Our two-tier system

If vindication is sweet, why do I have this bitter taste in my mouth over socialized medicine like I just ate stale kibble?

I ask because it is now 16 years (where do they go?) since I began an article in Fraser Forum: "Would you eat in a restaurant whose owners ordered out? If the answer is no, you need to think hard about socialized medicine, and about the case of Robert Bourassa. You also need to think about the 'restaurant critics,' the media, who haven't reported what sounds to me like a major story." Bourassa had gone to the United States for cancer treatment, but neither he, his political fellows nor the media claque would admit that citizens ought in principle to have the same right.

What has been the result of years of culpable silence since? Our doctor shortage has grown worse, our waiting lists longer, our expenses higher, our population older and our politicians still yap in the same shrill, annoying manner. And now Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is off to the U.S. for medical treatment. In the interest of decency I wish him a quick and successful recovery. But just maybe he'd like to reciprocate by admitting that if it's good for him, it could be good for us.

Which is not to say we could all afford it. Williams is in the enviable position of having a big pile of money (back on The Rock he is sometimes known as "Danny Millions" for his success in both the cable TV and law businesses). I'm not against people being rich; I'm just not good at it myself. But I don't think that's anyone else's fault. And I'm not so naive as to suppose the rich and well connected won't have nicer stuff than everyone else.

This view may lead to accusations that I have a heart of stone and head to match. But at least I don't say one thing and do another, or pretend I've created a utopia where none exists. Which leaves me a lot better off than Danny Williams in non-financial matters. Or the normally vocal defenders of Canadian health care, who may be afraid to bite the hand that feeds them. But what price dignity?

If I could, I'd ask the Newfoundland premier: If our system is the best, why are you going elsewhere? If the answer is that you need to jump the queue because you're really sick, and Canadian law makes it impossible here, aren't you admitting we've established a system particularly favourable to the very wealthy? And if that's the case, doesn't a decent respect to the opinions of mankind, or at least our bit of it, require you to say whether it was on purpose and whether it's a good thing?

The question is pressing. Consider these other items just from this week's clipping file. First, from Saturday's Citizen, the Vancouver Island Health Authority apologized for leaving an elderly man in a bed in a hospital hallway for five months and then attempting to charge his family $55 a day for these luxury accommodations. Wednesday's Citizen reported that in response to Dalton McGuinty's threatened spending freeze, "Eastern Ontario hospitals say they would have to make cuts that would cause 'irreparable damage' to the region's health system if implemented ..."

It would be tedious, nay revolting, to read McGuinty's self-satisfied prose over the years about saving our health care system with a tax hike he first promised not to implement then denied was a tax. But no matter how badly they bungle the system, they insist that it is for our own good because we are not under any circumstances to be trusted to make our own arrangements. You would not, in fact, treat a dog like this (see another of my 1993 articles, in the April Fraser Forum, on being allowed to buy CAT scans for Rover and Fido but not granny). So what even lower life form do they take us for?

The press have done much better on the story this time around, including Don Martin in this newspaper on Wednesday noting that Williams will be famous in the U.S. for this decision, but not in a way helpful to Barack Obama. So let's exploit this publicity to focus on the core issue. A third of a millennium ago an English Puritan, denouncing abuse by the powerful, said he could not believe Providence had sent "a few men into the world, ready booted and spurred to ride, and millions ready saddled and bridled to be ridden." He was promptly executed but his phrase echoes still as our masters gallop off to the United States for health care they deny to us chattels at home.

Our politicians cannot figure out how to fund health care as currently structured, or find any way to reduce the growth in costs and will not admit they are wrong. Despite this record of dismal failure they will let you rot in a hospital corridor while they get treatment abroad, because they think they are way, way better than you. Is this a great country or what? Woof.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson