Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Liberals bungling health care change
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - The Liberals are blowing it on health care.
They made a big deal in the election campaign about protecting health care, and even ending what they criticized as the deterioration of the system under the New Democrats.
But what they've delivered has been far different, and the changes are coming without consultation or consideration.
Across the province newspapers are carrying stories of hasty, ill-conceived change, and the suffering it causes for real people.
Like Grace and Alfred Potvin. After almost 60 years together, the Chilliwack couple were living happily in Parkholm Lodge. But the health region needed to save money and plans to close the lodge. The Potvins were pushed into another facility where their rooms are about a block apart. They no longer have privacy; each shares with a stranger.
It's bloody cruel. And it's a far cry from the process the Liberals promised when they revealed their plans to move people out of long-term care. Premier Gordon Campbell promised consultation with families and individual plans. Long-term care minister Katherine Whittred went even further. "No resident will be moved without an individual care plan that's agreed upon by the family," she said.
That would have been good, if it were true. But the government's official policy simply says the new health regions must develop procedures for deciding who goes where. If a couple wants to stay together, and meet the admission requirements for the same facility, the authority has to ensure "efforts are made to keep the couple together." And efforts don't make much difference to a couple split apart cruelly after a life together.
Campbell even intervened personally in the Potvins' case. He called the health authority and the deputy minister and told them to fix the situation. "Deal with them like you deal with your mother," he said.
But after a month, they are still apart, and will be until someone dies or leaves the home.
It's not just seniors. This week the Hospital Employees' Union released documents from the provincial health authority responsible for specialized cancer treatments, transplants and the most advanced care for children. It needs to close a $70-million budget gap over three years and is reluctantly considering terrible steps. Cancer patients would no longer get the most effective drugs, because they cost too much. Mammography screening for breast cancer will be cut, pushing waiting lists beyond the Canadian standard. Children will wait longer for needed surgery, even though more than half already wait past the time their surgery should be done.
The health authority tried to minimize the plans, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The plans aren't final. And they won't be necessary if provincial funding increases.
But the province has frozen the health budget for two years, creating a $1-billion structural deficit. Finding more money for the agency will just mean deeper cuts to the regional health authorities.
Health care shouldn't get a blank cheque. But the kind of massive cuts the Liberals are creating by freezing budgets need to be made with care and after full public debate. Separating couples, putting off children's surgery, making cancer patients pay for their own drugs - none of those decisions should be made behind closed doors in a rush.
The Liberals should learn from Alberta's Ralph Klein. He cut health spending by 15 per cent in his first three years in office. And of all the Klein cuts and changes, that caused him the most grief with the public. And in the following years he put all that money back. From 1992 to 2001, Alberta's health spending increased by almost exactly the same percentage as British Columbia's.
You can sympathize with the Liberals. Health care is a huge, complex challenge.
Or you can until you think about the people who are being hurt by these changes, and the huge gap between the Liberals' public promises and their actions.
Paul Willcocks can be reached at email@example.com
Canadians deserve a political party that speaks for them
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - It's probably tough for most Canadians to be concerned about Alexa McDonough's resignation as NDP leader when they didn't even know she had the job in the first place.
Since the 1988 election the federal New Democrats have been irrelevant, at least as far as voters are concerned. The party won nine seats in '93, 21 in '97 and 13 in 2000, numbers that confirm true fringe status. In the last election, only 85 out of every 1,000 Canadians voted NDP.
If the party is supposed to be representing a group of Canadians, it's either picked a tiny group or it's doing a very bad job.
There's nothing wrong with being a party that never hopes to win power and isn't even that concerned about influencing policy, some kind of a noble and largely ignored voice. Some visionaries measure the progress of human society in centuries.
I'm a little less patient.
Canadian voters deserve the chance to choose between viable parties with competing visions. That kind of competitive market in ideas and policies produces the best government.
We're seeing the alternative. Canadians have no respect for the Liberal government they elected - a sweping but true generalization - but would probably re-elect them as the best of a bad lot.
Parties should stand for something, although those that don't are often rewarded with electoral success. But it is folly for a party that hopes to make a real difference to stand for something that Canadians have rejected.
Which leads to Buzz Hargrove. Hargove is the head of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and a frequent critic of McDonough. He wants the NDP to move to the left and take a more anti-business stance.
"Do we want to attract business? If you do, Buzz Hargrove doesn't want to be in your party," Hargrove says. "Business has too many parties today."
People in the NDP listen to Hargrove because he's in a position to deliver money to a party that is dependent on union contributions, generally made without member support. (It's equally true that other parties are dependent on business contributions, made without the consent of shareholders.)
Hargrove can deliver money; he can't deliver votes. In Oshawa, home to thousands of CAW members, the NDP came fourth after the Liberals, the Alliance and the Conservatives.
Hargrove wants to take the NDP into a dead end. Canadians accept the idea of a market economy, where the people who provide the best services at the best price prosper. They also accept that businesses, for the most part are not evil. They are simply largely amoral, trying to do best for their shareholders or owners within the law.
The NDP should accept that reality.
Canadians are sick of the corruption and arrogance in Ottawa, sick of sending taxes to people who spend itn stupidly and wastefully. The NDP should accept that principle.
Canadians are sick of intrusive governments, which presume to contol their lives in every way from telling them whether they should be able to grow a marijuana plant in their backyard to whether they should be able to seek alternative health care treatment.
And Canadians care. They do not want to live in a land where only the quick and the able can count on economic security and a chance at a happy life.
Hargrove's job is to find new members for the CAW and protect their interests. That's a completely legitimate role.
But it has little to do with the public interest. What's good for the CAW - or General Motors - is not necessary good for Canada.
Both federal and provincial New Democrats have a chance to look hard at their current dismal situation and find a new path, one that more Canadians are prepared to walk along with them.
It's too good an opportunity to throw away by allowing people like Hargrove to dominate the debate.
Paul Willcocks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by paul at 8:56 AM