No Eureka moment in this tepid political bath

Marshall McLuhan once said people don’t read the morning paper, they slip into it like a warm bath. I doubt the recent Citizen series on parking tickets had that effect. But modern political documents certainly aim to. Take Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory’s health plan. Please. Even if you didn’t read it you probably feel vaguely as if you had. And if I quote it, you’ll get that familiar, drowsy feeling, starting with the contrived quotation (in the “Policy Update” on the Ontario PC party website) that: “‘When I think about our health care system, I don’t think of it with the perspective of a politician. I think of it as a father, a son, a husband and a patient myself,” said Tory. “I don’t think about dollars and equipment, but of patients and providers. I believe we can manage our system better, we can eliminate waste and we can drive dollars to patient care.”

Soporific, yet offensive drivel. For one thing, why doesn’t he think about health care as a politician? He is one, no? As a father, son, husband and patient, he might reasonably just write to his MPP demanding detailed practical solutions. As a politician, he must do better. He must offer them, starting with a frank analysis of what’s wrong with how it’s been managed so far.

Instead, predictably, “A John Tory PC Government will improve health care in Ontario following four specific principles and guided by a strong commitment to the Canada Health Act and its commitment to a universally accessible, publicly funded health-care system. The four principles are: 1. Timely, universal access/ 2. The need for significant, reliable, responsible growth in healthcare spending/ 3. The constant search for ways to improve care/ 4. Respect for patients and respect for health-care providers.”

Zzzzzzzzz. These principles could mean anything, but probably don’t. They aren’t a guide to what Mr. Tory thinks he should do, plans to do or actually will do if elected. They are at best a description of a plan he hasn’t got but wishes he did. I especially like No. 2, separating the mutually exclusive promises of “significant” and “responsible” spending growth with one word of padding to keep them from smashing into one another. He should be telling us why frantic spending increases by the McGuinty Liberals, and Harris Tories before them, didn’t make waiting lists go away, not just positioning himself to stress “responsible” to fiscally conservative audiences and “significant” to socially liberal ones.

Then there’s the pledge: “We will oppose two-tier medicine” followed by “We will ensure that, under a John Tory PC Government, the only card Ontario patients will need to get the very best care available is their OHIP card – not a credit card” and “We will ensure that universality is real; without access to a family physician, there can be no universal access.”

Really? I’ve had two significant contacts with hospital care in Ontario recently and both times was immediately asked for a credit card if I wanted any privacy for the patient. So will Mr. Tory (a) require private rooms for all hospital patients without charge; (b) forbid charging for private rooms; (c) pass a law that privacy is neither medically nor psychologically important so it doesn’t matter? If (a), does he plan to build lots of new hospitals? If (b), to allocate private rooms by lottery, political pull, or severity of illness, or get rid of them by putting extra beds in every room? If (c) ... but never mind. We could explore these options in some detail, or ask where he plans to get enough family doctors that everyone can have one, but you know as well as I do that there is no point because Mr. Tory’s plan is not of this sort. It is, instead, the familiar idea to sound good, get elected, then magically make things better because we care more than our awful opponents.

Oh yeah, and how will it all be paid for? Economic growth and a war on waste. Again. It has been every party’s plan for decades and it hasn’t worked, but in this business that’s not a reason not to say it again. Quite the reverse. There is nothing in Mr. Tory’s plan to suggest it comes from a conservative or any other political party because we don’t really have those any more. We have one platform and one party, tailored to attract the votes of the suburban middle class without regard to the practicality or moral desirability of the same inevitable “policies” recited in the same inevitable soothingly vacuous way. That’s why it doesn’t matter if we elect Dalton Tory or John McGuinty.

What matters is that we get out of the tub before we doze off and drown.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]