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Open Letter from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to Stephen Harper on the future of health care

Posted on April 20, 2011

Dear Mr. Harper:

No issue in this election is of greater concern to Canadians than the future of our cherished health care system.

In your five years in office, you have done nothing to secure the future of the system or to prepare for the 2014 expiration of the current Health Accord, which was negotiated by Prime Minister Paul Martin and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh in 2004.

Some have ascribed this lack of concern and action to the general improvised approach of your regime.  However, I am concerned that your inaction is rooted in a deep hostility towards the fundamental principles of the health care system, which is clear in many of your statements through the years:

  • Harper also believes that our health care will continue to deteriorate unless Ottawa overhauls the Canada Health Act to allow the provinces to experiment with market reforms and private health care delivery options.” (your 2002 Canadian Alliance Leadership campaign website)
  • Each province should raise its own revenue for health care — i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points.” (Firewall letter, January 2001)
  • Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and proud of it.” (Speech to the Council for National Policy, June 1997)
  • You also described Canada as a “second-tier socialistic country.” (National Post, December 2000)
  • In a 1999 review of the book “Code Blue,” you wrote: “[David] Gratzer proposes a workable solution for the biggest public policy problem of the coming generation – our government-controlled health care monopoly. Our health care system isn’t just sick; it’s killing people. Canada needs Gratzer’s new prescription.”

The “prescription” referred to in Mr. Gratzer’s  book “Code Blue” is to move from a universal system of publicly funded health care to a U.S.-style system of private medical savings accounts and private insurance.

Unlike you, I do not believe that public health care makes Canada “a second-tier socialistic country.”  Furthermore, I believe that our system is not “killing people,” as you have said, but is, in fact saving thousands of lives every year.

This is a serious matter.  Your clear hostility towards our public health care system is important not just in terms of your inaction over the last five years, but even more so in terms of your plans for the future.

Quite simply, the $11 billion of unexplained cuts in your platform and your proposed spending spree on F-35 fighter jets, U.S.-style mega-prisons, corporate tax cuts, and income-splitting for the wealthy will ensure that there are not sufficient resources to sustain our health care system moving forward.

We believe this is a deliberate strategy on your part – to starve a system you have never believed in and never hesitated to attack and belittle.

There are, therefore, three questions you need to answer for Canadians:

  1. What exactly are the “private health care delivery options” you envision that are not permitted under the current Canada Health Act, and which therefore require its “overhaul?”
  2. If the federal government replaced the Canada Health and Social Transfer with transferred tax points that vary in value from one province to another, as you advocated, how would Canadians be assured of a similar level of health care services, no matter where they live?
  3. Will you join me and the Canadian Medical Association in unreservedly rejecting the recent report of the Fraser Institute which called for the federal government to stop enforcing the Canada Health Act?

I know you do not like answering questions.  But Canadians have a right to answers on this fundamental issue.

I believe that a Canadian prime minister should champion public health care, not deride it.  And that is exactly the approach I would take if I have the honour of serving in that role.  To that end, we have proposed a broad range of substantive reforms and improvements not just to health care, but to the overall health of Canadians.  I urge you to look them up at www.liberal.ca/healthcare.

In the meantime, I – and all Canadians – look forward to your answers to these questions.

Michael Ignatieff
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

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