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All Canadians have a right to health care not just the rich, says CUPE

(OTTAWA) Health care must be maintained as a constitutional right for all Canadians, and not just for those with the ability to pay, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says.

CUPE National President Paul Moist was commenting on the appeal by Dr. Jacques Chaoulli and Mr. George Zeliotis who are advancing the notion that Canadas constitution guarantees Canadians the right to purchase private medical care. The appeal will be heard tomorrow in the Supreme Court of Canada.

All Canadians have a right to public health care, said Moist. We should not tolerate cynical constitutional arguments that try to undermine that by twisting the ability to pay into a so-called right to buy.

Chaoulli and Zeliotis launched the landmark challenge when two lower courts in Quebec supported a Quebec ban on the purchase of insured health services from private providers outside the provincial health insurance plan. They are arguing, because of undue waiting times, they should have a constitutional right to buy health care on the private market.

Long waiting times for some procedures are a reality, but turning to private, for-profit companies is not the solution, according to CUPE. Moist pointed to the example of Alberta, where private for-profit clinics are offering more expensive cataract surgeries for people with the cash to buy them. But waiting times at public facilities have not been reduced. On the contrary, waits in the public sector increase when physicians operate in both the private and public sectors.

Waiting times are not reduced by introducing for-profit delivery, said Moist. Recent evidence from the UK shows that instead of taking pressure off the public system, for-profit operators end up costing more while the public system is further marginalized.

Enshrining an individuals ability to buy as a right would only further jeopardize the system Canadians rely on. A decision in Chaoullis favour could lead to the dramatic redefinition of Medicare and establish de facto two-tier health care, providing more ammunition to commercial operators to undermine the Canada Health Act.

CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Gnreux noted that CUPE is particularly concerned that Liberal senator Michael Kirby has received intervenor status in the case.

Kirby is a well-known proponent of for-profit health care and is himself on the board of Extendicare, a major for-profit provider of long-term care, home-care and rehabilitation services.

Kirby, along with commercial operators such as Cambie Surgeries Corporation also intervening in the case, is siding with the applicant. Kirbys arguments undermine the notion that access for all to health care is, and must be, guaranteed under the Canada Health Act.

Kirby is a health care profiteer, and he made his private, for-profit health care agenda clear in his own report, said Gnreux. But he is overstepping his role as senator and is only acting to weaken the public system. This is an abuse of his status to push his own commercial interests.

Moist noted that Kirby does not support the notion that the Charter establishes a constitutional right to health care. Rather he argues that the Charter only establishes a constitutional right not to be prevented from obtaining health care, at least for the select few who can afford to pay to jump the queue.

What Kirby is trying to say is that the Charter does not establish a right to health care for all Canadians, but only for those who can afford to pay for it, concluded Moist.


For more information:
David Robbins, CUPE Communications, (613) 878-1431 (cell)