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By Judy Darcy

Paramedics know Band-Aids won’t close a gaping wound. Paul Martin obviously needs some basic first-aid training.

Canadians have welcomed the news that money is being put back in health care. But Paul Martin’s budget falls far short of what’s required to restore the health of Canada’s Medicare system.

After slashing more than $22 billion from the health system since 1995, the Finance Minister is replacing only $1 of every $10 that’s vanished from federal transfers for health and other social programs.

Despite a huge budget surplus for 1998 - 1999, Martin is committing only $2 billion a year in increased health funding through the Canada Health and Social Transfer. That leaves a shortfall each year of close to $5 billion, perpetuating the misery of the poor, the homeless and others desperately trying to access health services.

By 2004, health care funding will still fall short of where it was in 1995. And when you factor in inflation, population growth and the fact that Canadians are aging, what Martin has promised is far less than what we need.

The one-time contribution of $3.5 billion over the next three years makes for good press but represents little more than a shell game. Devised by Martin’s spin doctors to divert our attention from the size of the surplus and the paltry amount of continuing funding, the government should claim no glory for relieving the worst of a crisis of its own making. It seems like a big drop until you look closely at the size of the bucket.

We’ve all seen the health care horror story headlines. This budget won’t change them. Hospital emergency rooms will continue to be flooded to the point where patients are turned away as emergency room staff and ambulance crews scramble to provide care under impossible conditions. Transferring patients hundreds of kilometers in search of available hospital beds 0065006e0064angering lives and adding to the stress and expense of patients’ families 00770069006cl become even more common.

Canadians will continue to languish on hospital beds in linen closets and storage areas. Lengthy waiting lists for routine surgery will continue to erode confidence in our public health system. In turn, the clamour among the wealthy for a two-tier system will increase.

Individuals will face steadily growing user fees. New data from Statistics Canada show out-of-pocket health care costs are on the rise for drugs, vision care, dental care and de-insured hospital services. In fact, these additional charges will gobble up more than the promised tax cuts for most middle income families.

The burden of health care costs will shift ever more to the private sector through direct payments and increased premiums. Even with the money from this budget, the federal share of health care spending has bottomed out at about 10 per cent, down from a high of 50 per cent.

Martin had the opportunity 0061006e0064 the capacity 0074006f0020expand our public health system with much needed national programs in home care and pharmacare. The National Forum on Health was clear these are essentials, not extras. Yet the Minister has chosen to ignore the desperate need for these programs, refusing to provide leadership or funding while leaving Canadians at the mercy of private health entrepreneurs.

This is particularly worrying for those Canadians released from hospitals without proper home care support. The burden of home care has been left to family and friends, with women shouldering the lion’s share in many cases. In the absence of a coherent national plan, private home care providers are moving in to corner the market with their low-quality, high-profit product.

Yet again Martin has deliberately chosen to underestimate the size of the surplus and allocate insufficient spending to social programs. In the fiscal year 1997 a surplus of $3.5 billion was recorded 0061006e0020astonishing $20 billion more than Martin forecasted.

Martin’s projected surplus for 1999 - 2000 is a mere $5 billion 006d00750063h less than the $14 billion that the TD Bank predicts and the $17 billion that Wood Gundy estimates. Given his record, we can no longer trust the Finance Minister’s forecasts or his motivation.

The cost of Martin’s conservative estimates: thousands of Canadians are denied social assistance, social housing, post-secondary education opportunities and adequate health care. The unemployment insurance ripoff continues and our nation’s public infrastructure 006f00750072 water systems and roads 0063006f006etinues to crumble.

It’s clear that Martin’s prime motivation and first priority is debt reduction. Because any surplus is applied to the debt, he’s hiding the size of his surplus. Meanwhile, poor and less well off Canadians are being asked to shoulder this responsibility for debt reduction. And we all face an additional price 007400680065 potential loss of Medicare to private, for-profit providers. Private medicine has failed tens of millions of Americans. We can’t let it sneak through the back door into Canada.

(Judy Darcy is National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Canada’s largest union with 460,000 members.)