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Stable funding and government accountability through public delivery needed

(Niagara-on-the-Lake) A wide coalition of groups had a common message for Canadas Premiers and Territorial leaders gathered to discuss health care: protect the system by stopping privatization and expanding the role of public delivery in new programs like home care and pharmacare.

The groups convened a Health Action Assembly to parallel the meeting of Canadas provincial and territorial leaders in Niagara-on-the-Lake July 28th to 30th. Premiers and Territorial leaders were seeking to organize themselves before a First Ministers Meeting with Prime Minister Paul Martin in Ottawa in mid-September. That meeting will be fully broadcast and Canadians will be able to see for themselves which leaders are pushing privatization under the new code words of flexibility and innovation.

The province of Alberta has long been a laboratory for health care privatization and innovation, said Harvey Voogd, coordinator of Friends of Medicare-Alberta.

Albertas Conservative government has the dubious distinction of serving as privatizations Trojan Horse in this country, said Voogd. The end result of over a decade of creeping privatization in this province is a weaker public system and higher costs of services now privately delivered.

But Conservative politicians arent the only ones offering up provincial health care to private, for-profit interests, Voogd pointed out. Liberal Premiers including BCs Gordon Campbell, Ontarios Dalton McGuinty and Quebecs Jean Charest are all vigorously pursuing the same privatization path through so-called public private partnership (P3) hospitals and their secret deals, delisting of publicly insured services and contracting out of medical services to for-profit clinics despite the higher costs and further drain on the public systems resources.

Eduardo Sousa, Ontario Health Coalition, warned against the corporate players keen to cash in on the expanded role for private, for-profit health care providers that the provinces are creating. He pointed out that the British Medical Journal recently reported that surgical services contracted out to private facilities, in the name of reducing waiting lists in Britain, cost on average 40 per cent more than publicly delivered services.

Private, for-profit operators would like nothing more than a single-payer system, said Sousa. Theres no better way to ensure huge private profits than when you have taxpayers guaranteeing them. We all lose, whether you look at it as a taxpayer or a user because private delivery costs more and takes highly-trained staff away from the public system.

Irene Harris of the Ontario Federation of Labour said the way to improve confidence in the public system is to expand it to meet peoples needs through new public programs like home care, following the example of provinces like Manitoba.

We encourage the Premiers and Territorial leaders to think outside the privatization box and expand the system through new public programs, said Harris. A national home care program, publicly delivered, would efficiently and effectively relieve pressure from the system. For example, if Ontario made its home care system not-for-profit, the province could afford to bring back home-making and personal support services for thousands of seniors who lost it when the system was privatized.

Kathleen Connors, Canadian Health Coalition, urged the Provincial and Territorial leaders to seek a sensible partnership between federal leadership and provincial responsibility.

The long-term viability of public health care in this country depends on successful negotiation in the public interest and for the public good, said Connors. This means balancing federal leadership with provincial responsibility: federal leadership through stable funding with government accountability and active enforcement of the Canada Health Act, and provincial responsibility through public delivery of programs responsive to their populations needs.

The groups expressed their pleasure at the success of the popular Health Action Assembly, confident that the event and related mobilizations contributed to building the movement against privatization and for strengthening and expanding the public health care system.

They pledged to channel this growing energy towards Septembers meeting between Paul Martin and Provincial and Territorial leaders, vowing to persist in demonstrating popular support for public health care in this country.

For more information:

Leslie Frey, Registered Nurses Association of Ontario,
cell (416) 829 6657
Natalie Mehra, Ontario Health Coalition,
cell (416) 230 6402
David Robbins, Canadian Union of Public Employees,
cell (613) 878 1431