The words ‘health care’ do not appear in the plan. There is no mention of a national prescription drug program. There is nothing on the expansion of federal funding for public home care and long-term care.
But two the two most disturbing elements of the plan for Canadians should be its total silence on restoring the $36 billion in cuts Harper has made to federal health care transfers over 10 years; and the Liberals’ stated intention to find $6.5 billion of ‘efficiencies’ in years three and four of their first mandate to bring their deficit-spending plan back to balance.
This is particularly worrisome when we think back to the Liberals’ actions the last time they set their sights on balancing the budget, during the 1990s.
Paul Martin’s cuts to health care federal transfers by nearly 50 per cent in the five years starting in 1993-94 were devastating. This meant federal health care transfers relative to provincial-territorial spending fell below 10 per cent.
The health care system was in crisis.
It took nearly 15 years of incremental increases to bring the federal portion of health funding back to the level is was at before Paul Martin took his axe to it. Going through an exercise like that again would be devastating for the health services that Canadians depend on each and every day.
Adding fuel to the speculation that the Liberals are planning massive cuts to health funding is Trudeau’s September 2nd letter to the Council of the Federation that makes no firm commitments to health care or federal transfers. The only firm commitment was to improve the federal-provincial relationship.
That’s pretty thin gruel considering the state of that relationship after 10 years of Stephen Harper!
All Canadians who are concerned with the future of health care in this country need to scratch below Trudeau’s soothing words and take a look at his hard numbers.
When you break down their plan, 77 per cent of the value of their “new investments” are tax shifts and benefits (including others not listed under that category), 12 per cent is the catch-all of ‘infrastructure’ spending (though most Canadians don’t think of early learning and cultural facilities as ‘infrastructure’), and five per cent is EI (paid for through EI premiums).
That leaves only six per cent, or a little over two billion a year for everything else. How much of that available funding will go to public home care and long-term care? How much will go to the provinces for new hospital beds after years of cuts?
On reading the Liberal plan, we have to conclude: not a penny.
Their plan also targets $6.5 billion in spending reductions from an expenditure review. Will health care be on the table for cuts, if they can’t meet that ambitious target? John McCallum said on Saturday that in the effort to balance their books before the next election, ‘everything was on the table.’
Contrast this with Tom Mulcair’s plan for health care under a federal NDP government, and the stark choice is brought in to focus.
Mulcair has committed to reversing Harper’s $36 billion in health care transfer cuts to the provinces. He has committed to investing $5.4 billion into new public health care programs, including a prescription drugs, a plan for 41,000 home care and 5,000 long-term care spots.
Over five million more Canadians will have access to primary health care through his plan to build 200 Community Health Clinics. And there are practical policy initiatives on mental health for youth, Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
Canadians cherish their universal Medicare system as one of the things that makes Canada great. They want a federal government that will commit the necessary funding and leadership to build the public health care system of our collective futures, to meet the challenges of an aging population and increasing drug costs.
The next party to lead the federal government should be judged by the real dollars and focused policy it has committed to meet Canadians’ health care needs.
On that measure, the Liberal plan is dead on arrival.
Paul Moist is national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Representing over 633,000 members, including over 153,000 working in the health care sector, it is Canada’s largest union.