Thursday, August 13, 2009

You actually have to admire Steven Harper, at least for his skill as a politician. "Sneaky Stevie" sits on top of what is an essentially unstable alliance, of social conservatives and hard line free market ideologues. Whatever his personal religious views they are certainly secondary in Stevie's world to the need for providing his corporate friends with the ability to make money (and not incidentally adding to his "sum of friends" when he finally leaves politics). Stevie's well-famed intolerance of dissent in his own party is a necessity for such a leader. Loosen the screws and, before you can say 'Timothy McVeigh' every single nut in the Conservative coalition will be publicly voicing opinions that would put the Conservative Party at the level of public approval of say the 'Marxist Leninist Party'. No, 're-education camps for homosexuals' is a non-starter in Canada.
But Sneaky Stevie's political sense extends far beyond knowing that the "terrorists for Jesus Brigade" is not the way to power. Like any good neo-conservative he throws the sexually obsessed the occasional bone, whatever his personal contempt for them, just to keep their preachers telling the congregations to come out and vote for the Conservatives. What is really masterful on his part is knowing when to backpedal on his core neo-conservative ideology. He has done this for some time now in relation to many issues, and the issue of medicare (which pretty well defines the separation of the USA from the civilized world) is perhaps the core issue where neo-con ideology conflicts with simple common sense.
Not that Molly is entirely satisfied with the Canadian medical system as it is. As a libertarian socialist I would much prefer that medical care be delivered through a network of cooperative institutions rather than through a statist single payer system that funds both overly bureaucratized "public" institutions and private practice. being as that is still far in the future, I have no doubt that our system delivers better medical care, at a considerably lower cost, than the American system where public bureaucracies are replaced with private ones and where millions of people have no coverage whatsoever. In terms of "bang for the buck" the American system actually delivers far poorer public health results than not just Canada, or almost every industrialized country. It is even substandard as compared to some "Third World" countries.
All that is obvious to those who bother to read and who are not consumed by ideology, as much of the American right is. The numbers are there. Look them up. Down USA way the frustrated right wing is focusing as the present Democratic health care proposals which are actually a far step below what the civilized countries have accepted as a standard of care. In this "holy cause" the right wing propagandists have stooped to every possible lie. The article below mentions one of them, the mendacious Shona Holmes ads. what is important about the following article is that, whatever Sneaky Stevie's public face of the moment, he has a long term commitment to turn medical care over to the tender mercies of his dream world of a free market.
Here's the article from the Harper Index, a website devoted to tracking the machinations of our beloved comrade Dear Leader.
Health care defence intentionally vague:
Harper attempts to avoid debate over Canadian system because he despises it.
by Eric Mang
WASHINGTON, DC, August 13, 2009: While American debate rages over Canadian-style health care, Canada's prime minister is ducking the debate in order not to reveal his own feelings about a system most voters support wholeheartedly.

On August 10, Stephen Harper was interviewed by ABC News correspondent, Jake Tapper on issues raised at the recent summit between the leaders of Canada, the USA and Mexico, including H1N1, Mexican drug cartels, the coup in Honduras, and Afghanistan.

Given the raging health care reform debate south of the border, the Prime Minister's answers to Mr. Tapper's health care questions were revealing, as much for what they did not say as what they did.

Since the Conservatives were re-elected in 2008, health care seldom receives much attention as a federal issue compared with other portfolios or previous governments. Although social services are not a strong suit for the Conservatives, the government has tried to dodge accusations that they wish greater private involvement in Canada's health care system. As the record shows, these accusations are not unfounded.

In a response to the 2002 Throne Speech, Mr. Harper said: "A government monopoly is not the only way to deliver health care to Canadians. ... It [the federal government] must remove any barriers, any chill to increase private capital investment plans that the provinces have for our health-care system."

In the National Post in 2000, Mr. Harper said: "[former Reform MP and current Liberal] Dr. Keith Martin is a highly intelligent and capable member of Parliament. He is also advancing perhaps the most important issue of the next generation the need for private health care competition."

