Thursday, July 29, 2004

Shameful liars, Part 3

Here is a question I think every Canadian premier ought to be required to answer, before the "Fix For A Generation" federal-provincial health care conference in September:

"If the Canada Health Act was removed from the books, and the government of Canada transferred their entire health budget directly to the provinces, no strings attached, what would you do differently?"

If the answer is NOTHING, which I suspect it is for most of them, then let's dispense with the fiction that the federal government bears any responsibility whatsoever for the condition of any province's health care system.  If the answer is X, Y, or Z, then YAY!  Let's discuss these items, and Canadians can determine whether the relevant clauses in the CHA are important and provide good value.

Trivia question - which current or former premier said the following:  "Sentence X of the Canada Health Act, requiring that we [...], is preventing my province's health care system from being as good as it can be."  Answer:  none.  So until I hear differently, I am absolving the federal government of any blame for health care problems.  The provinces have taxing power; they can provide they system they want and raise the funds to pay for it.  Whether the federal government is overtaxing us for services they do no provide is a distinct issue, for another day.

Of course, this is a legal and practical argument, not a rhetorical one.  A fair question for Paul Martin would be, "What specific perils are you hoping to prevent by attaching conditions to the transfer of so-called health care dollars?  Name three, please."  If he can answer that without sounding like a paternalistic A-hole towards the provincial governments, I'll buy him a cigar.

UPDATE (1 hour later):  Man, I hate that.  Write up and post a little rant, then take a spin around the web and find out that someone else said the same thing on the front page of the National Post.

Upon further reflection, I think where both Coyne and I err a bit is in allowing the possible impression that the federal government is owed some sympathy for this state of affairs.

Not in the slightest.  They could defuse this entire standoff unilaterally, but apparently they’d rather not.  All Paul Martin needs to do is speak this truth:

“The role of the federal government in the present health care system is to ensure certain base principles are abided by in all provinces.  These principles are codified in the Canada Health Act, and are enforced by our ability to withhold federal contributions.  If any premier has a problem with one or more of these principles, then let’s discuss it.  Otherwise, they are the provinces’ systems to manage, and there’s nothing much else to say.”

But no.  If he did say this, then he wouldn’t be able to pretend that his government is the guarantor and underwriter of public health care in Canada, and that nasty, horrible things would happen if they stepped back.  So we’re stuck with this asinine standoff that damages prospects for actual reform, because it allows our leaders to pretend that every problem is the other level of government’s fault.  It’s a lie, and it’s shameful – and it sucks that Canadians let them get away with it.

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