PEI UPSE in Halifax Supporting Funding for Health Care

(Posted November 24, 2011

Funding for Health Care
Dear Editor:

This week the City of Halifax will be hosting discussions between the respective territorial, provincial and federal governments. One of the key items to be discussed is the Canadian Health Accord. This agreement outlines the federal contribution to the 13 provincial/territorial jurisdictions for the provision of health care. The current Accord will conclude in 2014.

Presently, the Accord allows for an annual 6% increase in funding levels. On Tuesday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said that he is prepared to keep health transfers growing at 6 per cent a year until 2015-16, but is not making any promises beyond that. Therefore the results of these discussions will have implications on the long-term survival of the Canadian health system.

I am a health care worker and the President of PEI Union of Public Sector Employees, the largest union on Prince Edward Island. I represent 5,000 public sector employees in the province, 1,200 of which are health care workers who take care of Islanders within the public health care system. Therefore, a viable public health care system is important to my members. It is crucial to them, not only as health care workers delivering services, but also as consumers of health services and as citizens of Canada.

My members believe that publically-funded health care is a fundamental value of Canadians. A move to increase the level of private health care services in Canada will have a negative effect on health care providers.

Currently, the Canadian health system faces significant challenges in providing sufficient access to health services. Nevertheless, privatization of health care services does not always lead to positive results. Last year, a privately-owned hospital in Calgary declared bankruptcy and has not been able to provide the surgical services the hospital declared that it could. Hospitals that are part of the public health care system do not go bankrupt.

The discussions being held this week in Halifax are fundamental to the preservation of the quality of life we enjoy in this country. The efforts of the federal government to reduce the deficit must be carried out in a manner which does not do damage to the social fabric of this country.

Health transfers to the Province of Prince Edward Island currently account for almost 8% of the provincial budget. Last year, spending on health care in PEI accounted for almost 34% of total government spending. This percentage has been increasing every year.

Given that federal transfers are such a significant part of the PEI budget, as it is for other provinces, we should not be questioning whether it is appropriate to continue to increase health spending. What we need to do is to continually seek out the best way to spend this money - and then - diligently deliver health care both effectively and efficiently.

A recent survey, conducted by Harris/Decima, has pointed out that 62% of Canadians do not believe that the federal government should take extraordinary steps to meet the 2014 deadline to balance the budget. I see the results of this survey as, in part, a reaction to the realities of the job cuts that have already occurred in the federal government and those that are forthcoming.

Relatively speaking, Canada is one of the healthiest economies on the planet. We should not exaggerate the challenges our economy faces simply to justify cutting what we most want our governments to provide for us. Canadians consistently identify the provision of a publically-funded health care system as one of the government services that they most value. The federal government cannot change this reality, and furthermore, they must respect it.

In Tuesday's Globe and Mail, a headline boldly stated that the days of blindly topping up Medicare are over. Personally, I believe that they are not. If the Canadian Health Ministers ultimately decide to maintain current federal funding levels to health care then the federal government should do so.

The decision of the Health Ministers will not be a blind one. Rather, the new Health Accord will be one that clearly reflects the values of Canadians and provides for their medical needs.