term problems with health care is political opportunism. Political opportunism has cheapened the health conversation. It trivializes the issues around health care to a simple cheque-writing solution rather than making difficult decisions to address long-standing problems. Politicians have talked and campaigned as if they had no memory of what they or their parties did or didn’t do. In part, they can do this because the public memory is short and easily swayed by the headline du jour. U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond said, “If you say something three times in Washington it becomes a fact.” Many Canadian politicians operate on this premise, conveniently forgetting, ignoring or altering facts and history to their purpose.
The latest example of politicizing health care is a television commercial being aired by the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party. The new NDP leader, Gary Burrill, criticizes the current government’s austerity plans and says he believes “… there is a lot we can do. We can invest again in our hospitals, schools …”
The problem with this message is Burrill implies that the current government has done nothing by way of investment in hospital construction. His political message ignores the investments made by the current government in actual hospitals, in collaborative clinics and in realigning of the delivery of care throughout the province. Specifically, this government is mid-way through a major refurbishment and expansion of the Dartmouth General Hospital. Floors that sat unused for 30 years are being brought to use and a surgical tower is being added to the hospital. There is also a $6 million refurbishment underway of the Canso Hospital. Millions went in to the VG’s Centennial Building to repair damage done by flooding. There are more investments coming to the QEII, and a design team have been hired to plan a replacement for the VG. The final design will depend on the other metro medical investments. After 20 years, Valley Regional was given a timeline for a palliative care unit. And the current government is proceeding with plans for a dialysis unit announced by the NDP in 2012. Those are the tangible investments.
The current regime have made announcements for several collaborative care clinics. Now, Health care announcements are always dubious. In 2011, the NDP announced $1.5 million to study the future use and disposition of the VG. As we learned from former Finance Minister Graham Steele that study was to find a more palatable option than the $1 billion solution proposed in a study commissioned by the government before them. The NDP didn’t have the money and didn’t like the optics of such a grand plan, so they resorted to the safety of a study. The results of the study the NDP commissioned weren’t publicly announced, just quietly posted on a backpage on line. The plans, which no one was acting on, where shelved by the 2013 election.
On November 28, 2012, the NDP announced the construction of a new dialysis unit at Valley Regional Hospital. Only after the initial happy headlines was the public told it would be two years before the unit opened. That didn’t happen. Four years later the current government announced construction would start in 2017 and the unit would open in 2019.
Burrill’s suggestion that “we can invest again in our hospitals” ignores that when his party was in office no hospitals were built, refurbished, expanded or planned. The Truro hospital opened in 2012, but that project was done under a previous government and was two years late in opening, so should have had a Tory doing the ribbon cutting. Burrill’s message ignores what is being done now to fortify the bricks and mortar aspect of the health system.
As for doing anything for people, his predecessors reduced the number of teachers in Nova Scotia, cut $15 million in funding to classrooms, took 102 weeks to negotiate 104-week nursing contract, had a short health care strike (it only lasted a matter of hours, but caused months of disruption in scheduled care) and, according to Steele, twice legislated health care workers back to work.
On the subject of senior care, the Advocates for the Care of the Elderly (ACE) complained to the previous government about putting 600 new long-term care beds on hold. These beds were part of the previous government’s initiative for continuing care.
In January 2013 ACE wrote a letter to then Minister of Health David Wilson, which concluded, “In my opinion putting new nursing home beds on hold is placing a huge burden on the shoulders of caregivers without any thought of their well being, all in the name of the almighty dollar. I am beginning to believe that by not creating the new nursing home beds that it is a form of warehousing of the elderly in a hospital setting where they are forced to pay “rent” while waiting for a nursing home bed creating a source of revenue for the hospital. The government, in turn makes cuts to funding, as hospital revenues rise from other sources. This has been evident in the past two years where funding has been cut by hundreds of millions of dollars … Taking all what I have stated into account, it appears that our NDP government is probably the most anti-elderly government we have ever had.”
The two years of cost-cutting were done by the NDP.
Burrill seems like a nice man, but this message is disingenuous and disappointing because we’re back to politics as usual. Power for some, pain for many. Nova Scotians deserve better.