FIQ (Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec)

Let’s wish for health for the new year…

Have you noticed how many well wishes there are for the new year that contain a small phrase similar to that one, like a prerequisite for our collective subconscious: “and I especially wish you health because, without it, all the rest is very difficult to obtain.”

We can certainly expect that this tendency will continue if we rely on the events of the past weeks concerning the discussions on the renewal of the federal-provincial health “accord” for 2014.

Currently meeting in Victoria, British Columbia, the premiers of the Canadian provinces and territories are seeking a solution to the recent position taken by Stephen Harper’s conservative government regarding the future of federal transfer payments for health and social services. Remember that, on December 19, 2011, the Harper government unilaterally decided that as of 2017-2018 the federal transfer payments for health care would depend on the changes in the gross domestic product, only maintaining a meagre guarantee of 3% as compared to more than 6% currently required.

In an independent report published on January 12, Mr. Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer, confirmed that this unilateral decision from Ottawa would have dramatic consequences on provincial finances, eventually bringing about federal involvement “to the historical lows seen in 1996-1997 to 2001-2002”. We remember that at the time, with the goal of reducing its deficit, the federal government opted for an unprecedented reduction of its share in the costs of health care. That obsession with reaching a zero deficit spread to Québec with well-known consequences: indiscriminate cuts and makeshift measures, hospital closures and massive retirements, deterioration in the working conditions and demobilization of the people working in the health-care system…

If Ottawa maintains its decision, what will be the reaction this time of the provincial premiers when there is already division among them, depending on whether they are from the western or eastern part of the country. For example, since they are faced with the withdrawal of the Canadian conservative right-wing, will they choose to make up for the shortfall by claiming tax points? Or still, will the advocates for an even greater presence of the private sector in health care take advantage in order to claim that the federal government relax the requirements in the Canada Health Act?

It is now clear that the federal government wants to gradually withdraw from health care, as Stephen Harper appears to feel that the needs of the people will be better served by the acquisition of new F-35 military jets, the most expensive in history.

By imposing a  method of financing without regard for the real needs of the population and vowing to reduce the federal healthcare transfer payments to nothing, the Conservatives will force the provinces to make crucial choices.

Officially, Stephen Harper states that Ottawa does not need to meddle in what should be a jurisdiction reserved exclusively for the provinces. Let’s understand that that is a pretext hiding his real intentions. The truth is that Stephen Harper will not be front and centre when the time comes to defend the principles outlined in the Canada Health Act.

The table will soon be set and places are already reserved for the private sector. The health “levy” and other user fees are in danger of becoming the standard, with an absence of political will to preserve that which, over the last few years, has often been described as being the most significant Canadian achievement of the 20th century.

To be continued…