TEN LOST YEARS: WHAT HAPPENED TO HEALTHCARE UNDER HARPER?

BY Jim Harding

The “economy” is the highest ranked “issue” in this election. But what does “economy” mean? It’s actually about several issues: job and family security; poverty, wealth and distribution of income; infrastructure, quality of life and of course, trade. Healthcare is also a vital economic issue.

Rather than address these issues, Harper prefers to remain ideological. His newest slogan is “protect the economy”, which implicitly means he’s Big Brother watching over us all. If he gets challenged about the issues that matter to Canadians he has his back-up plan: divisive wedge politics. It’s about managing perception, not serious human policy considerations.

HEALTHCARE

Healthcare is a significant part of “the economy” and is always ranked near the top. The $200 billion sector accounts for over one-tenth of the GDP, much larger than the oil, gas and mining sectors combined. Alberta’s tarsands account for only 2% of our GDP. Yet Harper has had nothing to say about Canada’s growing healthcare crisis; he hides behind provincial jurisdiction while he pursues his Petro State.

Healthcare is a great teacher about the real economy. It’s a public service that is central to our Canadian identity. It’s about meeting human needs, as much as possible through a non-profit market. And, if we look closely, the healthcare crisis exposes Harper’s simplistic, ideological approach.

Had Harper been in government in the 1960s we would never have gotten federal-provincial cooperation to achieve universal healthcare. His hands-off approach allows a two-tiered system to grow, to the benefit of the private-for-profit medical industry. Over the last ten years we’ve seen the cost of prescriptions drugs escalate. Recently we’ve seen how venture capitalists have increased drug prices by a hundred, even a thousand-fold. Harper would call this “economic growth” but it’s just pharmaceutical price-gouging.

SENIORS AND YOUTH

For the first time in our history seniors outnumber youth; there are now over 5 million of us. Yet with Harper’s hands-off approach the growing needs for homecare and chronic care are ignored. Crisis management rather than preventative care, warehousing rather than holistic care, are becoming the norm. If the healthcare sector of our economy is not about meeting our changing human needs, then what is it for? Is the economy simply for profit-making and taking? Is that what Harper means by protecting the economy?

Healthcare is part of the service sector, the biggest part of the economy.Yet is has been sidelined as Harper has created policies that favour resource exports, especially fossil fuels. This has distorted rather than protected our economy. Harper Conservatives relentlessly repeat their mantra about lowering taxes, balancing budgets and leaving it up to the corporate sector to invest and create jobs through trickledown economics. The barrage of talking points doesn’t change the fact that this has backfired.

We like to think of ourselves as having one of the world’s best universal healthcare systems, but a comparison of Commonwealth countries now puts Canada right near the bottom. Harper has refused to give leadership on Pharmacare or homecare, the best ways to enhance care while reducing healthcare costs. This is part of an ideological pattern: he is also committed to privatize rather than build up public pensions.

OFFLOADING

The Liberals and NDP appeal to the struggling middle class as a way to counter Harper’s economics, but they haven’t quite called a spade a spade. This appeal leaves youth who will not be able to make it into the middle class out of the political equation. High youth unemployment and high youth debt are surely important economic issues.

And while the parties debate federal deficits, debt load continues to be offloaded onto Canadian families. For every dollar of earning power, on average, Canadians now have $1.60 in debt. This is another consequence of Harper’s hands-off approach. After six straight deficits, Harper was only able to create a pre-election “surplus” through under-spending in a wide range of government services, including aboriginal communities, which face the greatest of all economic problems. “Protecting the economy” means fixing the budget so it can be part of a reelection, “issues management” plan; cynical to the core.

This offloading has moved us further towards two-tiered healthcare. Nearly one-third of healthcare costs ($60 of $200 billion) are now paid for directly by Canadians. This includes drug costs, homecare and dental care, and various therapies which would be part of a comprehensive system. Meanwhile only two-thirds of Canadians have access to private insurance to help with these costs. The “economy” that Harper wants to “protect” excludes millions of Canadians.

If we look at other economic sectors we find a similar pattern. This is true for secure housing, which is out of reach of many young people, and is one of the best indicators of health. When Harper says he wants to “protect the economy” he doesn’t mean that he wants to ensure that Canadians have access to health services or to socially-useful jobs or affordable housing. He wants to protect the high-profit corporate marketplace.

BIG BROTHER POLITICS

When Harper says he wants to put money back in the pockets of Canadians, he means he wants us to have to buy higher-cost services as individuals, and not to cooperate to ensure that we all get our needs met. Cooperation to care for each other is the principle upon which Medicare was built. Even with a few tax deductions, say for providing otherwise unavailable homecare through family members, we will still end up with less money in our pockets. And more debt load. And if there is pressure to talk directly about what’s really happening in the economy we know what Harper will do: more wedge issues.

Harper’s attempts to appropriate nationalism, patriotism, our values and even citizenship, his desire to play “Big Brother”, is typical of authoritarian politicians everywhere. Isn’t it time to protect the people of Canada and Canada’s real economy from Harper?

Next time I’ll discuss what might occur on Oct. 20th.

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