Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Column odds and ends, from Afghanistan to Cranbrook

VICTORIA - Cleaning up the backlog of "almost" column topics.
First, to Afghanistan. Six Canadians have now been killed patrolling a road construction project only a few kilometres long. My impression was that this was part of the improvements NATO forces were making to improve life for Afghanis. But the road - while perhaps useful for transportation - is being designed for the security of troops, with a 100-metre-wide cleared right-of-way. And it is being pushed through farmers’ fields and buildings, in an a country where a typical farm is two to five acres. It doesn't seem like an exercise that will win the hearts and minds of the locals.
Second, to Ottawa, where the Harper government - acting on an initiative started by the Liberals - pushed up health-care costs by handing big pharmaceutical companies a three-year extension on drug patents, preventing low-cost competition. The new rules affect about 25 per cent of prescription drugs and extend patent protection from five to eight years. Federal NDP health critic Penny Priddy - a former B.C. health minister - called the change a “gift” to big pharmaceutical companies. Generic drug companies say the change will cost the public - and provincial Pharmacare plans - about $120 million a year.
Third, to Toronto, where an Ontario Superior Court judge has tossed out a federal Elections Act rule that denied public political funding to smaller parties. Since 2004, when political donation rules were tightened, federal parties have been entitled to funding of $1.76 per year for each vote they got in the most recent election. But the money was denied to any party that got less than two per cent of the vote nationally or five per cent in the ridings where they ran candidates. Justice Ted Matlow said small parties play an important role and have a right to the same funding. The money will be worth about $60,000 a year to the Marijuana Party, which - along with the Christian Heritage Party and others challenged the law. I am now considering launching the Paul Willcocks Voice of Reason Party, with the aim of capturing 1,000 votes in each of B.C.’s 36 ridings - and as a result $63,000 a year in funding. Unless, as expected, the federal government appeals the decision.
Fourth, to Cranbrook, where provincial Liberal MLA Bill Bennett, also junior mines minister, got cranky about health-care criticism. Bennett lashed out at the NDP, telling Cranbrook Daily Townsman reporter Gerry Warner that he believed the New Democrats have hired an American firm specializing in political dirty tricks to advise them in the health-care conversation. He wasn’t just suspicious about the U.S. connection: “We’re certain they have,” Bennett said.
A serious allegation. How did Bennett know? Turned out it, despite the certainty claim, Bennett had not a shred of evidence, except that he though the New Democrats were being dishonest. (Bennett noted that the NDP had sent staff to a conference on campaigning in Washington in the spring, but since the Liberals had sent chief of staff Martyn Brown to a similar event, that didn’t seem too sinister.) The whole affair looked left Bennett - usually a very solid MLA - looking bad, the kind of person who hurls nasty accusations without a shred of evidence.
Fifth, back to Victoria, where Health Minister George Abbott continued to show a remarkably laid-back attitude to possible violations of the Canada Heath Act this week. When two Vancouver public hospitals admitted selling time on MRIs and other diagnostic machines to private clinics, which in turn offered faster access to care for people who could pay, Abbott said the queue-jumping looked illegal. he ordered a halt and promised an investigation.
So what did the investigation reveal? Too soon to say, says Abbott, which is surprising since this all happened almost two months ago. The obvious conclusion is that the government doesn't much care about the Canada Health Act.
Footnote: And sixth, the great Peter MacKay-Belinda Stronach question: Did MacKay, the jilted Conservative lover, call Stronach a dog in Parliament? He says no; the Liberals say yes and he should apologize; the truth will never be clear. It should make all MPs rethink their frequent descent into the kind of mindless, sneering abuse that would be unacceptable anywhere - except in Parliament. (And a note of congratulations to B.C. MLAs, for setting a higher standard of behaviour since 2005.)


Anonymous said...

Paul, you mention Minister Abbott's laid back position on hospitals selling the use of tax payer equipment. Are you aware that right in this little town of Victoria a company is setting up a private clinic and is advertising in the local paper. Big adds. Lising things the province won't cover, what it would cost if you have to buy it, and the third column is the really great deal you get for joining up and paying $3,000 and change.Yearly rates as well. You get to see a doctor, big deal, I get to see a doctor now. Physio was stopped by the Cambpell government , just one item. The health act is being ignored by these guys and the Gordo and gang bunch are saying nothing.

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