Paul Thistlethwaite: The Canadian politics of ignoring sick people

Lawmakers in Ottawa know that the “sick man of Europe” had a tough upbringing — he was born in 1860 and died in 1909 — but they continue to bury his legacy. Our state child welfare and family and community services are failing, low birth rates make our birth rates decline, and one-quarter of Canadians feel like they’re living in an “unequal society.” In short, many Canadians have become excluded from a progressive, equitable, and healthy society that we, as Canadians, cherish.

Many of our health-care leaders have learned the hard way what we can and cannot do, and they are pushing for change. They have studied our European peer countries and come to the same conclusion: Canadians need more coverage for home care, for mental health and addiction services, and for services for Indigenous communities.

Unfortunately, under the banner of saving taxpayers money, the Harper government has shut down these debate circles and ignored such recommendations. Canadians were told that there’s no money, but so far, three large, costly healthcare funds have not come to fruition as promised, and many across Canada are telling government that they need more money for home care, mental health, Indigenous services, and a variety of other forms of outreach and support.

As the policy agenda gets deep into the policy weeds, it’s time for our political leaders to stand up and take some risks. If we don’t meet this challenge, we will be watching our social democracy and public health unspool, leaving us with a broken system where billions of dollars are tied up in loopholes and privatized monopolies rather than endearing our healthcare system to our citizens. The “sick man of Europe” is not happy.

Some “sick man” is very happy. Despite all our immigration, trade, immigration, trade, immigration, and immigration rules and regulations, many immigrants are finding Canada has very good health-care services that prevent infections and make other health gains.

Many Canadians are reporting dire financial needs that result from high health-care costs and high health-care waiting times. A Brookings Institution report shows that in 2013, a full quarter of all Canadian households underpaid their tax bill, despite making a total income above $65,000. This means that the remainder in the household is working harder to support the sick and the poor while paying their fair share of taxes.

Even Canadians with good jobs are still feeling the impacts of increased costs of the Canadian healthcare system. According to a June 2015 Angus Reid poll, more than 60 percent of Canadians believe their health care costs are too high. Most respondents reported that Canada’s system, when combined with problems with income inequality, homelessness, violence, and food insecurity, made it difficult to maintain a “livable standard of living.”

It’s not enough to allow the status quo to continue. It’s time for this generation’s leaders to demonstrate leadership, not by ignoring issues, but by taking on their issues. Healthy, connected and inclusive societies are necessary for our collective future. Let’s hope that our Canadian healthcare leaders and political leaders are listening, too.

Follow Paul Thistlethwaite on Twitter: @PaulGHrickthwaite and visit his blog or email [email protected]

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