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As new poll results spell out key election issues, health care is emerging as a top-drawer concern among Canadians. And so it should. Every day, we are bombarded with stories of waiting lists and hospital-borne infections while ads for high-priced private clinics pepper the yellow pages.

The question is: what is our next government prepared to do about it?

If Stephen Harper’s current leadership is any indication, the answer is nothing. The spread of private health care is worse under Harper than under any other government.

One of the federal government’s primary health care responsibilities is to distribute and monitor billions of tax dollars to the provinces for health care. Under the Canada Health Act, the federal government is responsible for overseeing the collection of information on each province’s spending activity.

Monitoring under the Canada Health Act would hold provinces accountable for violations of medicare rights. The only problem is that the Harper government doesn’t care to enforce it. As a result, the government gets incomplete information on how provinces are spending federal health care money.

The Harper government’s failure to enforce the act might have something to do with the for-profit, private clinics springing up across Canada. The rate of new clinics has likely doubled over the last four years. We wouldn’t know, though, because the federal government refuses to collect that data.

What we do know, is that a number of alarming trends in health care are rapidly eroding our equitable, single-tier medicare system.

  • A lack of federal leadership has enabled more private clinics, illegal fees and queue-jumping
  • Despite growing evidence that public-private partnerships (P3s) cost more and deliver less, there are 38 P3 hospitals planned or underway in four provinces
  • Seniors struggle to get care, with no national long term care plan anywhere in sight
  • Hospital cleaning services are being contracted out, even though privatized cleaning presents a major risk to patient safety

Many Canadian families depend on affordable, accessible public health care. It improves everyone’s quality of life, and makes our communities better places to live. Privatization means that health care may not be available when we need it – or to those who need it the most.

The Conservatives would like us to think that private health care is our only choice. It’s simply not true. There are many proven public solutions that will work for Canadians, including:

  • Implementation of a public sector-only wait time strategy and national long-term care plan
  • A national infrastructure fund to build and redevelop hospitals and long-term care facilities
  • A national strategy to combat health care acquired infections
  • A health human resources strategy that offers better working conditions, training and upgrading programs and wage parity to improve retention and recruitment in the health sector

Canadians have wisely pointed to health care as a top issue in this election. The next step is to choose a leader who will fight to protect and improve our public health system. And while the Liberals might talk a good line, they, too, made massive cuts to health care funding while in power.

This election, the NDP will release a plan to modernize public health care and reduce wait times.

Generations of Canadians have fought hard for our single tier, universal medicare system. This fall, speak up for public health care. We can’t afford another government who will stand idly by as it falls apart.