Harper's answers to health care questions were revealing, as much for what they did not say as what they did.

In the Conservative's 2006 election platform, they advocated a "mix of public and private health care delivery…"

However, the Conservatives, who are attempting to learn from their political missteps, are aware that a majority of Canadians support a universal, single-payer health care system. A recent Harris/Decima poll found that 70% of respondents thought our system to be working well and that 82% prefer our system to the American one. Notably, more than half of respondents thought more services should be covered in the public system (e.g. dentists) while only 12% thought more of the system should be private. Further, a Nanos Research poll found that 86% of respondents supported or strongly supported "public solutions to make our public health care stronger".

Wanting to slake the public's thirst for improvements in health care, in 2006 the Conservatives issued five commitments they would act on if elected to government; one of those pledges was a Patient Wait Times Guarantee: "Work with the provinces to develop a Patient Wait Times Guarantee to ensure that all Canadians receive essential medical treatment within clinically acceptable waiting times…"

When it appeared that the Conservatives could not meet their wait times commitment, it was quietly replaced by an ambiguous statement of a "strong, united Canada".

The Conservatives are now fully distanced from their 2006 promise of wait times guarantees. When asked by Mr. Tanner whether our wait times are too long, Mr. Harper replied, omitting any reference of a federal partnership with provinces: "Yes, but the responsibility for the health care waits, in our country, are the responsibilities of provincial governments."

The Canadian health care system has been used as a political football by many legislators and right-wing commentators in the United States. Unfortunately, many of their contentions are false, misleading and/or heavily embellished.

In a response to exaggerated claims made by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal was quick with a rebuttal: "The notion that we have some bureaucrat standing next to every doctor between the patient and that doctor is a complete creation, there is no truth to that at all…What you have[in Canada] is a longer life span, better outcomes and about one-third less costs [compared to the US]. That's what you have."

When Mr. Harper was given an opportunity by Mr. Tapper to correct misconceptions about Canada's health care system, Mr. Harper did not attempt to address the more specious falsehoods. Rather, he downplayed the federal government's role in health care, despite our system being a single national plan through the Canada Health Act, and responded: "In Canada, health care is principally the responsibility of our provincial government. The federal government provides some transfers. We do some of the drug regulation, a number of other activities. But it is principally a system run by our provincial government [sic]. So first of all, I don't feel qualified to intervene in the debate."

While it may not have been politically prudent for Mr. Harper to allow himself to be dragged into the Shona Holmes debacle (Holmes' claims have been largely debunked) he could have taken a cue from his colleague, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, and been tactful and truthful about Canada's health care system.

Mr. Harper's comments on health care spending in Canada were also misleading. Defending his government's choices in allocating tax revenue, Mr. Harper oversimplified public sector budgeting meeting public demand: "At the same time, all of this costs money. If you are prepared to spend an unlimited amount of money, you can do an almost unlimited number of things in people's health care. But you don't have an unlimited amount of money no matter what your system is. And these are challenges that every system has to address."

While Mr. Harper is correct there is a finite source of tax dollars and revenue-raising instruments available his government's decision to cut the GST reduced government revenue by more than $12 billion. Further, tax credits and more tax cuts have deprived the federal treasury of a few more billion dollars.

There are very few in health care or in any sector who believe governments have unlimited funds or have only one spending priority. But most would agree that governments exercise decisions and make choices. When the decision is made to reduce the amount of revenue a government collects, the choices to fund government programs becomes increasingly limited.

Health care consistently rates as one of the top policy issues on the minds of Canadians and polls indicate that a majority support the public system. Although the Conservatives are reticent to involve themselves in health care issues, there were a number of points in his interview with Mr. Tapper where Mr. Harper could have set the record straight in front of an American audience and acknowledged how much Canadians cherish their health care system.

Eric Mang lives in Toronto and was a former political aide in the Harris government in Ontario and in the Campbell government in British Columbia. See more of his writings at
Posted: August 13, 2009
Harper Index ( is a project of the Golden Lake Institute and the online publication

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