Health care’s future now up to premiers: Labour leaders call on provinces to unite against Ottawa’s plans

The future of Canada's health care system is at a critical stage.

As leaders of the provincial and territorial Federations of Labour, we have issued a call to the country's premiers, who are meeting in Victoria, to put forward a united front and stand up for Canada's universal health care system and the millions of Canadians who depend on it.

In December, the Harper government sent a clear message that it intends to abrogate its responsibility to defend national health care standards and universality. It plans to walk away from its responsibility to lead the negotiations to develop a new Health Accord. The current Accord ends in 2014.

Instead, the federal government has laid out a take-it-or-leave-it funding formula that will see Ottawa contributing a lot less to health care by 2017, tying increases in funding to economic growth.

This is an attempt by the Harper government to hijack the real debate. The real debate should be how we, as Canadians, tackle and bring about meaningful and positive change. The real debate must be how we build and enhance our public health care system. The current Health Accord has shown us that with stable long-term funding and common goals and targets, we can deliver better health care.

Our most valued social program — something that unites all Canadians — deserves a plan that tackles growing disparities in health outcomes and growing gaps in access to care.

While Canadians need to see stable funding for health care, there are also the issues of accountability, national standards and targets, equality of access and quality. How will these issues be addressed if the federal government washes its hands of its responsibility?

As provincial labour leaders representing workers from coast to coast, we are calling on our premiers and provincial leaders to take a strong stance in defence of every resident. This is not just about dollars and cents it's about values — values that Canadians have embraced for half a century.

These are values that include a publicly funded and administered health care system in which all Canadians have access to the same quality health care regardless of income and no matter where they live in our country.

It's about a Canada where families with loved ones battling diseases that threaten their lives are not also forced to contend with poverty and inadequate care.

The next generation of Canadians deserves a high-quality health care system, not one starved for funds. Our children need to know that their right to decent health care is based on their rights as citizens and not the limits on their credit cards.

If our federal government is acting unilaterally against the interests of Canadians, then it is incumbent upon our premiers to act as the front line of defence of the public interest and to fight for adequate and sustainable funding that protects our health care system.

Some of our premiers have already come to the conclusion that the Flaherty plan will erode our universal health care system and values. Working people agree.

In fact, we believe the federal Conservative plan of further corporate tax cuts, on the one hand, and reduced funding for health care, on the other, will simply further reward the 1 per cent and punish the 99 per cent.

As our premiers attend the Council of the Federation meeting, they will be sitting down to discuss the very values that Canadians embrace: equality, fairness, access for all regardless of income.

Those who came before us created a health care system based on the solidarity of Canadians with each other. It is our collective duty to ensure its survival for generations to come. Unfortunately, what the federal government is proposing does not meet this test.

Now is not the time to be looking for a better deal for any individual province or territory. Now is the time to be united.

Every Canadian should join us in calling upon our premiers to reject the federal proposal, to reject a framework that leaves Canadians out of the discussion and to embrace the values upon which our nation and our health care system were built.

It is time for our premiers to stand up to a Harper government that appears hell-bent on eroding the social foundation of our country and become true health care champions. The choice is clear, but our premiers must rise to the challenge.

Sid Ryan is president, Ontario Federation of Labour, and writes on behalf of the other presidents of provincial and territorial labour federations: The Presidents of the Provincial and Territorial Federations of Labour: Jim Sinclair, British Columbia; Don Austin, Yukon; MaryLou Cherwaty, NWT and Nunavut; Gil McGowan, Alberta; Larry Hubich, Saskatchewan; Kevin Rebeck, Manitoba; Michel Boudreau, New Brunswick; Carl Pursey, PEI; Rick Clarke, Nova Scotia; Lana Payne, Newfoundland and Labrador., Mon Jan 16 2012

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