Friday, June 10, 2005

Quebec ban on private health insurance unconstitutional, flood of litigation from other provinces sure to follow

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Quebec’s ban on purchasing private medical insurance violated Quebec’s constitution. “The message from six out of nine judges was that if you are going to ban access to private health care, you can’t allow waiting lists to grow to the point that patient’s lives are in jeopardy,” said Victoria lawyer Robert Janes.

As Janes predicted several years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that making a person suffer on ever lengthening medical wait lists is a breach of their rights to liberty and the security of the person.

This unfortunately is a decision that for now applies only to Quebec. However the Supreme Court’s decision will likely trigger a flood of litigation in provinces like BC and Alberta where the legislation banning private health insurance is identical to that of Quebec.

Essentially the Supreme Court of Canada has faced up to the reality that as our public health care system collapses under the weight of our aging population base, people have lost their health, their freedom and even their lives while being relegated to ever lengthening surgical waiting lists.

It is worth remembering some of those that have died. Nineteen-year-old Mary-Louise Carlos of Saanich died December 21, 2004 of meningitis after being turned away from the ER at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. While 42 year old Baljit Singh Bains died February 13, 2005 after being discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital because they did not have a bed available for him.

For years now WCB claimants have received treatment at private health care facilities, while the wealthy and the desperate have resorted to seeking private health care services abroad. What this decision opens up is the possibility that as Canadians we can purchase supplementary private health insurance so that if injury or illness occurs we can get treated right away at a private health care facility.

Meanwhile Canadians that can’t afford private health insurance will also benefit, as waiting lists for treatment at public facilities will be significantly reduced. Thus all Canadians will ultimately benefit from this decision.

But before that can happen there needs to be a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada that Canada’s ever growing medical waiting lists violates the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and not just the Quebec Constitution.

Once that decision is rendered, Canada will join the rest of the western world in having a mixed private and public health care system. It is a decision that as far as I am concerned cannot come soon enough.
(an edited version of this article was published in the Vancouver daily tabloid 24hrs on Page 5 June 10, 2005)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Stronach defection signals emergence of blue Liberals

Nowadays it takes a lot to shock the Ottawa press gallery, but shocked they were when in mid-May a beaming Prime Minister Paul Martin entered the House of Commons press conference room with high profile Conservative MP, Belinda Stronach in tow. Gasps and disbelieving shouts of “No!” could be heard from various hill reporters before Paul Martin sat down to announce the latest addition to his caucus and cabinet.

If hell hath no fury than a woman scorned, it still pales in comparison to a Tory kicked in the nuts. Keep in mind this is not the first time a Conservative has crossed the floor to the Liberals. Both Scott Brison and Keith Martin had done it before Stronach and both had been awarded with positions in Paul Martin’s cabinet. Like Stronach Brison had been a contender for the Conservative leadership while Keith Martin had once run for the leadership of the Alliance Party.

But that did not stop Conservative politicians, political commentators and even some editorial cartoonists from characterizing Stronach as a prostitute and worse. In fact the furor from the media and opposition got so bad it started to remind me of that Meredith Brooks song “Bitch” where the chorus goes:
I'm a bitch, I'm a lover
I'm a child, I'm a mother
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell, I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way

Concerned Christians Canada Inc. issued a press release on May 17th stating:
“HATE TO SAY WE TOLD YOU SO, BUT WE WILL Belinda Stronach was a Liberal Plant Funded By The Stronach Family! Move To Liberals Was A Calculated And Manipulative Move.”

More importantly their histrionic press release also included a link to their website which had been set up when Stronach had first run for the leadership of the Conservative Party. This site detailed all the similarities between Stronach and Paul Martin. More importantly the site was never taken down after Stronach lost.

In a similar vein was the March 21st column by Ezra Levant in the Calgary Sun, which was entitled “Party poopers” and subtitled “Stronach and McKay need to be taken down a peg.”

In his column Levant went on to state that, “The greatest embarrassment to the [Conservative] convention did not come in the person of a crude critic of gay marriage or a wild-eyed opponent of abortion. Rather, it was the preening Peter MacKay and his trophy girlfriend, Belinda Stronach.”

After reading this material which had come out long before Stronach’s defection I came to the conclusion that Stronach had not so much jumped as had been pushed out of the Conservative Party of Canada. It also explains why having treated her so shabbily when she was on their team, the Conservatives went into apoplectic overdrive when she defected.

But when one also looks at the Liberal side of ledger, you have to keep in mind the manner in which “tax and spend” Liberals like Sheila Copps were pushed out of the party and one begins to understand that a political significant political realignment has been underway for quite some time.

I believe what we are seeing is the emergence of a new bluer shade of Liberal under the leadership of Paul Martin. They are taking up some of the centre right ground that has been abandoned by the Conservatives while at the same time utilizing social issues such as same sex marriage to hold their ground on the centre left. Thus what emerges is Liberal party that still straddles the centre of the political spectrum in Canada but through its social policy occupies the centre left and through its fiscal policy occupies the centre right.

It is a brilliant political strategy in that it leaves both the Conservatives and NDP marginalized with segments of the respective right and left wings of the political spectrum that are unlikely to ever come close to receiving the support of a majority of Canadians.

Of course the Paul Martin’s Achilles heel on all this is the Gomery enquiry. Thanks to Stronach’s defection and the support of Independent MP Chuck Cadman it looks like Martin will be able to stave off an election until early in 2006. But he has promised to go the polls within 30 days after Gomery releases his final report.

Within those 30 days Martin will have to act decisively not only to shed the remnants of the “Mr. Dithers” label The Economist stuck him with, but also to demonstrate that he is serious about cleaning up the corruption that occurred under his predecessor Jean Chretein.

But the Gomery Enquiry has also further increased support for the Bloc Quebecois so unless Martin achieves a significant gain in seats in Ontario and BC; it is likely he will emerge after next year’s election with yet another minority government.

In last months column I predicted that the NDP would win 20 to 30 seats. It looks like (barring any changes due to recounts) that they have won 34. This represents a stunning comeback for the BC NDP and puts them in serious contention for government in the next provincial election.