Harper on health care: hard to make it a vote-driving issue - Macleans.ca
 

Harper on health care: hard to make it a vote-driving issue


 

The Liberals have been making a late-campaign push to turn Stephen Harper’s past remarks about health care into a big election issue, and it’s hard to blame them. Those painstakingly selected quotes from Harper are certainly more germane to an actual policy file than any of miscellaneous old Michael Ignatieff lines the Conservatives creatively cut and paste into their attack ads.

Still, I doubt dredging up Harper’s past pronouncements on health is doing him much harm. He has a solid track record of not tampering with the status quo. His calls for Ottawa to step away from dictating health policy and let the provinces overhaul the system date from back before his creation of the new, more cautious Conservative party in 2003.

Even in Harper’s first campaign as Conservative leader in 2004, the Liberals found it impossible to make his earlier statements matter much. Paul Martin was only able to turn preserving public health care into a winning issue for his Liberals in that election when he was handed fresh material—notably from Ralph Klein, then Alberta’s premier, who intruded into the campaign by saying, less than two weeks before voting day, that he planned to introduce reforms to his province’s health system that might be seen as violating the sacrosanct Canada Health Act.

The astounding timing of Klein’s comments allowed Martin to raise the specter of a hidden agenda on the right, and challenge Harper to renounce a fellow Alberta Tory. I happened to be covering Martin the day he revamped his stump speech to highlight the new theme, and I remember the feeling of vigor flowing into what had been a enervating campaign.

And so Martin eked out his 2004 minority, setting the stage for the 2006 election, which Harper of course won. In between came a stretch, particularly in the spring of 2005, when Harper spoke quite a bit about substantially revamping the relationship between Ottawa and the provinces. But he sounded acutely aware—maybe based on his recent election experience—that he needed to prevent the discussion he wanted to spark about the balance of federal-provincial roles from narrowing into a health-care debate.

I was never able to figure out exactly what Harper had in mind, beyond broadly disentangling federal and provincial functions, while shifting some taxation power to the provinces. For what it’s worth, here’s part of a brief Q & A we published in the May 9, 2005, issue of Maclean’s, after I caught up with Harper when he was on a southern Ontario speaking tour:

Q.  If you become prime minister, you say you’ll negotiate a comprehensive deal with the provinces on which level of government does what and how tax money will be divided.

A. What I’m promising requires significant agreement. But my sense from talking to the premiers, and even some of our major municipal leaders, is that there would be a willingness to get on with doing it. What’s happening now is that the Liberal government, because it won’t admit there’s a fiscal imbalance, is fumbling around trying to solve it by doing one-off deals, maybe on health care or gas tax, as it did with the Atlantic provinces. What it’s trying to do is to dribble out money to say it’s addressing these problems while retaining its enormous surplus. I don’t think that’s good enough. I would rather have the federal government focus on the things it can do and let the other governments get on with the issues they are supposed to deal with.

Q. Won’t you be vulnerable to charges that what you really want is no federal role in setting standards, especially in health care?

A. We’re not talking here about a major realignment of responsibilities. We’re talking about giving the other levels of government the finances to fund their own. Martin signed a health-care deal last fall that was more devolutionist than I would propose.

That was about all he would say on the matter. As Prime Minister he hasn’t pushed for anything that I would call a “significant agreement” on rebalancing fed-prov roles. But there’s incremental movement in that direction. Under Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget outlook, the federal government taxes and spends less, as a portion of GDP, year after year, while keeping up steady increases in transfer payments to the provinces, presumably enhancing their ability to do more.

This is obviously not the stuff of campaign-trail fireworks. There are no inflammatory quotes to pounce on, just numbers to sift. Ultimately, though, the future of health care, and much else, probably depends more on these trends in the capacities of governments than on anything the Prime Minister has said in the past or is likely to risk saying in the future.


