Here's a sneak peek at Canada's latest reality TV show

He's not a politician solving Canada's health-care crisis, but he's going to play one on TV. Yes, that's right. It's Paul Martin, whose latest brain wave is to summon Canada's premiers to a historic health summit starting Sept. 13 and televise the proceedings to discourage posturing and spin and encourage frank discussion of the real situation and of the possible need for hard choices. It dices, it slices, it ... Sorry. Mr. Martin apparently can't tell public relations from public policy but thinks he has a divine right to be prime minister whether or not he can command a majority in that silly old Parliament because he is a Liberal. And he doesn't seem to realize health care is constitutionally a provincial responsibility. If he can nevertheless play doctor on TV, it seems to me that you and I can play Hollywood scriptwriter even if our day jobs involve the hospitality industry. So let's try to conjure up some of the dialogue likely to result as the politicians gaze earnestly into the camera and hold a "frank" discussion of what's wrong with the health-care system, who caused it and how to fix it.

The PM: Gosh, fellows, I'm so glad you were all able to come here to work with us to devise a historic, co-operative, forward-looking, win-win solution to the health-care problem that will indeed be historic.

Ann Theriault: Hey, Paul, thanks so much for asking us to come along. You know how devoted we all are to what's right for Canadians regardless of the political implications.

Kay Beck: Gosh yes. There's nowhere I'd rather be than right here putting Canadians' priorities first while of course safeguarding the interests of the Quebec nation-thing-unit.

Albert (through gritted teeth): I feel the same way, guys. There's nothing I'd rather spend money on than health care, not even debt repayment and certainly not equalization. Did I mention that my jurisdiction is debt-free, Paul? How's yours?

The PM: Health care is the No. 1 priority of Canadians and it's my top No. 1 priority too.

Prairie Pete: Fellows, I'd like to propose that we put the interests of Canadians first. It's nothing to do with getting re-elected. We just care so darn much.

Lefty: You know, guys, I feel exactly the same way. I'm going to save health care and I don't care what anyone says.

Manny Toper: I would like to say how much I share that sentiment.

Edwards: I too want only what Canadians want, gentlemen.

Scotty: My sentiments exactly. All that concerns me is the wishes and well-being of Canadians. It is fine to be here.

U. Kahn: Quite so. What harmony reigns.

Kay Beck: So it does.

Terry Tory: I am absolutely for saving health care and against letting it collapse.

Ann Theriault: I wish to say that I too feel that way, precisely.

Mary Thyme: And I.

The Minister: Long live communism.

The PM: Now, chaps, what shall we do to safeguard the interests of Canadians whose priorities are always and necessarily our priorities by golly yes you can count on that?

Prairie Pete: Let's save health care.

U. Kahn: A splendid suggestion.

Lefty: Yes, let's.

Albert: By all means.

Manny Toper: I concur.

(A general chorus of agreement ensues.)

The Minister: Long live communism.

The PM: How does this sound, guys? What if we spend more money, but not an irresponsible amount, and make sure we target key areas that are priorities for Canadians, reducing waiting lists for children, seniors, working families, singles, women, minorities, rural folks, hard-working city people, immigrants, the elderly, youth and the disadvantaged? What if we devise innovative mechanisms that increase efficiency within the public sector? Shall we be bold, compassionate, progressive in our values and unflinchingly honest and authentic with the public?

All together: Let's.

The PM: You know, there are people who would cut spending, restrict the supply of doctors, encourage nurses to retire and after making a horrible mess of things turn around and blame it all on sinister corporate interests and hope it somehow fixes itself after the election. We could botch the planning, spin the result frantically, call each other names and then put on phoney smiles for the camera.

Ann Theriault: It's true, we could.

All together: But that would be wrong.

The Minister: Long live communism.

Fade to waiting list.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson