Ignatieff, full of questions on health care

by Paul Wells

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff sends an open letter to Stephen Harper, demanding to know his position on a bunch of health care-related issues. For some reason Wells’s Fourth Rule comes to mind. The text of Ignatieff’s letter:

For Immediate Release
April 20, 2011

Open Letter from Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to Stephen Harper on the future of health care
Dear Mr. Harper:

No issue in this election is of greater concern to Canadians than the future of our cherished health care system.

In your five years in office, you have done nothing to secure the future of the system or to prepare for the 2014 expiration of the current Health Accord, which was negotiated by Prime Minister Paul Martin and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh in 2004.

Some have ascribed this lack of concern and action to the general improvised approach of your regime.  However, I am concerned that your inaction is rooted in a deep hostility towards the fundamental principles of the health care system, which is clear in many of your statements through the years:

  • Harper also believes that our health care will continue to deteriorate unless Ottawa overhauls the Canada Health Act to allow the provinces to experiment with market reforms and private health care delivery options.” (your 2002 Canadian Alliance Leadership campaign website)
  • Each province should raise its own revenue for health care — i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points.” (Firewall letter, January 2001)
  • Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and proud of it.” (Speech to the Council for National Policy, June 1997)
  • You also described Canada as a “second-tier socialistic country.” (National Post, December 2000)
  • In a 1999 review of the book “Code Blue,” you wrote: “[David] Gratzer proposes a workable solution for the biggest public policy problem of the coming generation – our government-controlled health care monopoly. Our health care system isn’t just sick; it’s killing people. Canada needs Gratzer’s new prescription.”

The “prescription” referred to in Mr. Gratzer’s  book “Code Blue” is to move from a universal system of publicly funded health care to a U.S.-style system of private medical savings accounts and private insurance.

Unlike you, I do not believe that public health care makes Canada “a second-tier socialistic country.”  Furthermore, I believe that our system is not “killing people,” as you have said, but is, in fact saving thousands of lives every year.

This is a serious matter.  Your clear hostility towards our public health care system is important not just in terms of your inaction over the last five years, but even more so in terms of your plans for the future.

Quite simply, the $11 billion of unexplained cuts in your platform and your proposed spending spree on F-35 fighter jets, U.S.-style mega-prisons, corporate tax cuts, and income-splitting for the wealthy will ensure that there are not sufficient resources to sustain our health care system moving forward.

We believe this is a deliberate strategy on your part – to starve a system you have never believed in and never hesitated to attack and belittle.

There are, therefore, three questions you need to answer for Canadians:

  1. What exactly are the “private health care delivery options” you envision that are not permitted under the current Canada Health Act, and which therefore require its “overhaul?”
  2. If the federal government replaced the Canada Health and Social Transfer with transferred tax points that vary in value from one province to another, as you advocated, how would Canadians be assured of a similar level of health care services, no matter where they live?
  3. Will you join me and the Canadian Medical Association in unreservedly rejecting the recent report of the Fraser Institute which called for the federal government to stop enforcing the Canada Health Act?

I know you do not like answering questions.  But Canadians have a right to answers on this fundamental issue.

I believe that a Canadian prime minister should champion public health care, not deride it.  And that is exactly the approach I would take if I have the honour of serving in that role.  To that end, we have proposed a broad range of substantive reforms and improvements not just to health care, but to the overall health of Canadians.  I urge you to look them up at www.liberal.ca/healthcare.

In the meantime, I – and all Canadians – look forward to your answers to these questions.

Michael Ignatieff
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada




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Ignatieff, full of questions on health care

  1. Wells' fourth rule has applied to Ignatieff since the start of the English-language debates.

  2. Wells' fourth rule has applied to Ignatieff since the start of the English-language debates.

  3. general improvised approach
    I urge you to look them up at <a href="http://www.liberal.ca/healthcare” target=”_blank”>www.liberal.ca/healthcare.

    Good one, Iggy, and good luck on Harper getting back to you. Now, back to regularly scheduled coalition programming already in progress.

