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(Ottawa) In the midst of the swirling controversy about the Liberals commitment to public delivery of health care, the federal government is trying to block a court case that would put their failure to enforce the Canada Health Act (CHA) under legal scrutiny.

In documents filed with the Federal Court last week, the federal government says the courts have no authority to review its compliance with the Canada Health Act and then goes on to say public health care advocates have no legitimate interest in ensuring the federal Act protecting Medicare is enforced.

A coalition of public health care supporters made up of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Canadian Health Coalition (CHC), the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) and the Council of Canadians launched its legal challenge in November of 2002. The case is expected to be heard in June.

Weve seen the federal health minister backpedaling on for-profit delivery and weve heard him admit the federal government has never taken action to compel provinces to respect the principles of the Canada Health Act, said Paul Moist, CUPE National President. Now we see the government is trying to duck responsibility for its failure to monitor our public health care system and enforce the principles aimed at protecting the system from privatization.

For years now the auditor general has criticized the federal government for its shoddy reporting on health care. We cant hold them to account to protect publicly funded, publicly delivered health care in Canada if they wont even provide the facts to MPs, said Linda Silas, CFNU President.

We suggest that behind this stonewalling is a political agenda to tacitly encourage the provinces to allow further private, for-profit involvement in all aspects of health care, said Silas.

Legal counsel Stephen Shrybman noted that the enforcement mechanisms of the CHA have never been used. While Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew speaks about the arbitrariness of federal enforcement, Shrybman says the federal government fails to collect the information that would allow it to determine if provinces are complying with the principles of the Act.

We happen to have a law that the Minister of Health is not following, said Shrybman. Unless his government enforces the CHA, public health care will die a slow death every day, in almost every province and territory, public Medicare is being undermined and whittled away. The Minister must uphold the law of the land or preside over the slow destruction of public health care.

Successive auditors general have highlighted the stunning gaps in reports to Parliament by health ministers concerning the administration of the CHA. As in previous years, huge swaths of data needed to track monies spent on private care were missing from the 2002-2003 report. For many of the provinces, the totals spent on private health care were listed as not available. The exceptions were Saskatchewan and Manitoba both provinces with strong commitments to public health care.

What we need is backbone, not backrooms, added Moist. Canadians want to know how our federal health dollars are being spent. The federal government is trying to duck its responsibilities and some provinces are taking advantage.

How can we trust the integrity of public health care in this country if the Minister wont report the facts to Parliament? asked Silas.


For more information:
David Robbins
CUPE Communications
(613) 237-1590 ext. 268 (o)
(613) 878-1431 (c)