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Opinion piece published in the Calgary Herald on October 31, 2006 by Paul Moist, President Canadian Union of Public Employees

Between Oct. 18 and Dec. 5 there will be 32 town hall meetings across the country dealing with one issue - healthcare. That is a lot of organizing and planning to talk about something that we all understand as part of our everyday life – something that many of us simply take for granted. This is particularly peculiar when you consider that Prime Minister Harpers’ government has barely made mention of it.

Now that is interesting. Despite the prime minister’s lack of focus on healthcare, all the polls- from SES to Strategic Counsel and every group in between - indicate that healthcare is a top priority for Canadians. Even here in Alberta, home of the third way, Albertans have held fast that healthcare should remain public and have stonewalled several of Ralph Klein’s attempts to privatize it.

The federal government has been silent on healthcare – but the Fraser Institute has not. The Fraser Institute has pounced on the silence of the federal government and has opined that the primary issue Canadians face with regards to health care is: wait times.

Many question this opinion.

In the absence of a thoughtful, open and consultative discussion led by the federal government many people in this country have chosen to organize themselves to talk about what they want and don’t want as part of their healthcare system. Here in Calgary, people will gather on November 01 to talk about ways to strengthen healthcare through innovation in the public system. In particular, the inclusion of prescription drugs, need of an increased number of health care professionals, and yes even the management of wait lists will be discussed.

One idea among many others being discussed at these town hall meetings is for the government to prohibit doctors from working in the public and private systems at the same time. When one doctor is working in two places – the first a private for- profit centre and the other a public not- for- profit centre -the consequence is longer wait times in the public system.

We can no longer afford to watch the dismantling of our health care system under the guise that it costs too much and therefore, governments must control costs.

With the news that Ottawa is awash in surplus cash, it is not a question of what the federal government can afford. The question has clearly become what we can no longer afford. We can no longer afford silence from our federal government. And we can no longer afford the bickering between the federal and provincial governments with regard to adequate and sustained funding of our precious healthcare system. The federal government can no longer underfund the provinces - forcing provincial governments to find other options that undermine the very principles of public health care.

The narrative of this government has been a hands off approach to a series of issues that fall under both federal and provincial spheres. There has been a divestment of the federal government involvement in areas like healthcare. Our national healthcare system is one area where silence is not golden.

Prime Minister Harper finds himself in the enviable position of having a $6.7 billion surplus in just the first five months of this fiscal year. His government officials view this budget windfall as a political dilemma of sorts. It seems the real dilemma is a moral and ethical one caused by not investing in public health care. Now, it seems, medicare is open to privatization. And that seems to be justifying the worst kept secret in Ottawa - the healthcare giveaway.