  4. general improvised approach
    I urge you to look them up at http://www.liberal.ca/healthcare.

    Good one, Iggy, and good luck on Harper getting back to you. Now, back to regularly scheduled coalition programming already in progress.

  5. That's pretty lame 'letter'.

    I am sure it is just coincidence that Iggy forgot to mention that Harper has promised to incease Fed spending on health care by 6% annually, which sounds suspiciously like Lib plan from a few years ago.

    And Harper might deride health care system, rightfully so, but at least he stuck around to try and fix it. Iggy took off for thirty years and did nothing to improve system he is supposedly worried about and other Lib leaders use private health care so they don't have to use same health care system they inflict on hoi polloi.

    When Iggy starts denouncing Chretien and his use of private jets to get health care in America or Martin at Medisys in Montreal, I will believe Iggy is sincere in protecting health care system.

  6. That's pretty lame 'letter'.

    I am sure it is just coincidence that Iggy forgot to mention that Harper has promised to incease Fed spending on health care by 6% annually, which sounds suspiciously like Lib plan from a few years ago.

    And Harper might deride health care system, rightfully so, but at least he stuck around to try and fix it. Iggy took off for thirty years and did nothing to improve system he is supposedly worried about and other Lib leaders use private health care so they don't have to use same health care system they inflict on hoi polloi.

    When Iggy starts denouncing Chretien and his use of private jets to get health care in America or Martin at Medisys in Montreal, I will believe Iggy is sincere in protecting health care system.

    • "That's pretty lame 'letter'. "

      You're debating the definition of the word letter? Honest to God, man, that may be the weakest start to an argument I've ever seen, and I just finished watching Ezra talk about ethical oil…

    • Promised, right?

      What does a promise mean to a politician, exactly? Mr. Harper and his party were pretty darn definitive that they would NEVER tax income trusts, weren't they?

      Is it not, then, worth challenging their commitment to health care and suggesting that perhaps that promise is not worth a darn thing.

  7. But Ignatieff has the "coalition" in his back pocket, which is the Kobayashi Maru to Well's rules of politics. Yeah, he's running for second place, but second place is first place with the coalition.

  8. You can almost smell the palpable fear emanating from the backroom rosedale boys right now : maybe Iggy should have quoted Chretien and martuin to help withis pleasant littel dibersion from the fact that as of ALL the lates polls the likelihood of the Lib's even gainin a seat is diminsighing day by day and the who knows the maybe just maybe now the NDP could become the official opposition …. what a hoot it would really be something to see jack in Stornaway -

  9. You can almost smell the palpable fear emanating from the backroom rosedale boys right now : maybe Iggy should have quoted Chretien and martuin to help withis pleasant littel dibersion from the fact that as of ALL the lates polls the likelihood of the Lib's even gainin a seat is diminsighing day by day and the who knows the maybe just maybe now the NDP could become the official opposition …. what a hoot it would really be something to see jack in Stornaway -

    • Is the illiteracy deliberate?

  10. "That's pretty lame 'letter'. "

    You're debating the definition of the word letter? Honest to God, man, that may be the weakest start to an argument I've ever seen, and I just finished watching Ezra talk about ethical oil…

  11. Well healthcare is now the front and centre issue in the campaign….the issue most sacred to Canadians….and the Liberals have lots of ammo to work with.

    Even the NDP will agree with the Libs on this one.

  12. Well healthcare is now the front and centre issue in the campaign….the issue most sacred to Canadians….and the Liberals have lots of ammo to work with.

    Even the NDP will agree with the Libs on this one.

    • and the Liberals have lots of ammo to work with.

      Lots of rhetorical ammo, at least. Lots of BS debating tricks. In terms of real ammo—which would probably involve things like ideas, plans, proposals—the Liberals come up woefully short, which is not at all surprising because they basically ignored health care for two years until they revisited the issue just now out of sheer desperation.

      • Well normally in this country real bullets don't come into it…although sooner or later someone may cross that line.

        I appreciate your attempt to write Con election brochures….but lying about it won't help your party.

