I cherish medicare.
As a teenager, I suffered a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction while on vacation in another province. My parents rushed me to the nearest hospital emergency room where I was rapidly treated and kept overnight for observation before resuming my holiday. Three years ago, my mother underwent complex cancer surgery that required significant rehabilitation. Today, her favourite activity is spending time with her grandson. No payment for these services was ever required. Nearly all Canadians have similar stories.
Our bond with medicare must be vigorously protected from the American dark money lobbies seeking to break it for their private gain.
Recent opinion polling reveals medicare is overwhelmingly seen as central to the Canadian identity, 79 per cent (Ekos), and 78 per cent (Environics Institute), respectively. Support has remained consistent across demographic lines for over 25 years.
In our democracy there is room for alternate viewpoints and robust debate, including on medicare. Less valid is the sort of disinformation and divisive rhetoric that often accompanies the discourse in the United States.
Some Canadians will no doubt cheer on health-care privatization. The Weston family-owned Loblaw, for example, acquired a stake in Maple, a virtual-care company in 2020 that is now charging patients to connect with a doctor.
Yet broad acceptance of this and other substantive changes to medicare would require a dramatic weakening of Canadians’ confidence in the health system, a muddying of the facts that have long supported a publicly delivered, universal program, and a corruption of the shared values that form the basis of our country’s commitment to collective care and well-being.
Such an audacious undertaking is the unique domain of American dark money organizations, the well-documented networks of billionaire idealogues pursuing an extreme libertarian agenda while repudiating norms of advocacy and evading transparency.
Foremost among them is the Atlas Network, an organization that works to secure “the rights to economic and personal freedom” in the U.S. and internationally. The group partners with 11 Canadian think tanks, including the Canadian Constitution Foundation, the Fraser Institute, and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute to promote discredited views on vaccine passports, climate change, taxation, public education, and Indigenous rights.
These issues may align with the causes of their American patrons, but the crown jewel remains Canadian health care, a $300-billion annual public expenditure. Those seeking to profit off public illness have incentive.
There is another motive. Break Canadians’ bond with medicare and any number of social programs, safety regulations and safeguards on our democracy may be in play.
Canadians should therefore be alarmed by a new Atlas Network-supported organization — SecondStreet.org.
The Atlas Network deemed SecondStreet.org one of its 2022 “Smart Bets,” promising to “contribute significantly to SecondStreet.org’s budget” for a project called “Health Care Choice.” A larger grant is pledged to “move the needle one province at a time toward giving patients the right to access the care of their choosing — public or private.”
There is no mention of the smart bet funding anywhere on SecondStreet.org’s website or in its annual reports.
Over the past year, SecondStreet.org produced several in-house reports arguing, in essence, for two-tier health care; were a regular presence in the media via interviews and op-eds; and maintained a rather ghoulish online tracker, “Died on the Waiting List.”
This month, the Ontario government moved to expand for-profit private surgery clinics — a SecondStreet.org recommendation. The Atlas Network should be pleased with its return on investment. We should not.
SecondStreet.org may be running a splashy influencer campaign but it is offering the wrong policy prescriptions. Study after study after study demonstrates Canadian medicare delivers better patient outcomes and more efficient, affordable care than private models. That is not to say our system cannot be improved, but the voices with the most to gain should not have a larger platform than those with the most to lose.
Canadians can make their voices heard by:
- rallying now in support of medicare and urging provincial and federal governments to negotiate an accord that protects the public model;
- calling for improved transparency rules to expose foreign dark money in our policy debates;
- encouraging new progressive think tanks to counter Canadian partners of the Atlas Network.
Medicare, and the principles of decency, equality, and reason behind it, are still worth fighting for.