For former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, the Canadian health-care system speaks to Canadian values and cannot be treated as a commodity, writes Tim Harper
By Tim Harper
Tue Dec 13 2011
Also read Roy's reminisces HERE.
Roy Romanow is 72, though he hardly looks it.
He has earned the right to sit this one out, but, of course, he can’t.
As the future of health care in Canada elbows its way onto centre stage in 2012, the former Saskatchewan premier will be marking 50 years of fighting for a publicly administered, single-payer health-care system in this country.
This is a man who drove Tommy Douglas across Saskatchewan on the NDP icon’s final provincial campaign.
He dates his conviction on the sanctity of public health care to the doctors strike of 1962, when almost 90 per cent of the physicians in his home province withdrew their services to protest Douglas’ medicare plan.
As a university student, Romanow fought against the KOD (Keep Our Doctors) rallies in Saskatchewan, a tumultuous period in Canadian history.
“Very early on in my thinking, I came to the conclusion that the most efficient and most ethical form of delivery is predicated on the assumption that we are all together on this short journey in life and we owe it to each other to look after each other the best that we can,” he said.
“For me that was the crossing point. Half a century ago.’’
When we sat down to chat recently, we determined it had been eight years since our last meeting, but we shared a laugh in the realization that despite that lapse of time, we were again talking about the same subject.
What else would it be? It’s just in the Romanow DNA.
He has readied himself for one more battle.
For Romanow, the Canadian health-care system speaks to Canadian values and cannot be treated as a commodity.
But whether they see it his way or not, the players are setting their negotiating lines in advance of the expiry of the existing 10-year accord in 2014.
The Conservatives have promised 6 per cent increases in health-care transfers to the provinces through 2016, but appear prepared to rein in that figure thereafter.
There are reports that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will tell his provincial colleagues at a meeting in Victoria Monday that he wants future increases tied to economic growth, something which could cut Ottawa’s contribution in half.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has essentially sent the same signal and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on Tuesday would say only that the $27 billion spent by Ottawa will be increased in a way that is “balanced and sustainable.’’
There have also been suggestions that 1 per cent of the 6 per cent in increased transfers might be mandated for aboriginal health.
Atlantic premiers have called for Ottawa to provide 25 per cent of their health spending, a return to the formula put forth by Romanow in his landmark health-care study nine years ago.
Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall has lamented that too much time is spent on funding debates instead of delivery.
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae said Tuesday that tying health-care funding to economic growth is “just wrong.’’
In fact, Rae says, if economic growth slows, it puts more pressure on the health-care system.
Under the proposed Ottawa scheme, says NDP deputy leader Libby Davies, good years will mean sustainable health care, but the bad years will mean, “sorry, you are out of luck.’’
Former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley told The Hill Times this week that growing health-care costs for the provinces meant less funding for education, transportation and environmental regulation.
So, the debate is underway and will eventually crowd out all else, because health care is still the number one issue with Canadian voters.
But Romanow, half-a-century on, says it will never end.
“Every time you think you have instituted reform,’’ he says, “along comes a new invention, a gamma ray or some new pill. I don’t see the debate going away.
“Some see things being better delivered through government, others not.
“Why not have an ideological debate about it?’’
That is precisely the next big national debate and it’s about to take off.