If Canadian health care matters to you, you should vote!

Posted 04.25.11

IN THE PONTIAC, QUEBEC | There is no better time to talk about health than during an election. While it may seem that politicians barely notice the daily challenges of their constituents, this year may be different. Once again, polls show health care is the top priority for the election.

"We are helping each Canadian get access to a doctor," Conservative leader Stephan Harper told Canadians after his budget was tabled. But when Canadians heard the details, health professionals and residents alike were left with more questions than answers. What did Mr. Harper offer patients?

His plan to support nurses and doctors already in rural areas will help some rural patients -- and these are patients who urgently need attention. But here in the Outaouais, part of the reason that rural hospital emergency rooms are so full is precisely because of their proximity to Gatineau.

At any given day, the emergency rooms in Wakefield, Buckingham, or Shawville will have about 30 percent of their patients from the city, according to one doctor.

How would this scenario be improved if the Harper plan were implemented? "It wouldn't be any better," said one health care professional in Gatineau. "Moving doctors and nurses around doesn't give anyone new doctors."

Pontiac's Conservative MP, Lawrence Cannon, noted that his party has been trying hard to fix problems "left by the Liberals." But when the Bulletin asked how moving doctors and nurses around would help create new health jobs, he replied only that health care is a provincial matter.

He washed his hands of any responsibility for the Canada Health Act and for transfer payments to the provinces which go to the provincial health systems. Apparently Mr. Cannon was unaware of his leader's sudden agreement to match the Liberal promise of a 6 percent increase in health funding.

Most provinces, including Quebec, absolutely depend upon federal transfer payments to keep their health services going. This is what is behind the arguments about jurisdiction: how the money is spent, not from where it must largely come.

There are changes in line for Outaouais patients. The Health Co-op in Aylmer has had to reduce its service and increase its fees, specialists are finding better-paying contracts anywhere besides the Outaouais, and even nurses are ever harder to come by. Anyone concerned with the quality of care patients receive have the perfect opportunity right now: a federal election.

And any federal candidate who passes the buck to another level of government could use a long look in the mirror. There is always positive action to be done on the health care front -- including how you and I vote.

Copyright © 2010 Lily Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/04.11