Canadian Health Care System Nears Collapse

Published May 1, 2004

In no-nonsense language cutting across their diverse political stripes, Canadian provincial premiers lashed out at the federal government for reducing its share of provincial health care budgets at a time when costs are rising 10 percent a year.

The premiers met in February 2004 in a special session to discuss the state of health care in Canada. On March 8, the premiers of all 13 provinces and territories launched a national advertising campaign to air their concerns.

Prince Edward Island Premier Pat Binns warned, “our current system is not sustainable, the principles of the Canada Health Act are at risk, and health care as we know it will not survive the end of the decade.”

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein made clear his province’s willingness to consider opting out of the Canada Health Act, the single-payer enabling legislation also known as medicare.

“If Ottawa refuses to negotiate significant changes to medicare, we are willing to consider, as a province, going it alone. We are still a long way from that, but it is a consideration,” Klein said.

According to many reports in the Canadian press, no other premier went as far as Klein. “If the richest province in Canada feels that the system may not be sustainable as it is, you can just imagine what it means for the rest of us,” noted New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord. That “walking away” from the Canada Health Act was even discussed indicates the gravity of the situation, according to Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert.

Show Me the Money

The premiers say they need sustainable funding for health care from the federal government, not more one-shot deals like the $2 billion Ottawa recently promised. Premiers want the federal government to boost its share of health care funding from the current level of 16 percent to 25 percent.

The premiers also were irate over the expanding federal surplus, now estimated at between $5 billion and $8 billion. When they met in late February with Prime Minister Paul Martin and accepted the $2 billion federal injection of health care money, premiers were told the surplus was barely over the $2 billion mark. Finance Minister Ralph Goodale refused to commit the government to more health spending.

“What a tragedy for Canada, where we have a federal government sitting on surpluses and then to also have a system where medicare falls apart,” commented Manitoba Premier Gary Doer.

But not all observers of the Canadian health care situation agree more money is needed. Sally Pipes, a former Canadian citizen who is president of the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, told Health Care News, “The problems with the Canadian health care system will not be solved by more revenue. Canadians are already taxed to death.

“The solution to the dilemma lies in opening up the Canadian system to competition,” said Pipes. “Less government, not more, is the answer to long waiting lines, lack of the latest technological equipment, and rationed care.”

Conrad F. Meier is managing editor of Health Care News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

on the advertising campaign launched in March by the provincial premiers, visit the Web site of the Premiers’ Council on Canadian Health Awareness at