The health care system is on a disastrous course if Canadian leaders fail to adopt reforms, said reform champion Roy Romanow during a speech at Thompson Rivers University on Wednesday.
But the most frightening problem, said Romanow, is that lack of strong leadership is causing Canadians to consider privatization as a valid alternative.
“We’ve gotten ourselves into this mass belief that the plan is unaffordable — and it is without reform — that there’s no way to amend it and therefore . . . it means (the solution is) private care.”
During the former Saskatchewan premier’s hour-long speech, he told the crowd gathered at the Irving K. Barber Centre that Canadians still value health care as a public good rather than a for profit commodity.
He is convinced of this after spending more than a decade studying and upholding those values.
In 2001, then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien recommended Romanow to head a royal commission on the future of health care.
An intensive year of studies, surveys, meetings and hearings followed and in 2002, Romanow’s 380-page report outlined suggestions for improvements.
He spent the next eight years delivering about 680 speeches explaining those reforms to Canadians and Americans. But all the work and speeches fell mostly on deaf ears, he said.
The First Nations notion of health care as a public good had a profound impact on Romanow.
He remembered meeting an elder during his commission work who had turned away a pharmaceutical company’s request to study traditional native medicine after discovering that the company’s efforts were ultimately for financial gain.
The elder said good health care doesn’t depend upon the capacity to pay, rather it depends on the fact that we are all members of society. It’s a common equalizer.
“That was a very important message that carried a lot of weight for me in my report,” said Romanow, “because it speaks to the fundamental argument about how health care can be reformed and how it should be delivered.”
He returned repeatedly to the notion that the system’s success depends crucially on strong leadership, citing as examples former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas, the great pioneer of universal health care, and former prime minister Lester B. Pearson, who pushed it through Parliament.
Despite heavy pushback back in the late 1950s, within two years of adoption, medicare was overwhelmingly embraced among Canadians.
Today, Canada is moving backwards for a decentralization of medicare from federal hands to provincial, as evidenced by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s comments that those decisions are best left to provinces, said Romanow.
With a 10-year-old health accord soon coming to an end, a new agreement should deliver funding that’s attached to reform conditions, said Romanow.
Since federal leaders are so unwilling to fight for much needed reforms and retention of universal health care, he said, it’s up to the public to do so.
He ended by beseeching those in the crowd to take up the cause.