The judge hearing the legal challenge to make the federal government enforce its own law protecting public health care has indicated that he will announce his decision in early September.
The challenge launched by CUPE, the Canadian Health Coalition, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada and the Council of Canadians was heard in Federal Court on Monday, June 28th, as Canadians were voting in last weeks general election.
CUPE and others are arguing that Canadians don’t know whether the provincial health care systems are complying with the principles of Medicare because of the poor job the federal government is doing in monitoring, enforcing and complying with the Canada Health Act. 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 is arguing that the matter is a political issue, not a legal one. It argued in court that the enforcement and reporting provisions of the Canada Health Act impose no legally enforceable obligations on either the Minister or other members of Cabinet. Whether they carry out those functions, or how they do so, are political questions not legal ones and the Court should not interfere, according to the government.
But of course the Canada Health Act is law, not a federal-provincial agreement. The federal government seems to be arguing that it is above the law.
The cases highlights the issues at the very heart of the debate about Medicare the role of the federal government in enforcing the Act, and the accountability of both levels governments for Canada’s most important and expensive social program.