 

Harper on health care: hard to make it a vote-driving issue

  1. All Harper has to do is respond with how long it took him to restore funding to the provinces after the devastation caused by the Lieberals :) – the Premiers themselves fall over to agree with Stevie – nope – that dog don't hunt as they say just same ol Lieberal fear and shmear that most have grown tired off and disregard out of hand – Stevie boy and Jack have Iggy right over the barrel on this file and there is no doubt about it. Harper is looking over Iggy's head to Jack and saying = hey left ball …. and .. Jack is responding over Iggy's head to Harper = yeah right ball – Harper responds who is the !!!!!! in the middle :)

  2. All Harper has to do is respond with how long it took him to restore funding to the provinces after the devastation caused by the Lieberals :) – the Premiers themselves fall over to agree with Stevie – nope – that dog don't hunt as they say just same ol Lieberal fear and shmear that most have grown tired off and disregard out of hand – Stevie boy and Jack have Iggy right over the barrel on this file and there is no doubt about it. Harper is looking over Iggy's head to Jack and saying = hey left ball …. and .. Jack is responding over Iggy's head to Harper = yeah right ball – Harper responds who is the !!!!!! in the middle :)

    • Classy.

    • Huh?

      Um, so there's a right ball and a left ball and Harper has both? And Ignatieff has two balls but they're both in the middle.

      Right?

  3. I think Canadians are trained to lie when asked during elections what is their most important issue. If the economy looks bad for us, we say "jobs"; if the economy is okay, we say "health care".

    In this election, like others, the real issue is always the same: Which leader and which party do you most want to see running things in Ottawa?

    In this election, the answer to that question is not at all clear.

  4. I think Canadians are trained to lie when asked during elections what is their most important issue. If the economy looks bad for us, we say "jobs"; if the economy is okay, we say "health care".

    In this election, like others, the real issue is always the same: Which leader and which party do you most want to see running things in Ottawa?

    In this election, the answer to that question is not at all clear.

  5. Classy.

  6. Maybe Stephen Harper wants Iggy to feel more comfortable in Canada? Afterall, he's a self-described 'American Democrat' languishing abroad here in the Northern sticks.

  7. ' a solid track record of not tampering with the status quo.'???

    Harper has been tampering with the status quo since his first day on the job. It started with minor stuff, and people shrugged it off…'no big deal'.

    Then the items got bigger but still people didn't worry. 'It can be fixed.'

    Now Harper wants a majority…and if he gets one, that's when the big stuff hits the fan….but by then it will be too late for the slowly heating froggies in the pot.

  8. ' a solid track record of not tampering with the status quo.'???

    Harper has been tampering with the status quo since his first day on the job. It started with minor stuff, and people shrugged it off…'no big deal'.

    Then the items got bigger but still people didn't worry. 'It can be fixed.'

    Now Harper wants a majority…and if he gets one, that's when the big stuff hits the fan….but by then it will be too late for the slowly heating froggies in the pot.

    • OE1, you appear to be in the same state of panic as your very own political party as its adherents contemplate the looming dose of reality to descend upon the land on May 2.

  9. Healthcare is often the "top issue" in Canadian elections, but it isn't clear what that means. A not insubstantial percentage of Canadians support a role for private healthcare (which make up at least a quarter of healthcare dollars in Canada), while for others "heathcare matters" means that they want to defend the imagined status quo. Since all of the parties have the same basic position, the issue doesn't matter as much as one would think, given its salience in issue polls.

    The economy is the real top issue of the election. Harper will be elected or defeated largely based on people's assessment of his handling of the financial crisis. That is why it was a ridiculously bad move for Ignatieff to:
    A. essentially anoint Harper's stimulus plan in 2009
    B. concede the point by not having an argument on the economy

    "Are you better off than you were 5 years ago" would be a simple, winning slogan for the Liberals, if not Chretien's "Jobs jobs jobs". Worst global economic crisis since the Depression? Hmmm… what to campaign on… I know – DEMOCRACY! Of course these are the guys that thought announcing a plan to eliminate the notwithstanding clause in the middle of a debate would save Martin, AND the guys that thought an incoherent Stephane Dion could explain a plan to shift taxation toward carbon intensive industries.

  10. Healthcare is often the "top issue" in Canadian elections, but it isn't clear what that means. A not insubstantial percentage of Canadians support a role for private healthcare (which make up at least a quarter of healthcare dollars in Canada), while for others "heathcare matters" means that they want to defend the imagined status quo. Since all of the parties have the same basic position, the issue doesn't matter as much as one would think, given its salience in issue polls.