        Harper and the subtle erosion of medicare
        http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/artic

        • Yes, if the CPC is elected, we're all going to die horrible, agonizing deaths.

          I think I saw that on a TV commercial, so it must be true.

          • Well, you may end up wishing for something that minor.

  13. It's funny how Iggy seems to leave out the part about Cretin and Martin crippling health care with cuts to transfer payments to the provinces…oh right, how could he remember??? He was too busy being an 'American Democrat' at the time, plotting the invasion of Iraq….

  14. The title to this blog entry is interesting. I’ve read elsewhere that there were next-to-zero questions from Ignatieff to Harper about health care, during the past two+ years that MI has been Liberal leader.

    Suddenly, Ignatieff has questions.

    It’s fine for MI to question Harper on health care, but when MI has shown no interest in the subject for the past two+ years, and suddenly becomes very fond of questioning Harper on this subject with less than 2 weeks before E-day, it comes across as another faux-outrage, fabricated-scandal moment.

  15. Yep – the Liberals have successfully changed the channel, and reframe the election, moving it onto ground they're very comfortable on.

  16. The title to this blog entry is interesting. I’ve read elsewhere that there were next-to-zero questions from Ignatieff to Harper about health care, during the past two+ years that MI has been Liberal leader.

    Suddenly, Ignatieff has questions.

    It’s fine for MI to question Harper on health care, but when MI has shown no interest in the subject for the past two+ years, and suddenly becomes very fond of questioning Harper on this subject with less than 2 weeks before E-day, it comes across as another faux-outrage, fabricated-scandal moment.

      • It's hard to believe that the Liberals didn't ask a single question about health care in 2011. Has any Opposition Leader in memory paid less attention to health care than Michael Ignatieff, at least until his last-minute conversion with two weeks to go in a faltering campaign?

        • He was pretty sure Obama had it covered…

  17. Yep – the Liberals have successfully changed the channel, and reframe the election, moving it onto ground they're very comfortable on.

    • they have changed the channel alright – which isn precisley why they mightm end up with less seats than the NDP :)

  18. I hear he's getting a gig on the Comedy Network — but he has to wear a fedora and shades.

  19. Right in lock step with their apologist footsoldiers in the media…

  20. It's hard to imagine any voters being swayed by this silly letter-writing stunt. Wells's fourth rule definitely applies here.

  21. It's hard to imagine any voters being swayed by this silly letter-writing stunt. Wells's fourth rule definitely applies here.

    • You're right, his election campaign time would be better spent playing backgammon. What is he thinking, covering all angles…

  22. This is the work of Donolo.

  23. they have changed the channel alright – which isn precisley why they mightm end up with less seats than the NDP :)

  24. This is the work of Donolo.

    • Or George Soros, don't forget.

    • Or Leslie Church. It was probably a team effort.

      • The Liberals overrated Donolo as a result of past "successes" when the right was split.He is now using the same losing playbook and insulting our intelligence.At least he is doing our Country a huge favour…

        • I agree with you to the extent that these health care ads are straight out of the "Reformers are scary/Stockwell Day is scary" playbook. I think there does come a point where the "boy who cried wolf" phenomenon kicks in, and people just tune out to that message.

  25. I'm all in favour of a two-tier system.

    I really dno't understand why most people aren't…. I think the Liberals could win lots of points by proposing an alternative to our current system. Our system is good but that doesn't mean it can't be improved, and it's quite clear that the way things are going it's got no future. If we didn't have a rapidly aging population it might not be sore dire, but it is.

  26. I'm all in favour of a two-tier system.

    I really dno't understand why most people aren't…. I think the Liberals could win lots of points by proposing an alternative to our current system. Our system is good but that doesn't mean it can't be improved, and it's quite clear that the way things are going it's got no future. If we didn't have a rapidly aging population it might not be sore dire, but it is.

    • Because most people can't afford a two-tier system….and we've been warned against it by countries that have it.

      Plus one thing people prize about our system is that it's universal. Equal.

