Editorial: Health care remedy

Published on January 6, 2017

Stethoscope and Canadian dollar, concept of Financial Health


The average Canadian’s health-care priorities are quite simple.

We want a family doctor and affordable drugs. We want to go to an emergency room and not have to wait five or six hours to see a doctor. We want timely treatments for cancer; be able to have an X-ray or MRI when required; or have knee or hip replacement surgery within a reasonable time period.
Canadians want better mental health treatment, help so that their aging parents can remain at home, and the option of receiving palliative care at home instead of entering an institution.
We pay our taxes and see sizable chunks of our paycheques deducted by government. But more and more Canadians are being overwhelmed with the high cost of staying healthy. We think our health-care system is failing us. Governments seem more concerned with debating dollars instead of working together to improve the health of Canadians.
Last month, provincial and territorial ministers sat down with their federal counterparts to try and hammer out a new national health accord. The provinces didn’t like being told how to spend health dollars, but Ottawa wants measureable results and assurances that transfers are actually going to health. Talks ended in an impasse. Provincial ministers went home pledging solidarity and a firm resolve to get a better deal.
Within days, three of four Atlantic provinces signed separate, bilateral agreements with Ottawa. Solidarity was left in a shambles and the provinces’ bargaining power suffered a setback.
Surely everyone can understand the concerns of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Atlantic region has the largest percentage of seniors in Canada and the extra cash for home care and mental health services was an attractive offer.
But negotiating bilateral health agreements instead of working together on a national health accord is a setback and may ultimately hurt long-term health care for Canadians.
The federal government won the first round, which added to the urgency for the remaining provinces and territories to resume talks. But it seems Ottawa’s push for separate deals is now losing momentum after a letter this week from the 10 remaining provinces and territories called for all first ministers to return to the table.
Canadians want a deal. Health coalitions want a deal. The provinces are making concessions to get that deal. Their letter is conciliatory, acknowledging a shared interest in home care, palliative care and mental health and welcoming targeted funding in these areas. The provinces say they are committed to accountability and improving outcomes in health care spending — another concession sought by Ottawa.
Now it’s time for the federal government to make concessions and sweeten its offer.
Governments must get their act together. Health care is too important to talk about in terms of winners and losers. The winner must be all Canadians.