    The economy is the real top issue of the election. Harper will be elected or defeated largely based on people's assessment of his handling of the financial crisis. That is why it was a ridiculously bad move for Ignatieff to:
    A. essentially anoint Harper's stimulus plan in 2009
    B. concede the point by not having an argument on the economy

    "Are you better off than you were 5 years ago" would be a simple, winning slogan for the Liberals, if not Chretien's "Jobs jobs jobs". Worst global economic crisis since the Depression? Hmmm… what to campaign on… I know – DEMOCRACY! Of course these are the guys that thought announcing a plan to eliminate the notwithstanding clause in the middle of a debate would save Martin, AND the guys that thought an incoherent Stephane Dion could explain a plan to shift taxation toward carbon intensive industries.

    • Worse economic crisis since the Depression? You'll buy anything they say, won't you.

      Try the seventies oil embargo and ensuing recessions; inflation in the US at more than 13 percent in 1979; interest rates in the US at 21% in 1980 – and likewise in Canada, not to mention unemployment rates above ten percent. Get your calculator out and apply these conditions to the federal debt and budget of today, just for fun.

  11. Worse economic crisis since the Depression? You'll buy anything they say, won't you.

    Try the seventies oil embargo and ensuing recessions; inflation in the US at more than 13 percent in 1979; interest rates in the US at 21% in 1980 – and likewise in Canada, not to mention unemployment rates above ten percent. Get your calculator out and apply these conditions to the federal debt and budget of today, just for fun.

  12. It's simple.

    One of the reporters should ask Harper, in the piddly few questions he allows them, to ask him directly:

    "With a majority, will you allow an expansion of private health care for necessary medical services?"

    You could even add "in contravention of the Canada Health Act" to the end of that, but I suspect he would use that to wiggle away from giving a real answer. Better to keep the question extremely focused.

    The Liberals and NDP have stated their position on that. All we have from Harper are his past quotations opposing the current public healthcare system and wanting an overhaul of the Canada Health Act.

  13. It's simple.

    One of the reporters should ask Harper, in the piddly few questions he allows them, to ask him directly:

    "With a majority, will you allow an expansion of private health care for necessary medical services?"

    You could even add "in contravention of the Canada Health Act" to the end of that, but I suspect he would use that to wiggle away from giving a real answer. Better to keep the question extremely focused.

    The Liberals and NDP have stated their position on that. All we have from Harper are his past quotations opposing the current public healthcare system and wanting an overhaul of the Canada Health Act.

    • The major problem with Harper, is that he will never give a real answer to a question like that. That alone should concern more people than it appears to.

      • You two have been chewing too much lefty double bubble.

  14. Harper is following party politics on Health Care; he has no thoughts at all! It has been the Conservative dream since their beginnings to put health care totally within the private sector. Government has no place in health care has been their mantra and motto for years.

    Now, with Conservatives in place across western Canada and in the North they are going to privatize our health care; no doubt about it.

    It appears Iggy is on side with this, he has opted for a first ministers meeting within 60 days knowing full well if these Conservatives in the west are defeated there will be no changes to the health care.

    If we go to the US system if will costs families 150 to 300 a month for premiums. For this, you get an insurance company who pays what they want, physicians who charge what they want and you pick up the difference, Not employed? Then you have no health care nor does your family.

    Two links for you which are heavily used: PNWER http://albertathedetails.blogspot.com/2011/03/con

    and <a href="http:// :http://albertathedetails.blogspot.com/2011/04/canada-health-care-what-are-legitimate.html“ target=”_blank”> <a href="http://:http://albertathedetails.blogspot.com/2011/04/canada-health-care-what-are-legitimate.html” target=”_blank”>:http://albertathedetails.blogspot.com/2011/04/canada-health-care-what-are-legitimate.html

    Harper does not deserve to have even a minority, let alone a dreamed majority. They should be turfed out!

  15. Harper is following party politics on Health Care; he has no thoughts at all! It has been the Conservative dream since their beginnings to put health care totally within the private sector. Government has no place in health care has been their mantra and motto for years.

