On the same day Canadians are shaping the next Parliament, a Federal Court judge could well be deciding whether or not the Liberal government is following the law of the land and protecting health care.
A legal challenge to force the Minister of Health to do his job enforce the Canada Health Act is being heard in Federal Court in Toronto on Monday, June 28th.
A coalition of public health care supporters made up of the CUPE, the Canadian Health Coalition, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada and the Council of Canadians launched the challenge in November of 2002.
CUPE and others are arguing that MPs cant be assured the Act is being enforced because there are huge gaps in the information provided by the provinces. For years now the auditor general has criticized the federal government for its shoddy reporting on health care, but successive health ministers have not responded. And if provinces arent providing the information and the federal government isnt requiring them to do so then Canadians cant be sure the principles of the Act are being respected or that publicly funded, publicly delivered health care is being protected.
The federal government has argued the courts have no authority to review its compliance with the Act. They have also tried to argue public health care advocates have no legitimate interest in ensuring the federal legislation protecting Medicare is enforced.
Successive auditors general have highlighted the stunning gaps in reports to Parliament by health ministers concerning the administration of the Act. As in previous years, huge swaths of data needed to track monies spent on private care were missing from the 2002-2003 report, the most recent one available.
In many provinces, the drift toward increasing privatization and a clear willingness to experiment with private delivery of services is evident. Yet for most of the provinces, the totals spent on private health care were listed as not available. The exceptions were Saskatchewan and Manitoba both provinces with strong commitments to public health care.
CUPEs legal challenge, if successful, will increase the pressure on whomever wins the election to be much more accountable in reporting how federal health dollars are spent and more rigourous in enforcing the principles of the Canada Health Act.