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Moist, Barlow, local residents call for protection and expansion of Medicare

CAMPBELL RIVER—More than 200 people crammed into the Maritime Heritage Centre here on Monday night (October 20), as CUPE National President Paul Moist and Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow led a spirited town hall meeting that called for an end to the Harper Conservative government’s gutting of public health care.

The meeting, sponsored by the Council of Canadians and the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU), took place on what would have been the 110th birthday of the father of Medicare, Tommy Douglas.

With cuts to Medicare expected to reach $36 billion ($5 billion of that in B.C. alone) over the next ten years, Canadians in every region of the country and across party lines are speaking out in defence of public health care, Moist told the crowd.

“Medicare remains the number one social program in Canada, across all income groups,” he said. “But without federal leadership it could not have been established across the country. From day one the federal government has put in 50 per cent of Medicare funding.  By 2024, federal funding will have fallen to under 13 per cent.”

The federal government’s retreat from its commitment to health care is far more significant than simply the $36 billion in cuts, according to Moist.  He also pointed to the litany of programs and services that the Harper Conservatives have abandoned for ideological reasons.

“The Conservatives walked away from discussions with the provinces to control the cost of drugs and forge a national drug coverage program. They closed the Health Council of Canada. They cut health care for veterans. They cut refugee health coverage. They refused to uphold the Canada Health Act’s protections for patients against user fees and extra billing. And they walked away from providing coverage for home and continuing care.”

Barlow echoed Moist’s call to keep the defense of public health care front and centre in the news.

“This isn’t just semantics for people. This is people’s lives. It’s life and death, and that’s what we talking about tonight,” she said.

Challenging the right-wing orthodoxy pushing public-private partnerships, Barlow argued that a quality health care system can be properly funded if corporate Canada paid its fair share.

“Canadians for Tax Fairness say that $185 billion a year would be saved if we closed loopholes for offshore tax havens,” she said, to a gasp from the crowd.

Lois Jarvis, from Citizens For Quality Health Care, recounted heartbreaking stories from the U.S.– of a family twice bankrupted by health care costs and of a hospital with no emergency department – as a warning of what is in store for Canada if the Harper government is allowed to keep dismantling the system.

“For profit companies cherry pick their patients,” said Jarvis. “Private clinics have higher rates of complications post op, because they push through as many patients as possible. Patients with chronic health conditions are often left uninsured and without available health care because they are not considered profitable for private insurance companies.”

During the open floor discussion, HEU President Victor Elkins spoke of how privatization and cutbacks have turned health care into a real estate venture, with space in hospitals now coming at a premium.

“They are turning health care, seniors care, into property services,” said Elkins.

Dave Coles, former national president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, said that frontline workers are compromising their own personal safety because of the cuts to Medicare.

“The cuts are not just about patient care. They are also about workers who go to work and want to come home safely. And this government is absolutely responsible for the suffering that’s going on right now,” said Coles, who is currently seeking the nomination as the federal NDP candidate for the newly-created Vancouver North Island - Powell River riding.