    Now, with Conservatives in place across western Canada and in the North they are going to privatize our health care; no doubt about it.

    It appears Iggy is on side with this, he has opted for a first ministers meeting within 60 days knowing full well if these Conservatives in the west are defeated there will be no changes to the health care.

    If we go to the US system if will costs families 150 to 300 a month for premiums. For this, you get an insurance company who pays what they want, physicians who charge what they want and you pick up the difference, Not employed? Then you have no health care nor does your family.

    Two links for you which are heavily used: PNWER http://albertathedetails.blogspot.com/2011/03/con

    and :http://albertathedetails.blogspot.com/2011/04/canada-health-care-what-are-legitimate.html

    Harper does not deserve to have even a minority, let alone a dreamed majority. They should be turfed out!

    • It's nice to know that the Liberal War Room is represented here. Thanks for comin' out.

  16. here's part of a brief Q & A

    You quoted two questions, John, so by "part of" I will assume you mean "half of". :)

  17. here%E2%80%99s part of a brief Q & A

    You quoted two questions, John, so by "part of" I will assume you mean "half of". :)

  18. here's part of a brief Q & A

    You quoted two questions, John, so by "part of" I will assume you mean "half of". :)

  19. The major problem with Harper, is that he will never give a real answer to a question like that. That alone should concern more people than it appears to.

  20. Huh?

    Um, so there's a right ball and a left ball and Harper has both? And Ignatieff has two balls but they're both in the middle.

    Right?

  21. Harper on health care: hard to make it a vote-driving issue

    Despite the desperate efforts of Liberals and their media enablers. Go figure.

  22. Harper on health care: hard to make it a vote-driving issue

    Despite the desperate efforts of Liberals and their media enablers. Go figure.

  23. Two-tier system!!

    It's really too bad Harper basically morphed into a complete jerk once he got into power because he had the right ideas on the campaign trail.

  24. Two-tier system!!

    It's really too bad Harper basically morphed into a complete jerk once he got into power because he had the right ideas on the campaign trail.

    • We already have a multi tier system. Head of the line is Workers compensation, the RCMP, Police in General and then Politicians who at times seem to jump even this short cue.

      Don't be waylayed by tiers and systems. Stick to A universal, one payer system. Once you get US health care companies in Canada you cannot get them out! This is found to be the experience in Australia.

  25. Health Care has been in every election,Nothing has ever happened so lets face it 10 provinces are part of any health agreement and it has never done anything yet.

  26. Health Care has been in every election,Nothing has ever happened so lets face it 10 provinces are part of any health agreement and it has never done anything yet.

    • We have never been faced with an outright choice of a privatized health care provider system! Past debates have been on too little or not enough but, no system change. Now, the Conservatives in western Canada and the North are in a position to push the Conservative agenda of years though immediately.

      Harper said on TV " I will change Canada so even the Liberals will not recognize it" and by default neither will the rest of us.
      Read the links provided and certainly you will have other things to think about.

  27. We already have a multi tier system. Head of the line is Workers compensation, the RCMP, Police in General and then Politicians who at times seem to jump even this short cue.

    Don't be waylayed by tiers and systems. Stick to A universal, one payer system. Once you get US health care companies in Canada you cannot get them out! This is found to be the experience in Australia.

  28. We have never been faced with an outright choice of a privatized health care provider system! Past debates have been on too little or not enough but, no system change. Now, the Conservatives in western Canada and the North are in a position to push the Conservative agenda of years though immediately.

    Harper said on TV " I will change Canada so even the Liberals will not recognize it" and by default neither will the rest of us.
    Read the links provided and certainly you will have other things to think about.

  29. Canadians don't want better health care, they just want to make sure their neighbours don't get better health care than they do. And they're willing to pay lots and lots more tax to keep it that way.

  30. Just bear in mind "private health care" has many meanings. You can have a fully publically funded/insured system that is DELIVERED by the private sector. 30% of all healthcare in Canada is already privately delivered by corporations – your Dr. Inc., physiotherapists, massage, optometrists, specialists etc… Private healthcare is already here and you already use it. The government can pay for it and make the companies accountable. WorkSafe already does this as does ICBC etc. This can work while still preserving Universal Healthcare.