Those valence issues, deceivingly partisan.

Universal health care is oft cited as a point of national pride for Canadians. Which is funny given that health care is in the hands of the provinces, and, despite the ‘universalism’ we proclaim to love, each province has slightly different ways of delivering.

Alberta has long-lived with the whispered threat of privatizing the health care sector, not completely but to a degree. Realistically, this happens to a certain extent. We have privatized clinics and private insurance providers; private testing labs, and private doctors. The public health care system has been continually starved for funding – true and proper funding – and has been treated like a pawn for political parties to use to accent their marginal differences by constructing the fundamental right to health into a political issue.

Education, another provincial issue, is starting to see itself in a very similar-looking boat. Both of these sectors form the basis on which a healthy, fair and effective society is built. Public health care has become a cornerstone for Canadians, and Albertans overwhelmingly proclaim their allegiance to the public model for both health care and education.

So how do Albertans continue to support politicians that starve these two sectors, which together are responsible for the physical, social, and mental well-being of each and every person? How is it that intelligent citizens rave about the funding the health sector is only getting now, after years of running forced deficits?

Ask anyone who works in health care or primary education why they do what they do and they won’t often tell you that they do it for the money. The money is likely good enough to live comfortably, but the satisfaction doesn’t come from rolling in Bordens. It comes from knowing that they are a contributing factor in the continued betterment of society.

Toronto Dominion’s Economics report recently came out with the estimation that, “left unchecked, health spending is set to rise to 80 per cent of total program spending in Ontario by 2030, up from its current 46 per cent today.” I hope that the Ontario government, and any other provincial government is thinking twice before accepting this statement without broader consultation.

Health care, like education, is not a numbers game solely. It is intrinsically comprehensive and holistic. Health care is tied to socio-economic factors, to permanent illness rates, to lifestyle choices and to education levels. The two would seem inextricable, as education too is tied to socio-economic factors, permanent illness, lifestyle choices and of course health care availability.

This is an obvious statement, and when I read TD economist Drummond say that “you just can’t get your spending down if quality is diminishing over time, and you’ve got a problem with sustainability”.

I wonder why that isn’t the headline.

Spending is an issue, balanced budgets and prioritization is key, but so is quality and a three-sixty approach to ensure health care isn’t based on how many citizens accessed an emergency room but also about sick days taken off, work and home environments, and the climate we are continually polluting. There are countless factors, which is what makes the education and health care debates sticky. One ideology reigning over another leads to convoluted and unconstructive discussions, not solid and sustainable solutions.

Susan McDaniel, Chair of the Prentice Institute at the University of Lethbridge for Global Population and Economy hit the nail on the head when she responded to another recent study about the increased number seniors and their needs for health care.

“There’s no need to panic, some of the mistake is that people, including policy people, see people who are 85 needing health care now, therefore thinking that people 20 years from now will need the same thing. But people who are 85 now were born in a time when smoking was chic, they sometimes went through the Depression – they’re an entirely different person.”

The recommendations of the TD Economic study were to charge the growing rate of seniors accessing health care who are in financially stable positions for their prescriptions, and to implement a health care tax within income tax. Fine, except that the economists might have not considered that many well off seniors in Ontario likely pay for brand name prescriptions from the US because of  price considerations and timeliness, combined with consumer attitudes that many states and American prescription companies hold (and promote) when it comes to health care.

Now, a tax is not a bad idea. In fact, a tax might ease the burden of those seniors who can afford it least, and those families who have trouble making ends meet as it is. However, a tax is still payment for health care that is meant to be accessible and affordable for all. That should not be forgotten.

Good, safe, and accessible health care is often dangled in front of our eyes, and sometimes it is given to us, but there is always a period of waiting and longing for a time when nurses are not over worked and budget cuts do not affect the quality of health care.

The parallels between health care and education are many, and as pointed out in a recent Calgary Herald article, the threats to both all too often come from the body designed to protect them. It is necessary to remember, as individuals and as a society that we are better for the education we receive, especially good quality primary education and the availability of health care for all Albertans and Canadians.

It is something that needs to be both remembered and vocalized.


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