Tuesday, July 20, 2004

What I like about the new Cabinet

And there's certainly enough to dislike about it. I still haven't gotten over the vile cynicism of Scott Brison's victory speech, delivered before the polls closed from Quebec west ("the voters have chosen a party which supports family values, and not just as a code word for bigotry and intolerance" - who knew that Elinor Caplan was a role model of his?).

However, there is good news, and from my point of view it comes from the B.C. assignments. Three positives:

1) David Anderson is gone - excellent news for anyone who believes that actual science should be the basis of environmental policy. His replacement is Stephane Dion, who seems pretty competent, at least relative to his 134 colleagues.

2) Hedy Fry is still gone. This will no doubt embolden our friends in Prince George, who can (snicker) now go back (guffaw) to burning their (heheheheh) crosses ahahahahahaha.

3) Ujjal Dosanjh is the health minister. Inkless has an interesting, but I believe incorrect, take on this. He rightly points out that this represents a jump to the left ("Dosanjh, like the PM, believes health-care reform and health-care spending are the same thing"), but then claims that Martin has "moved the centre", and that "...Harper must chase it, at the risk of looking a bit silly, or come clean on his differences of opinion with Martin-Dosanjh health policy."

I guess if you say that the centre is, by definition, whatever the Liberal position is (not a overly outrageous statement), then this argument follows. The actual definition of the centre, though, is the median of public opinion, and the evidence is that this is moving to the right, if anywhere.

Put another way, compared to five years ago, are you hearing more or less discussion about the need for (or desirability of) private sector involvement? Is there more people, or fewer, that believe that the present health-care model is unsustainable? Keith Martin (Liberal MP) and Frank Klees (Ontario Conservative leadership candidate) are unapologetically in favour of private options. Can you name anyone remotely near the political mainstream who advocated this 10 years ago?

The appointment of Ujjal Dosanjh as Health Minister represents a tremendous opportunity for the Conservative Party, but more importantly, for the honesty and clarity of the health care debate. Stephen Harper simply needs to choose the latter of the two options that Wells has identified, he will be firmly in the centre, and it will be the Liberals who are scrambling to defend their policy. Would the sky really fall (or CPC support evaporate) if Harper came out with the following?

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"For too many years now, Canadians have been misdirected and misled by politicians regarding health care in this country, and I accept some blame in this regard. Well, it ends today."

"The majority of Canadians care about exactly three things in regard to health care: will I get good care, will I get it in a timely manner, and will I get it regardless of my ability to pay. As such, a Conservative federal government would address these three principles, to the exclusion of all others. We would achieve this by filling two, and only two, roles: setting standards for the quality and accessibility of health care, and transferring federal tax revenue to provinces which meet these standards."

"Provinces will be left alone to their constitutional responsibility of the provision of health care. If a province wishes to have private companies, or charitable agencies, provide health care facilities and services for their residents, and these entities meet the federal standards, they will not be punished. A patient going in for knee surgery simply does not care who owns the operating room."

"If a province wishes to permit the existence of health clinics entirely outside the public system, where the patient pays the entire cost of their treatment, they will not be punished. It is simply wrong to prohibit Canadians the freedom of choice to spend their own money on their own health. A Manitoban paying for his own hernia surgery in a private clinic does not violate the health care rights of other Manitobans any more than you driving a Cadillac violates my right to drive a Neon."

"If a province wishes to institute user fees or co-payments on some health services, and they can demonstrate that the fees are not preventing people in need from accessing these services, they will not be punished. We understand that the provinces need to be able to attempt to control demand for health care. A $10 fee to visit the doctor would not bring on the end of civilization as we know it."

"If a province wishes to have their own employees administer and operate every last aspect of the health care system, from doctors on down to cafeteria workers, they are welcome to do that too. If they meet the federal standards of quality and accessibility, they will receive full federal transfers."

"The health care system in this country needs to be reformed or it will bankrupt us, and a Conservative federal government would do its part this way: first, by defining what constitutes quality and timely health care, and then, by getting the hell out of the way."

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I don't expect Harper to make this speech tomorrow. But someone who has the power to do something about it will, within the next few years. The centre of the health care debate is most certainly not moving to the left.

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