Wait, where did all the money go?

Harper launched a $612-million plan to remedy wait times in 2007

by John Geddes

Wait, where did all the money go?

Photograph by Tom Hanson/CP

By any standards, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s $612-million investment in what he called “patient wait times guarantees” was one of the highest-profile, biggest-ticket moves of his early days in power. On April 4, 2007, Harper announced that funding in a major speech in Ottawa to the annual “Taming of the Queue” conference of doctors and health policy experts. But with that three-year injection of cash exhausted, those who attended the conference’s 2010 edition last week heard nothing about any new federal investment in what was once a signature Conservative policy.

Lorne Bellan, the Winnipeg ophthalmologist who co-chairs a physicians’ group called the Wait Time Alliance, watched the issue of long waits for care rise as a political hot topic a few years ago—and then plummet. “They are not talking about any policy push now,” says Bellan. “Nothing national, that’s for sure.” A patchwork of provincial wait-times policies continues without significant ongoing input from Ottawa, and often without any easily comparable national statistics.

Exactly what Harper bought for $612 million isn’t clear. Each province got $10 million up front, and each territory $4 million, for committing to a guaranteed wait for a single procedure. For instance, British Columbia guaranteed radiation therapy within eight weeks, Newfoundland guaranteed bypass surgery within 26 weeks. The remaining $500 million was doled out on a per capita basis, under a general agreement that provinces would work toward shrinking wait lists, but with no requirement for reporting back in detail on how it was spent.

Bellan said there’s been progress, including faster cataract surgeries and hip replacements across Canada. But waits in other problem areas, like gastrointestinal illness and psychiatric care, never got full-bore political attention. And now the era of wait times ranking near the top of the federal political agenda appears to have run out, along with all that money.




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Wait, where did all the money go?

  1. If the Harper government had given instruction on how the money was to be spent then the provinces would have cried foul. Health care is a provincial issue and as we've heard over and over again, they expect money from the federal government but no interference.

    • Completely agree….the provinces want all the money they can get their hands on but don't want to be told how to spend it responsibly. Perhaps we need to ask the provincial bureaucracy where all of the federal tax dollars given to them went? I would assume they will be loath to answer because government bureaucracy is possibly the largest single employer in this country!

    • The money was used to buy votes. There was never any intention for this to have any impact on wait times. All decisions of Harper's government are based on the same premise; how will this buy votes and how will this create a wedge between voters and opposition parties. It matters ver little what the impact of any policy might have.

  2. Canadian health care will continue to guzzle gobs more money while the system continues to deteriorate, just like any other central-planning system in human history.

    In other news, grass is green and the sky is blue.

    • …and that is why an independent audit of ALL health districts is sorely needed. There is plenty of reason to believe that a lot of cash is being porkbarreled and all expenses need to be scrutinized from the top down.

  3. wait queues not solved but Health care employees (administrators, nurses, and everyone remotely involved with health care) salaries and benefits go up by $612M.

    They have to keep pace with Toronto Garbage collectors.

    It is a surprise that in a system that has no reward for efficiency and no competition and an endless supply of money that service delivery declines??

  4. As long as health care is exclusively delivered by funding-capped provincial monopolies and direct costs to visit a doctor or hospital are zero, there will always be wait times in direct proportion to the difference between the capped supply and the un-capped demand.

    The way to reduce wait times is to allow competition, and allow people to pay for their health care if they choose to.

    Now, can I have my $612 million for summarizing the problem and proposing the solution?

    • You are just repeating Sarah Palin's version of medical care. If you can pay, fine; if you are unable to pay, tough.

  5. I don't want any government at any level to be unaccountable when spending my tax dollars. Harper was using this money to buy votes, and he really had not thought out the mechanisms that are required to spend money from the federal coffers to the provincial health portfolio with any accountability. The Federal Government has the responsibility of enforcing the Canada Health Act and of ensuring transfers of OUR money to the Provinces to provide this care in the most equitable manner. Anyone who thinks Harper is a defender of the Canada Health Act is in denial. Harper's only "real" job (besides his short stint as a Reform MP from Calgary yaers ago which he quit before his term was up) as as the Executive Director of the National Citizen's Coalition. An organization founded by an Alberta chiropractor originally to FIGHT universal Health Care. Of course they branched out to the American style "right to bear arms" and "right to influence elections with unaccountable smear $ during campaigns…I digress.

  6. Harper is a libertarian who worships at the alter of the marketplace – Universal Health Care is "socialism" in his eyes – he would love to starve it to death and allow his supporters in private heatlh insurance companies to expand their market to Canada.

      • Not really – Libertarians believe government should restrict itself to a very limited number of tasks but defense is one of those and that's where spending has been plentiful especially as compared to anything new for health care.

  7. Let's be real here… Health care is a PROVINCIAL responsibility. The federal government continues to try to intervene, Liberals much more than the Conservatives, to try to get votes and for no other reason. I'd liek to see the Feds say to the Provinces "Okay, we're done. You keep taking taxpayers money and doing nothing with it to solve the problems, so you're cut off. Health care is your responsibility under the BNA act. Deal with it."

    But none of them have the balls. So we, the taxpayers, will continue to get fleeced.

  8. The Tip of Iceberg …… Hello taxpayers …. we gave Steve Harper our bank book with $15 Billion in surplus and another $3 Billion in an emergency fund …… and to-day we are $56 Billion in debt and it's all Paul Martin's fault ……. WAKE THE "XXXX" UP VOTERS, or are 34% of the voters on the CON take also ….. if so that is really what is referred to as buying votes ……. OMG.

    • That there is some beautiful prose, sir. The education system has served you well.

  9. Our health care system is only getting worse but it's to be expected when there is no accountability. Throwing more money into a broken system is wasteful. It's time for our politicians to be truthful and admit that government cannot provide for all of the health care needs of all of the people all of the time.

  10. That's what you get for putting Liberal or socialist governments in almost every provincial legislature. No amount of federal spending on this will eliminate wait times because these governments will spend it on their own pet projects like injection sites and abortion clinics. F#@king Liberal socialists

    • Yes.. whether the Liberals are in power or out of power, everything must be their faults, because Conservatives are sent directly from God and therefore infallible.

      Incidentally, for those keeping track.. that's just over six Adscams.

    • "F#@king Liberal socialists."

      Long wait times for psychiatric care where you live?

      Disenfranchize the ignorant. Let's start there.

  11. Who told you that wait times are the most important issue in healhcare? All the additional money Harper gave to the provinces went to bilingualize health services. It's the # 1 priority. In Ontario, they are even building medical clinics exclusive to francophones where services denied to anglos. There are 6 such clinics in Ontario so far.

  12. the real problem is doctors and nurse heading south to the super high paying jobs in the us. you wait because there isnt enough staff to see every fool who shows up in the emergency room with a cold…… and by the by ever put a baby in a body bag at your job? No? then shut up about how much nurses get paid.

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