Under red umbrellas, Canadians to stand up for health accord

July 17, 2012

Montreal Gazette

Natalie Stechyson

Canadians standing under red umbrellas to symbolize they're covered under medicare will assemble in cities across the country Wednesday to call on Canada's premiers to get the federal government back to the health accord negotiating table.

The National Day of Action for a 2014 Health Accord — organized by the Council of Canadians, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, provincial health coalitions, unions and advocacy groups — is being held a week before Canada's premiers sit down in Halifax to discuss medicare at the Council of the Federation summer meeting.

In December, the Harper government moved to recast federal financing for medicare and has since left the discussions to the provinces. But the premiers can only bite off so much, said Dr. Vanessa Brcic, a Vancouver family doctor and executive board member with Canadian Doctors for Medicare.

It's a critical time where Canadians are rethinking what health care should look like as it moves toward a more integrated communication and teamwork approach, Brcic said.

"That same teamwork and integration needs to happen on the political level, where communities are talking to their premiers and premiers are, in turn, looking to the federal government to provide leadership and the direction to funding that is needed to get us there," Brcic said.

"This vision is not going to happen overnight and it's certainly not going to happen in a piecemeal way."

One of the worries, Brcic said, is that without a national vision the systems will "fumble along," leaving gaps in the system that for-profit care will step in to fill.

"That's just further going to undermine the public health-care system."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced in December a new 10-year health-funding arrangement with the provinces, which takes effect in 2014, that will maintain the annual increase in the transfers at six per cent until 2016-17. After that, the federal government will link health-care funding increases to the rate of the country's economic growth including inflation, which is roughly four per cent, costing the provinces billions of dollars.

Canada's parliamentary budget officer estimates the smaller annual increases in health transfers will cost the provinces approximately $31 billion in lost revenue over the life of the new plan.

"The federal government has acted unilaterally and given a 'take it or leave it deal' to the provinces in terms of health-care funding," said Natalie Mehra, the director of the Ontario Health Coalition.

"We need to put a lot of pressure on the Harper government to act like a national government . . . and to take leadership in terms of protecting citizens and providing the public services that we need."

The day of action is meant to draw attention to these issues in advance of the premiers' meeting, Mehra said. Without all parties negotiating a 2014 health accord, medicare will suffer, she said.

Demonstrations will be held Wednesday in seven cities in B.C., in Toronto and Port Elgin in Ontario, and in Halifax. Charlottetown, P.E.I., will host a demonstration Thursday.

Each of the demonstrations will be linked by the red umbrella theme. Toronto's demonstration will involve creating a giant umbrella human sculpture, and the B.C. groups have planned red umbrella flash mobs.

In January, Canada's premiers announced the formation of a Health Care Innovation Working Group to find ways to improve patient care and save money in the $130-billion medical system.

The group, chaired by Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, will release its first report in Halifax next week.


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