Platform Primer: Health Care
In the run-up to the federal election on May 2, we’ll be comparing the major parties’ platforms on issues that matter to urban voters.
Each party’s key messages, according their respective colours. Image by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.
Health care discussions have been decidedly lacking this election, taking a back seat to questions of fighter jets, prisons, corruption, and whether Michael Ignatieff came back for you. The federal-provincial health accord expires in 2014, however, setting the stage for a renewed debate around funding levels. On the heels of former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge’s report on rising health care costs and the national plan’s unsustainability, the parties’ response to our health care problems has been (primarily) resounding silence. Or, at the very least, an apathetic quiet.
ConservativesThe Tories devote just a single page of their 65-page platform to the subject of health care. Acknowledging that there has been reduction in wait times for some procedures, but that improvements could still be made, the document states that a Conservative government “will work collaboratively with the provinces and territories to renew the Health Accord and to continue reducing wait times.” The Tories promise to push for greater accountability from the provinces, and guarantees to cover additional procedures which are medically necessary. The health care platform wouldn’t be truly Conservative without the added (bolded) caveat that upon the renewal, the Conservative government will “respect the fact that health care is an area of provincial jurisdiction and respect limits on the federal spending power.”
What is most obviously missing in the Tories’ “Here for Canada” platform is a costing of the continued support and renewal of the Canada Health Act. (During the leaders’ debate Harper promised to maintain six per cent annual increases in health care funding transfers on an ongoing basis. He also suggested that the Conservatives support “alternative service delivery”—explanation not included.) Also absent: the actual details of the promise to deliver more medical services to rural communities by “forgiving a portion of federal student loans for those who agree to practice in under-served rural or remote areas.”
Tax credits are, as is expected with the Tories, in evidence: they are promising an Adult Fitness Tax Credit of $500, and a doubling of the already existent Children’s Fitness Tax Credit to $1000. In addressing the aging population, the Tories promise to establish a Family Caregiver Tax Credit in the amount of $2000.
LiberalsAt 98 pages, the Liberal platform is longer than the Conservatives and has a chapter dedicated to health care issues, including a comparatively detailed discussion of preventative health care. Describing a “Canadian Health Promotion Strategy,” the Liberals are promising a Buy Local Fund; progressive labeling regulation for food products; a comprehensive review of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA); and to use our local athletes as exercise heroes/role models. Unlike the Tory platform, the Liberals attach some dollar signs to some of these programs. Over four years, they say, they will spend $40 million to implement a new Healthy Start program (“to help 250,000 children from low-income families access healthy, home-grown foods”), $80 million for the Buy Local Fund, and $50 million to improve food inspection.
The platform does not discuss the renewal of the Canada Health Act in detail, but notes that “it’s far from clear that more money is the only solution,” arguing that provincial management and accountability are key. Impressively, the Liberal platform manages to be more evasive than the Conservative platform in its discussion of rural access to health care: a short paragraph that states that a Liberal Government will discuss details with the provinces and that “One step will be a new incentive for doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners to practice in underserved communities.”
NDPMuch less evasive than both the Liberals and the Conservatives, the first page of the health care section in the short NDP platform details the continued financing of the Canada Health Act (with those six percent increases) in return for accountability or, in longer form: “a clear, monitored and enforced commitment to respect the principles of the Canada Health Act and to the integrity and modernization of health care.”
The NDP platform distinguishes itself most clearly from its Conservative and Liberal counterparts in its promise to increase the number of medical professionals: “We will work with the provinces and territories to address the shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals by training 1,200 new doctors over the next 10 years, adding 6,000 new training spaces for nurses over six years and substantially increasing the number of training spaces for other health professionals.” Costing for this is not, however, included.
Not nearly as comprehensive on prevention as either the Conservatives or the Liberals, the NDP platform promises to roll out a Children’s Nutrition Initiative to provide support to programs dedicated to healthy meals for schoolchildren.
Green PartyThe Green Party’s 12-page election platform does not discuss health care in depth, however, their 130-page vision document, called Vision Green, disabuses readers of any notion that that they are a single-issue party. Supporting the Canada Health Act (which makes four out of four parties), the Greens strive to eliminate any type of two tiers within the Canadian health care system. They argue that Canada is on the brink of adopting American approaches to health care and that “allowing for-profit health care would be the ‘thin end of the wedge’ that jeopardizes our entire health system.”
In the Vision Green statement, they argue for a more inclusive definition of health, stating that while the World Health Organization sees health as “’a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ Our present health care system addresses only one dimension—the treatment of disease and/or trauma by qualified professionals in publicly-funded medical facilities.” The Greens call for the broadening of public coverage to include alternative medicinal treatments which have been proven to be effective, and less expensive and less invasive treatments such as chiropractic therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture therapy.
The Greens also have a clear plan for attracting medical professionals to work in remote or underserved areas: loan/student debt forgiveness.
The UpshotIt would be nice if there was one. Stephen Harper’s government is going to continue to promote privatization without calling it that. His insistence at the leaders’ debate that fighter jets, prisons, and security finances will not come out of health care funds leaves unanswered where exactly it will come from. Meanwhile, the NDP plan sounds great—greater accountability and more medical professionals—but this is severely mitigated by the notable absence of a corresponding budget analysis. Ditto for the Green Party. Despite the evasiveness of the Liberals on several facets of the health care debate, their mere acknowledgement that money for health care has to come from somewhere, in addition to more detailed costing of various initiatives, gives them a leg up in the health care debate.
For more on the federal election, check out our politics hub, with a complete guide to every riding in Toronto. For all the details on their policy plans, also check out the platforms of the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Party, and the New Democratic Party.