It was standing room only at the April 29 Save our health care town hall in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. The crowd of 350 buzzed with energy as they shared stories and heard from CUPE National President Paul Moist, Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow, and Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network Co-ordinator James Hutt.
CUPE and the Council are organizing in ridings held by Conservative MPs. The campaign draws attention to the expiry of the federal Health Accord, and calls on the federal government to negotiate a new accord with the provinces to protect and expand public health care.
The Nova Scotia campaign is focused on the riding of South Shore-St. Margaret’s where Gerald Keddy is the MP. CUPE and the Council are hosting workshops and public events with local allies, and planning door-to-door canvasses encouraging residents to send their MP a message on health care.
By allowing the accord to expire, the federal Conservatives are cutting billions of dollars in health care funding. Nova Scotia will lose $902 million over the next 10 years.
“The expired accord leaves Canada without national standards or fair federal funding, and we are already witnessing a growing inequality in health care between the provinces,” said Council of Canadians health campaigner Adrienne Silnicki, who chaired the event.
By the end of 2024, federal funding will account for only 13 cents of every health care dollar. “Canada deserves much better,” said Moist. “Medicare represents our commitment to each other as citizens. It defines us as Canadians.”
Expanded public health care and a new pharmacare program are issues worth fighting for, he said.
Hutt told participants just how urgent the need for a national prescription drug program is. A doctor invited as a panelist had to cancel to care for three patients. “They aren’t taking important medication because they can’t afford it,” said Hutt. “We can choose to increase access, or we can let Medicare wither and die. The federal Conservatives are reaching for the plug.”
Canada is the only country in the world that’s “marching solidly backward,” said Barlow. “Private clinics abound, vital services are being delisted, and we are denying refugees health care.”
Participants described how public health care had saved their life, or the life of a loved one. They told harrowing stories of life before Medicare. They also talked about the struggle to provide quality care as the cuts deepen, the problems with for-profit care, and their passionate commitment to protecting Medicare.
CUPE health care worker Nan McFadgen described the difference that comes with non-profit seniors’ care, where nutritional supplements and incontinence supplies aren’t rationed, and everyone gets what they need. “Health care – our lives – should not be for profit,” she said.
Dianne Frittenburg reminded delegates about life before Medicare. When her mother went into labour, the doctor’s first question wasn’t about how she was doing. It was whether they had his $25 fee.
Frittenburg, a CUPE health care worker, contrasted that with the care her husband received when he suffered a health crisis last year. “If he hadn’t had fast care and the right care, he would have died. And that’s why I’ve dedicated myself to this.”
The attack on public health care doesn’t reflect Canadians’ values and priorities, and we need to speak up, said Barlow. “It’s time to tell politicians at all levels that Canadian people fought long and hard for this program. We’re not about to give it up. Let’s vow tonight to stand on guard for it.”
Bringing people together at events like the town halls is a powerful way to expose and oppose Harper’s health care agenda. “Don’t be silent, passive citizens. Be prepared to write a letter. If a council member knocks on your door, be prepared to talk to them. Be passionate citizens,” said Moist.
“This will be the number one issue in the next federal election and together, we can win this fight.