      Everybody is treated the same way…money doesn't determine your healthcare.

      • Yeah its equal. Thats why my friend with Crohns waits for months and an athlete like Theo Fleury gets treated immediately. I have been fortunate to have a wife who has access to the medical profession and therefore got our daughter diagnosed with Celiac 18 months ahead of what would have been "normal".

        As for me, I have been without a GP for over 4 years since, when he retired he couldn"t give his practice away. Maybe I should consult Mr. Layton and his personal/private health care provider to help me out (Can you say Hypocrite, I knew that you could) regarding "Equality"

        • Everybody always claims to know of an exception….but the truth is the only thing that will help our system is more doctors.

          • Until our health care culture changes, no number of doctors will fix our system. Canadians have to stand up and demand better for the ever-increasing $$$ they pour into health care.

            As for exceptions, they are the rule. People who know people have special access to our system, and have for decades.

            Once you are denied all access or timely access to medically necessary services, you will find that our relatively high cost mediocre-quality single-payer health care regime regularly and systematically does not live up to its own reputed standards. This won't change until Canadians realize that our system won't be fixed by pouring in more money, but demanding much higher productivity from the sector, or adopting more efficient hybrid systems, like those in most OECD countries.

            For my family of 5, no less than 3 of us have been saved in the last 25 years by going private for inexpensive treatment after being denied (any/competent/timely) treatment in our public system. The fact that nearly $25K of my annual tax bill goes to pay for public health insurance is galling – it's many times more than I paid for healthcare insurance when living in the US or half a dozen European countries, all of which deliver better outcomes to the insured than Canada.

          • Thank you for that plug…although '5' was stretching it.

            Your cheque is in the mail.

            Craig's list

  27. Or George Soros, don't forget.

  28. Or Leslie Church. It was probably a team effort.

  29. It's hard to believe that the Liberals didn't ask a single question about health care in 2011. Has any Opposition Leader in memory paid less attention to health care than Michael Ignatieff, at least until his last-minute conversion with two weeks to go in a faltering campaign?

  30. I also note that this entire election campaign is, in terms of probabilities, likey to end up being a stellar example of Wells' first rule:

    For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome.

    Reason: we are very likely to end up with almost exactly the same result as when we started: another CPC minority.

  31. Hang on. You mean to tell me that someone with a Harvard Ph. D. and previously ranked as a "top public intellectual" signed that letter?

  32. I also note that this entire election campaign is, in terms of probabilities, likey to end up being a stellar example of Wells' first rule:

    For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome.

    Reason: we are very likely to end up with almost exactly the same result as when we started: another CPC minority.

    • I think the odds of a CPC majority are better than 50% at this point.

      • The odds of Harper putting his foot in his mouth to stop that from happening is better than 90% at any point.

        • I guess we'll have to wait and see. The Liberals have been waiting an awfully long time for Harper to "defeat himself".

          • CR, I have to disagree with your statement about the odds of a CPC majority being greater than 50% at this point. Most of the seat projection models don't bear that out (e.g., 308.com, Laurier Institute, etc.).

          • True, but it's still close enough that it could go either way, depending on two dozen swing ridings. 308.com has the CPC at 147 seats. Not hard to get to 155 from there.

  33. Hang on. You mean to tell me that someone with a Harvard Ph. D. and previously ranked as a "top public intellectual" signed that letter?

  34. I think the odds of a CPC majority are better than 50% at this point.

  35. and the Liberals have lots of ammo to work with.

    Lots of rhetorical ammo, at least. Lots of BS debating tricks. In terms of real ammo—which would probably involve things like ideas, plans, proposals—the Liberals come up woefully short, which is not at all surprising because they basically ignored health care for two years until they revisited the issue just now out of sheer desperation.

  36. The odds of Harper putting his foot in his mouth to stop that from happening is better than 90% at any point.

  37. Why is this considered a Liberal issue? The Liberals were willing enough to slash spending on health care when they had strong majorities. They only reinvested in it after Roy Romanow (former NDP premier) reported on the need and the federal NDP started to recover in the polls. Why does anybody accept the Liberals as the champions of Canadian health care?

