Tuesday, September 8, 2009

American Healthcare Debate Hits Close to Home for Many Canadians

As the healthcare debate rages on in the United States and Canada’s healthcare system continues to be dragged into the fray, one can see that our system has become a major player in propaganda for both sides of the argument. It is remarkable how, depending on the spin that is put on it, Canadian Medicare can be a utopian model or a socialist nightmare led by penny-pinching bureaucrats that are rationing care and sending Canadians to their graves by the thousands. Neither is true of course.

Canada’s system has many flaws and Canadians are well aware of those issues. Despite that, the majority of Canadians would not trade our system for an American one. Indeed, Universal Healthcare is a defining feature of the cultural landscape in Canada and it would mean certain political death if a political party or politician were to suggest abandoning it. In fact, in 2008 a national survey asked participants to name the things that they felt defined Canada and Universal Healthcare ranked in the top ten. That demonstrates how important Universal Healthcare is to us. The fact that Canadians recently voted Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare, the Greatest Canadian only illustrates this further.

Americans, bombarded by the fear tactics of those who oppose healthcare reform, might want to look at the fact that, although Canadians love to participate in our proud, long-standing tradition of whining about our healthcare system, we have a deep sense of pride in the fact that we provide healthcare to everyone, regardless of socio-economic status. Sure, people are irritated by the high taxes our public system requires but in the end most Canadians wouldn’t trade it for a private system. In fact, a recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll shows that 82% of Canadians believe our system is better than the American one. That’s a pretty high percentage and it should be an indication to those Americans that fear a single-payer system (which isn’t even actually being proposed) that their fears may be misplaced.

So, if Canadians are peevish because our system is getting dragged through the mud for the purposes of scaring the dickens out of the American public, understand that, for Canadians, this is an attack on a source of national pride and, while we can criticize it until we’re blue in the face, it’s just not okay for our neighbours to the south to do the same.

Americans can learn a lot from the Canadian system but this is not to say that a Canadian-style system should be adopted in the States. It just means that there are lessons to be learned and the US is currently in the enviable position of being able to cherry-pick which aspects of other systems they would like to model their own, unique system on. My only fear is that fear itself will hold a great nation back from becoming even greater by preventing them from making badly needed changes to a system that does not work for a large portion of their population.

By the same token, Canadians would do well to take a hard look at our own system, since it has been thrust involuntarily into the spotlight. While it is important to defend our system’s merits we can also take the time to analyze its faults and, in doing so, hopefully we will find creative solutions to the problems we face.

I’d like to end with this quote from a speech Tommy Douglas gave in 1983:

“ I remind you in this movement, we pledged ourselves 50 years ago…we would provide healthcare for every man, woman and child, irrespective of their colour, their race or their financial status and by God we are going to do it!”

So long as this remains our goal and we move forward and make changes with this sentiment in mind Medicare will continue to be a source of national pride and maintain its position in our hearts as a defining characteristic of our country.

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