Town hall implores Canadians to resist Harper Government’s massive health care cuts

As part of a broader privatization agenda, Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives have stealthily cut $36 billion in federal funding for health care. On Monday people gathered in St. John’s to discuss the implications for NL, and how to fight back.

Wait times will lengthen, patient care will suffer, and inequality between provinces will grow if the federal government doesn’t negotiate a new Health Care Accord with the provinces.

That was the message people heard at a town hall on health care in St. John’s Monday evening.
Hosted by the Council of Canadians (CoC) and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the public event aimed to rally Newfoundlanders and Labradorians behind a nation-wide effort to stop the Harper Government from cutting its share of health care funding to provinces to 18 per cent of each province’s total cost.

The cuts come with the federal Conservatives’ refusal to sign a new federal-provincial Health Care Accord, which expired last March. According to CUPE’s website, “the federal government’s share of health care spending will shrink to a small fraction of its original 50 per cent contribution – down to 18.6 per cent by 2024 alone.” This will result in $36 billion in cuts federally and $491 million in cuts in Newfoundland and Labrador, $279 million of which will come from the Northeast Avalon.

Among the consequences will be increased pressure for provinces to privatize health services, an outcome critics are saying would have devastating repercussions for people who can’t afford to pay profit-seeking companies for such basic and necessary services that have traditionally been covered under Canada’s Medicare system.

The town hall—titled “Keep Health Care Public!”—was part of a national speaking tour and door-to-door campaign. Last night’s speakers included CoC National Chairperson Maude Barlow, CUPE National President Paul Moist and Kathleen Connors, former chair of the National Health Coalition. They talked with more than 65 people from cities and towns across the Northeast Avalon.
In conjunction with the event, local CoC and CUPE members canvassed neighborhoods in St. John’s this past Saturday.

“A lot of people were unaware of the cuts and the impact of the health accord expiring and not being renegotiated,” said Erika Steeves of the CoC St. John’s chapter. However, “once they had a sense of what’s to come with Harper’s incremental dismantling of Canadian health care,” people started showing concern, she explained.

That many Canadians are unaware is not by accident. “This federal cutback has flown under the radar,” stated Moist. Barlow said “this is not something [the Conservatives] are doing through the front door,” and as a result “people just simply don’t know that these cuts are coming.
“The Harper Government is very good at just saying ‘This is just a refunding formula, you’re going to be fine,’ and we’re left picking up the pieces.”

The speakers focused on the impacts these cuts will have on an already strained health care system, the broader agenda—privatizing health care—the cuts are a part of, and the ways the health care system could instead be improved and expanded.

“If you think Newfoundland and Labrador’s healthcare system is strained right now, you haven’t seen anything yet as we move towards 2024,” Moist said of the cuts, which equal “over 10 years, about $932 dollars for every citizen of your great province.”

Barlow reminded the audience that Harper “is on record many, many times before he became our prime minister in saying the provinces should be exclusively responsible for healthcare [and] that we have to privatize many services.”

 If you think Newfoundland and Labrador’s healthcare system is strained right now, you haven’t seen anything yet as we move towards 2024.  – Paul Moist, CUPE National President

You won’t hear the Harper’s Conservatives say this openly these days she continued, because they “can read the polls as well as we can. Ninety-six percent of us, in one of the most recent polls, no matter who they vote for Canadians do not want public health care compromised.”

Speaking to positive visions for Newfoundland and Labrador’s health care system, Connors highlighted publicly funded home-care and long-term care, and paid special attention to pharmacare.

“On the issue of pharmaceuticals, there’s momentum in this country,” she said. “I have a sense that we can do it, if the voices continue to be heard. Canada is the only developed country in the world that has a publicly funded medicare plan that doesn’t include pharmaceuticals.
“It’s something we can change,” she added. “This province can afford pharmacare, we can’t afford not to do pharmacare.”

Barlow pointed out that every generation in Canada has had to fight for Medicare and all three speakers agreed that the current fight has to focus on stopping Harper electorally. However, in her closing remarks, Barlow made clear that the Harper Government’s attacks on public health care are symptoms of a deeper and more fundamental problem.

“I want to say as strongly as I can that this is about an ideology and…a set of choices that is being made deliberately,” she said, “The ideology that corporations and the private sector and the profit motive should be the guiding principles and deliverers of essential health care…is fundamentally wrong.”

Barlow emphasized that this ideology “is not inevitable,” and that it is something “we absolutely have to reject.”

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