Paul Moist and Maude Barlow were smiling as they met supporters, but the speeches they gave Thursday at the Delta Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront Hotel dealt with a serious topic.
They are on a tour of Conservative-held ridings across Canada, such as Sault Ste. Marie, bringing attention to concerns their two organizations have with the Conservative government’s health care policy.
Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and Barlow, national chairperson of The Council of Canadians, were the keynote speakers at Thursday’s event, a town hall meeting entitled ‘Save Our Health Care – Protect, Strengthen and Expand Health Care: Why we need a new Health Accord.’
Conservative cuts to health care in Canada, they said, will mean a $14-billion loss in health care funding to Ontario alone over the next 10 years.
That equates to a $91-million loss of funding for Sault Area Hospital (SAH) over the next ten years, critics say.
“At the end of this 10 year deal (by 2024), 13 cents of every health care dollar will come from the feds and that will mean more bed closures in northern Ontario and elsewhere, more moves to try and privatize health care and scale back the number of pharmaceutical drugs that are covered by the public system,” Moist told reporters.
Moist and Barlow spoke to a full room of people gathered at the Delta for a CUPE Ontario health care workers conference.
Town hall participants included those who have suffered illness or have seen family members suffer from lack of adequate care at hospitals, those who face challenges of working at under-funded and under-staffed long-term care homes, and those simply voicing their support for the Canadian health care system and calling for its improvement.
CUPE and its partners are currently knocking on doors across Canada discussing the Conservative health care policy in an attempt to raise awareness of their concerns and put pressure on the Harper government to alter its stand on health care.
Currently, 23 cents of every health care dollar is coming from the federal government, Moist said, pointing to a time in the 1970s when health care funding was a 50/50 split between the federal government and the provinces.
“Many Canadians aren’t aware of this, and when they hear the federal government is backing off funding of medicare they’re concerned about it because Canadians value public healthcare and this will be a ballot question in the 2015 election,” Moist said.
“We want sufficient funding to maintain the current system, a national pharmacare program and a national long-term care strategy. Canadians want these things.”
“Stephen Harper has made it abundantly clear for many years that he intends to privatize health care but he can’t do it through the front door because Canadians don’t want that (and with an election coming in 2015) he can read the polls as well as anybody so he’s doing it through the back door with ending the accord and starting with this new funding formula,” Barlow told reporters.
“We figure it’s our job to explain to Canadians what’s really happening and we need to make this an election issue.”
Barlow said pressure is also being put on the opposition parties to promise health care improvements, with a 25- to 30-percent federal contribution to health care for a start.
The Health Accord was a 10-year agreement that was reached between the federal and provincial/territorial governments in 2004.
It expired March 31.
The plan was committed to improving the Canada Health Act by setting wait times and other goals and increased health care funding by 6 percent each year.
The current Conservative government has not discussed another accord with the provinces, but in 2011 announced a different health care funding plan.
That plan keeps federal health care funding at its current level until 2017, after which there will be cuts.
Instead of a 6-percent increase in funding per year, the health transfer to the provinces and territories will be tied to economic growth, with a 3-percent minimum.
CUPE and The Council of Canadians says that means $36 billion less in health care funding in Canada over the next ten years, as well as longer wait times, privatization of hospitals and seniors care and more inequality between the provinces.
(PHOTO: Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and Maude Barlow, national chairperson of The Council of Canadians, are pictured at last night's town hall meeting in Sault Ste. Marie. Darren Taylor/SooToday)