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Election Issues 2015: A Maclean’s primer on health care

In-depth primers on the big issues: Find out where each party stands on issues like federal funding for health care


 

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Canadians usually name health care as one of their top issues in an election campaign, but we’ve heard surprisingly little about the issue during the 2015 campaign. That could be because the Conservatives did their best to neutralize the issue back in 2011, getting the jump on the premiers by presenting a funding arrangement to the provinces and telling them to take it or leave it.

The provinces thought they had until early 2014, when the deal made with former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin expired, but the Conservatives decided to skip the tedious negotiations. Then-finance minister Jim Flaherty presented his counterparts with annual funding increases, pegged to economic growth and at a lower rate than the annual increases offered by the previous government. While Martin had provided for a six per cent escalator, Flaherty offered a minimum of three per cent growth per year starting in 2017-18. He said that would mean the federal government giving the provinces $38 billion in 2018.

A CUT OR AN INCREASE?

The Conservatives’ move left opponents accusing them, inaccurately, of cutting transfers. The transfers are still growing, albeit at a slower rate. However, the provinces say they are covering a bigger per cent of the costs due to rapidly rising health-care demands. The Conservatives also tied funding to population size, rather than need, meaning smaller provinces with older populations bear a higher burden but get less federal funding— adding insult to small-tax-base-injury.

WHERE THE PARTIES STAND

Conservative

The Conservatives have made several small promises for specific projects, but nothing over-arching.

Campaign pledges:

$50 million per year starting in 2017-18 for the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, a not-for-profit organization launched by the government in 2006. That would renew the partnership for five years, with a mandate focused on palliative care, screening for First Nations, Inuit and Métis, and to develop a database for researchers and practitioners.

$100 million from 2017 to 2024 for Brain Canada, a national non-profit organization devoted to supporting all neuroscience research. The Conservatives said in their campaign documents that they created Brain Canada in 2011; the organization itself clarified that it evolved out of an existing organization.

$5 million a year beginning in 2016-17 for the National Anti-Drug Strategy, specifically on prevention, treatment, and enforcement. That includes a national toll-free helpline where parents can get advice and guidance and an increase in funding for the RCMP’s Clandestine Laboratory Teams.

NDP

Leader Tom Mulcair has budgeted $310 million for health care next year, ramping up to $835 million by 2020, and is vowing to work with the provinces and territories on a range of problems.

The Canadian Nurses Association said, in a release welcoming the promise, that the NDP’s health pledge includes funding to create 5,000 new nursing home beds, as well as $30 million in new funding to enhance end-of-life care and palliative care alternatives.

Campaign pledges:

$2.6 billion over four years for a universal drug plan to make prescriptions cheaper.

$1.8 billion over four years to add an additional 41,000 home-care spaces for seniors.

$500 million over four years to hire 7,000 doctors, nurses and other health professionals, and open 200 new community health clinics across Canada, including mobile clinics for rural and remote areas. The money also includes funding for recruitment grants to increase the number of health professionals in remote communities and the number of Indigenous doctors and nurses.

$120 million over four years to improve the health of indigenous Canadians.

$100 million over four years to reduce wait times and improve mental health-care for young Canadians.

$5 million a year for a suicide prevention strategy to target at-risk populations, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

$40 million over four years to launch a national Alzheimer’s and dementia strategy.

Open 200 new clinics across Canada

Liberal

Leader Justin Trudeau is promising to negotiate a new health accord with the provinces and territories and continue to work with them in negotiating better prescription drug prices through bulk-buying. The health accord would include long-term funding. The party has also referred to the need for better mental-health care, but hasn’t promised many specifics, relying on the pledge to work on a new national health agreement.

Campaign pledges:

$3 billion over the next four years to prioritize additional and improved home care services for all Canadians.

$20 million to create two new centres of excellence in veterans’ care, including one with a specialization in mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder for both veterans and first responders, as well as a national action plan on PTSD.

Green

Leader Elizabeth May is pledging to be smarter about health-care delivery by emphasizing preventive measures and incentivizing healthy lifestyles. The party wants to include naturopaths as part of a patient-centric care model and tighten regulations “to prohibit cancer-causing chemicals in our food and consumer products.”

Campaign pledges:

$5.3 billion over five years (starting 2015-16) to provide free dental coverage for low-income youth under 18.

$1.5 billion over five years to introduce universal prescription drug coverage through a national pharmacare plan and co-ordinate bulk-buying with the provinces and territories, which already bulk-buy some drugs.

$43 million over five years for dementia, mental health and addictions programs.

Pass a law requiring a National Conference on Lyme Disease to develop a national strategy regarding the “growing threat.”

EXPERT OPINION

“We have emergency doctors treating patients in hallways because there are no beds. We have staff scrambling to free up beds. And we have social workers calling in favours to get a bed in a local nursing home.… We need a national seniors strategy to ensure that patients who are well enough to leave the hospital actually have some place to go. We need better home care and residential options so that we never again have to hear the term ‘bed-blocker.'”

Dr. Chris Simpson, Canadian Medical Association past-president

GO DEEPER

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