Friday, July 02, 2004

CBC Radio One: For what it's worth

Like most, I missed pegging the federal election results by a fairly wide margin. I was actually pretty good on the Bloc and NDP results, but had the Liberals and CPC backwards.

I figured right away that one reason may be that I've been spending a little too much time drinking the bathwater; I've underexposed myself to comment from the left and "centre", and so likely got a bit carried away with some wishful thinking.

So when I found myself driving to and from Calgary on Wednesday, I decided to take the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the state broadcaster's AM radio station. Apart from having to switch back to sports talk every time the topic moved to gardening, I found it, on the whole, more interesting than infuriating. Here's the broadstrokes.

From Lethbridge to Calgary:
I caught two interviews with brand-new MPs in the 9AM hour. First was with Steven Fletcher, the CPC guy who beat Glen Murray in Charleswood-St. James. He's a quadriplegic - I had no idea. This is mainly what the interviewer wanted to talk about, despite Mr. Fletcher's near-total disinterest in the subject ("yes, there's some accessibility issues in the Parliament building, it's just logistics and we'll work them out"). When she tired of attempting to persuade him to state that his prime mission would be to advocate for the rights of the disabled, she moved onto the question of the week: "Why do you think the Conservative election result was so disappointing?"

Fletcher responded that he thought they did great, especially relative to predictions 6 months ago of a Liberal tidal wave, and that they planned on continuing to improve. CBC rejoinder: "Well I see that even for a rookie MP, you've been working on your spin." Hmmmm....impressive showing is spin, disappointing showing is CBC orthodoxy. Okaaayyy...BUDDY! Anyway, I found her to be pretty patronizing on the whole, but it's hard to say whether that was because of his disability, or because he's Conservative. Whatever - you just know that next time she talks about the need for Parliamentary diversity, the accusatory tones won't be directed at the Liberals.

The second interview was with Ruby Dhalla; chiropractor, beauty queen, Bollywood actress, and now MP for Brampton-Springdale. Dhalla is a long-time campaigner for Paul Martin and the Liberals (hence her appointment as candidate in the riding), and she has Liberal boilerplate absolutely mastered. As such, there wasn't much to learn from her. However, I was struck by a missed opportunity for the interviewer.

Dhalla describes herself as a health-care professional, with an in-depth understanding of some of the system's challenges. Wouldn't some of these questions been appropriate, without prejudice?
1) Your area of health-care, chiropractic care, is paid for by the provinces in some instances and directly by patients in others. Does this compromise the quality of care you are able to deliver?
2) What are chiropractic waiting lists like? Why are they different from waiting lists for other health care services?
3) Is it unfair for people with the means to be able to purchase chiropractic care as often as they wish, while the less fortunate can purchase it less frequently, or not at all?
4) Do you think that if all chiropractic care was free, i.e. paid for by the government, that there would be more demand for it, less, or the same?
5) What criteria determine how many chiropractors the CMCC, your school, trains and graduates?

If Ruby Dhalla is able to address some or all of these health care issues in caucus and Parliament, without resorting to stale "best-system-in-the-world" rhetoric, I agree that her background will prove valuable. If not, what a waste.

From Calgary back to Lethbridge:
In the 5PM hour, we had a bit of analysis of the day's Alberta health care announcements from Jeff Collins and a reporter whose name eludes me. The best part about this segment was, they actually played some lengthy quotes from both government and opposition. Thankfully, this undermined the ambivalence with which they were presenting the information, at least in my view.

One area of the announcements was regarding the potential for private, for-profit, joint-replacement clinics, operating entirely outside the public health system. Under this scenario, Albertans who have the means and the inclination would be able to pay the clinic to perform knee and hip replacements. The clinic could charge whatever they want (or whatever people are willing to pay). The most direct and obvious effect on the public health care system would be that these people would no longer be "in line" for a publicly-paid operation. The downside, as I understand it, is that Alberta orthopedic surgeons would only want to work for the private clinics, and abandon the public system en masse. I quote from memory, as accurately as I can recall:
Health Minister Gary Mar: "Baby boomers are coming into considerable wealth, inheriting money from their parents, on top of what they earn on their own. It is going to be increasingly difficult to tell them, 'You want to buy a recreational property, fine, you want to buy a new car, fine, but you can't spend any money on your own health care.' They will anyway, and already are, they're just traveling to the U.S. and England to do it."
Opposition Leader Kevin Taft: "These clinics are being considered for two reasons. First is blind ideology; they believe the market works for everything. Second is greed; the people behind these clinics are extremely well-connected to the Tories. Allowing these new private clinics would undermine the public health system."

I don't care how anyone wants to spin it: one of those quotes sounds like someone acknowledging Albertans' freedoms, and the other sounds like someone looking for excuses to deny them. It is incredible that an Albertan citizen can spend $50k on 2500 cases of beer, but not on an operation that will considerably and promptly improve his quality of life, possibly even more than the beer would.

As for the argument that private clinics threaten to undermine the public system, I'm willing to concede that, if only someone will attempt to explain to me why the level of threat warrants the near-total restriction of Albertans exchanging their hard-earned cash for an important service. I suppose private schools may undermine the public system by attracting qualified teachers (not an argument you'll hear from Kevin Taft, by the way), but nonetheless, they are permitted to exist. Car dealerships undermine public transit; if all the money people spend on cars were taxed for public transit, the system could be massively expanded. And yet I can still walk out the door and buy a Focus, or a Grand Cherokee, or a Porsche.

Our health system needs to be rescued from social policy. If we could all just agree that the end goal is good health care for everyone, not equal health care for everyone, we'll be a lot better off. And if CBC Radio could help, bless 'em. Because frankly, we're pretty much achieving the "equal" thing right now, and we see how happy it makes everyone.


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