COVER

Divisions Over Health Care

Would you be in favour of a two-tier health-care system?

November 13 2000
COVER

Divisions Over Health Care

Would you be in favour of a two-tier health-care system?

November 13 2000

Divisions Over Health Care

COVER

Would you be in favour of a two-tier health-care system?

Election polls consistently rank health care as voters’ No. 1 concern, so it is no surprise that everyone jumped in on this one. Last week, statements by some senior people in the Canadian Alliance led to speculation the party would support a universal public system enhanced by private clinics for those willing to pay more. The Liberals, NDP and Conservatives all condemned the Alliance for promoting a two-tier system. But is it, as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien claimed, the defining issue of the Nov. 27 election campaign? The informal Macleans survey provides some interesting insights.

Those questioned, in fact, were pretty equally divided on the question. Some of those in favour of a two-tier system said they were merely being pragmatic—it already exists. Noted Louise Bussière, a 40-year-old bookkeeper in Laval, Que.: “We already benefit from it at certain levels such as blood tests.” Others wanted certain protections in place. “If it improved the public system by freeing up resources, then I would support it,” said Arlayna Alcock, 31, an English-as-second-language teacher in Calgary. Bob Smye, 45, a financial consultant in Halifax, drew a parallel to cutbacks in education. “Since they chopped the music programs at the school, I’m paying for private lessons for my kids and if I could get test results faster, I’d be willing to pay for them.

Those who objected to a two-tier system insisted it would be unCanadian. Al Yarr, 66, a retired university physical education professor in Halifax, described such a system as “a horror show in the making.” He added that the current health-care system “is one of the things that makes Canada great.” Brad Hainschwang, 25, a small-business owner in Markham, Ont., who has travelled widely, agreed. “Maybe it isn’t perfect,” he said, “but anyone who complains about our health care should just go to a Third World country and see how lucky we are.”

Would you trust your provincial government with the power to maintain national standards?

This seems to be where the Alliance platform, which pledges to give the provinces more say, is more vulnerable to attack. The provinces currently have responsibility for administering the Canada Health Act, while the federal government is responsible for setting and ensuring national standards. And that is exactly the way all the respondents, with the exception of those from Quebec (who felt their provincial government was doing a good job) want it.

Rick Valentini, 65, a retired publichealth administrator in Calgary, was adamant the federal government has a key role to play. “What’s the use of having a country if you are going to have 10 different standards throughout it?” he asked. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.” Linda Spark, 38, a Web designer in Vancouver who is highly critical of the B.C. NDP government, also does not want to see provincial powers expanded. “They couldn’t handle it,” she added. “There’s got to be somebody to regulate them.”

Which party can best protect medicare?

This resulted in a near draw between the Liberals and the NDP—and the latter might have fared better if more voters thought they could form the government. “The NDP cares more about medicare than anyone else,” said Keith Thirgood, 49, co-owner of a Markham-based marketing consultation and design firm, “but I don’t think they are as capable of protecting it as the Liberals.”

Barbara Wickens with John DeMont in Halifax,

Brenda Branswell in Laval, Susan McClelland in Markham, Brian Bergman in Calgary and Ken MacQueen in Vancouver