‘Schemes to profit’: privatizers lick their chops as Medicare falters

Ontario Premier Doug Ford hopes you will see his battle with Ottawa over health care as just a federal-provincial mud fight, rather than a battle for the heart and soul of the country.

It may sound noble, but if anything could be said to represent the heart and soul of this country, it is our public healthcare system.

In 2004, when the CBC aired a six-week television series to determine who could be crowned « the greatest Canadian » in history, more than 1.2 million votes were cast. In the end, Canadians ditched prime ministers, wartime generals and inspirational figures like Terry Fox to choose Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare.

Canadians seem to have a particular fondness for a system that, quite simply, consecrates access to health care based on need, not money.

In an age dominated by billionaires and their extravagance (and idiocy), this no-frills egalitarian principle of Medicare shines like the brightest star in a dark, deranged firmament.

But, beloved as it is, Medicare has always been in danger, threatened by those who prefer the vast realm of health care to be open for private profit.

In 1960, when Douglas, then Premier of Saskatchewan, introduced the first public health insurance system in North America, local doctors staged a bitter three-week strike. They had corporate support, the Canadian Medical Association, and strong financial backing from the American Medical Association, which was determined to prevent public medicine from establishing a beachhead in North America.

Remarkably, Douglas prevailed, and in 1966 Parliament voted in favor of pan-Canadian medicare by an astonishing margin of 177 to 2.

But the privatizing forces never gave up. Over the years, they have launched costly legal challenges against Medicare and won support from politicians — both conservatives and liberals — who have helped by underfunding the public system.

Now, with hospitals overwhelmed by the pandemic and years of underfunding, Ford and other premiers see a golden opportunity to blame Ottawa for the current severe health care crisis and push forward their privatization in the process.

Premiers argue, quite rightly, that the federal contribution to health care has declined significantly over the years. The Trudeau government accepts that Ottawa must increase its contribution. The real battle is whether there will be any conditions attached. Prime ministers don’t like ropes.

But without conditions, the floodgates will open to privatization. This is especially true in Ontario and Alberta, where staunchly pro-business premiers seem to have learned nothing from the disastrous results of privatization in areas like long-term care, which are now dominated by chain retirement. Care is often so inadequate that at the height of the pandemic, the Canadian military was left to run some of the worst private facilities.

Privatizers essentially subscribe to a theory sometimes called « the tragedy of the commons » – the notion that humans are, by nature, purely self-interested, so that society should be organized around private property and the market, everyone s taking care of himself.

But the anthropologist Karl Polanyi (as well as the ancient philosopher Aristotle) ​​came to a different conclusion: while it is true that humans are self-interested, we are first and foremost social animals, dependent on society for our survival, our livelihood and our well-being. . Yes, we fight – but above all we cooperate.

At best, we design collective solutions that benefit everyone – like public health care and education – to ensure that we all have the chance to live healthy, educated lives and that each of us has a chance to develop its full potential.

Rather than a tragedy, our public health care system is the triumph of the commons.

It’s not just wishful thinking. Most advanced countries, including Canada, have established well-functioning public health care systems. Imagine how much more successful these systems would be if they weren’t constantly undermined and sabotaged by privateers and their political allies.

We must never let privatizers deprive us of what we can achieve collectively. We must never allow their limited view of human nature – and their plans to profit from it – to confine us to the grim, beggar-thy-neighbour world of the private market.

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