Courtenay-Alberni candidates at a recent forum

FEDERAL ELECTION 2015 IN PARKSVILLE QUALICUM BEACH: Health care always a top issue

Candidates in the Courtenay-Alberni riding provide their views on the system

According to national polls and local candidates, health care is among the top few issues in this election.

“It seems to be a primary issue — with jobs — when I talk to people at the doorstep in all of our communities,” said Courtenay-Alberni Liberal candidate Carrie Powell-Davidson.

Conservative candidate John Duncan said his major advantage on the topic is his personal experience.

He said his work as party whip, helping other MPs navigate the system, and his wife’s battle with cancer, which he brought up at a recent all-candidates forum give him perspective.

“A panel of doctors in Ottawa agreed unanimously Donna would not benefit from treatment… so we went to the U.S. and got a second opinion,” he said.

He said the second opinion was that she would benefit, so they came back to Canada for all her treatments, and things have worked out well.

Duncan said that while people have the right to seek medical care wherever, he is confident in Canada’s system. On two tier, or privatizing health care, Duncan said “philosophically our government has not been using our spending power to enter into areas of provincial jurisdiction. Most of the discussions of delivery of care are best addressed at the provincial level.”

Despite that, he said the federal government has leveled penalties on B.C. “for going astray of the Canada Health Act,” on issues like clinics billing for extra services.

“As a government we’ve increased health care funding from $20 billion to $34 billion, in basically 10 years,” he said, adding they committed to keeping up funding, legislating minimum three percent annual increases, tied to inflation. “It will likely be closer to the three per cent since our economy is not growing in leaps and bounds.”

He said they renewed the health accord in 2005 and increased funding six per cent a year for 10 years, but the provinces stopped increasing as much, leading to an imbalance.

“Everyone agrees you can’t just throw more money at health care and make it better,” he said, adding, “the only way you really encourage innovation is to have some constraint on your spending.”

But the other parties say they would throw more money at it.

NDP candidate Gord Johns said they would reinstate the health accord, commit to six per cent annual increases and “invest $300 million to support building 200 more clinics and recruiting 7,000 more health professionals.”

But he said the investments would pay off. They would spend $2.6 billion over four years to develop a national pharmacare program, which would then save the provinces $3 billion a year in bulk buying and efficiencies.

He said the lack of funding is hurting the system and is part of a “slippery slope of privatization.”

“Nobody budgeted for two tier health care, so when people retire — they expect to be looked after — they’re finding out there’s two tier health care emerging and people can’t afford to pay that extra bit to get the treatments they need.”

He said the NDP “goal is to bring people together. The federal government has literally walked away from health care.”

“Our leader, Tom Mulcair, is committed to meeting twice a year with the Council of the Federation, which is the premiers,” he said, adding the NDP would renew the health accord and the health council which oversaw health care but was eliminated by the government.

“We know that Canadians value our health care system, it’s what identifies us as Canadian, certainly the NDP, it’s in our DNA being that Tommy Douglas was the champion that brought it forward.”

Green candidate Glenn Sollitt agreed that the health accord needs to be renewed and they have a plan to develop a pharmacare system by 2020. He said they will increase access to medication, especially for the 10 per cent of the population who currently can’t afford their prescriptions. He said by combining more than 100 current purchasing groups they will save around $7 billion.

The Green Party goal is “single tier health care at a sufficient level,” suggesting Duncan’s wife’s story is an indication that the funding isn’t enough, that people are turning to private clinics and out of the country.

“We need to change the model back, to needs based. When the model moved to per capita, that set the trend to move lower and lower funds.”

He said they don’t have a specific annual increase, but “six (per cent) is too low,” and they would develop a new formula as part of a new accord. He said the federal government originally covered half of health care costs, but would be down to 12 per cent after coming cuts.

He added that “simple things like nutrition and healthy exercise can help drive down  costs… at least one per cent of health care costs should be targeted towards the promotion of healthy living and improved nutrition,” and things like more local, less processed food production would make a huge difference.

* * *

Powell-Davidson said her party’s leader, Justin Trudeau, was scheduled to make a major health announcement Wednesday, after press deadline, which she was “anxious to see…” and couldn’t say much before.

She would say the party has been talking about developing a pharmacare plan, “working with the provinces to lower drug costs; the costs are becoming inaccessible to many people.”

She didn’t have a specific increase amount, but said “the federal government needs to do more to support caregivers, to support promoting health and First Nations health.”

She said that while many see it as a provincial responsibility, “the money comes from the federal government,” and there “needs to be more engagement and more of a partnership with the provinces.”

Among her personal priorities are a national dementia strategy, which is relevant for this riding’s senior population, with dementia cases expected to double over the next 10 years.

Asked, she said “I’ve got a lot of concerns with the two-tier system, it gets back to supporting the haves and the have-nots and I worry about what effect a two-tier system would have on our national health care plan.”

* * *

“In a modern society like Canada we recognize that health care is a right, not a privilege,” said Marxist-Leninist candidate Barbara Biley.

“It is something that should be provided by the state like education, like all the necessary means for people to live, not on the basis of what you can pay but on the basis of what you need.”

“I have worked in the health care system since 1972 and I have witnessed the politicization and privatization of health care, which is quite a dangerous and backward looking phenomenon.”

“We have an opportunity in this election to send a message to whoever forms the next government that wrecking public health care is not acceptable to Canadians. That means very much defeating the Harper government because it’s the Harper government that’s really taken up the trend that was started in the ’80s and ’90s by the Liberals of cutting funding, abandoning responsibility and destroying national standards.”

She said the government is pushing privatization with hospitals being public private partnerships and 60 private clinics now operating.

She summed up that her party would reverse the changes made by the current government.

— Voting day is Oct. 19. Contact Elections Canada at www.elections.ca, 1-800-463-6868, 250-947-1090 or  #6-160 Corfield, for details.

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