  38. I guess we'll have to wait and see. The Liberals have been waiting an awfully long time for Harper to "defeat himself".

  39. He was pretty sure Obama had it covered…

  40. Well normally in this country real bullets don't come into it…although sooner or later someone may cross that line.

    I appreciate your attempt to write Con election brochures….but lying about it won't help your party.

    Harper and the subtle erosion of medicare
    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/artic

  41. He's still "messing with" Harper…until he's through messing with him.

    A harshly-worded letter…whew…Harper is lucky Ignatieff didn't put him on probation again.

  42. If there is not going to be an adult conversation about the tsunami approaching us concerning the massive future costs of Health Care, then I wish the politicians would just shut-up about it and put their head back in the sand.

    I cannot think of a more irresponsible action of a desperate Liberal party then to completely ignore the viability of a long term Universal Health Care plan in the hope that a short term, 12 day scare tactic might possibly influence some vulnerable voters to vote Liberal.

  43. Is the illiteracy deliberate?

  44. Yes, if the CPC is elected, we're all going to die horrible, agonizing deaths.

    I think I saw that on a TV commercial, so it must be true.

  45. How long can we sustain a 6% per year increase in funding for health care? It seems to be pretty obvious that any cost that outstrips revenue growth is destined to become a problem. So instead of hiding behind sacred cow issues, let's debate how to deal with runaway costs.

  46. CR, I have to disagree with your statement about the odds of a CPC majority being greater than 50% at this point. Most of the seat projection models don't bear that out (e.g., 308.com, Laurier Institute, etc.).

  47. How long can we sustain a 6% per year increase in funding for health care? It seems to be pretty obvious that any cost that outstrips revenue growth is destined to become a problem. So instead of hiding behind sacred cow issues, let's debate how to deal with runaway costs.

  48. I'm no political scientist, but allow me to gingerly creep out onto this here little limb and suggest that Ignatieff's letter wasn't really meant for Harper:

    We believe this is a deliberate strategy on your part – to starve a system you have never believed in and never hesitated to attack and belittle.

    Better we should starve the country of its future instead?

  49. Dean Wormer would put him on Double Secret Probation, but Ignatieff doesn't have the gonads to do that…

    • Thats because Iggy has the poltical GPA of 0.00. Paraphrasing " arrogant and stupid" is no way to get elected son.

      Of course MI thinks "all is well, all is well". Fotunately this is one who will not say Please Sir may I have another.

      OK enough of the old cultural references

  50. Hope Harper calls him out on this healthcare BS – from the NP

    It was a Liberal prime minister, Paul Martin, who first turned a blind eye to the large-scale growth of for-profit private clinics, particularly in Quebec and British Columbia.

    By the time Canadians voted the Grits out of office in early 2006, there were already more than 50 private, for-profit clinics in Quebec alone, most in the Montreal area, and several in Paul Martin's own riding.

    In fact, the 2006 election was itself precipitated, in part, by the Liberals' unwillingness to enforce the CHA. Despite having pledged $41-billion to the provinces over 10 years in a 2004 deal that was supposed to fix the public health system “for a generation,” by 2005 the NDP were nipping at the minority government's heels over the growth of private medicine. In 2005, Mr. Layton complained that a meeting with Mr. Martin on the issue “was a disappointment. Our specific proposal was rules to stop the growth of privatized health care. But the Prime Minister did not agree action was needed.”

  51. They will sing any song necessarry to find votes.This time , they will only be left singing the blues….

  52. Think about this scenario – a coalition, including the bloc, is the government. There will be an election in Quebec not too far down the road and the PQ will likely win. They will then hold a referendum on separation – and Canada will be defended by a government that includes separatists. THAT is my nightmare.

  53. I found it interesting that the "letter" concedes that the Liberals are opposed to "income-splitting for the wealthy." Did I miss where they have come out against this policy before? These guys are sounding more and more like the NDP with their class warfare rhetoric and opposition to lower taxes.

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