CMA’s Demand A Plan a winner in 2015 Canadian election

Canadian Medical Association (CMA) President Dr. Cindy Forbes. Photo courtesy CMA.
Canadian Medical Association (CMA) President Dr. Cindy Forbes. Photo courtesy CMA.

I belong to Ottawa’s Parliamentary Press Gallery and had access to a rich variety of information circulated during the 2015 federal election campaign. The most impressive advocacy that I saw was the Demand A Plan campaign, which was launched by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and several supporting groups. Now, that campaign has been shortlisted for an international prize in the annual Reed Awards, which will take place in Charleston, S.C. on Feb. 18.

Multi-media campaign

The Demand A Plan alliance last year waged a multi-media advocacy campaign, calling for a national seniors’ strategy. According to the CMA, more than 30,000 Canadians used the campaign’s website and sent roughly 25,000 letters to candidates across the country, asking where they stand on seniors’ issues. The campaign website also provided a “promise tracker” tool, which allowed visitors to compare the policy statements of different political parties.

Medicare must adapt

Although it was created more than 50 years ago, when the average age was much younger, medicare has not adapted well to serve the growing number of elderly Canadians. By 2036, people aged 65 and over will make up a quarter of the population and account for 62 percent of health costs.

The alliance says that it supports universal public health care but fears the system won’t survive unless seniors’ care is redesigned. For example, the group says that it takes nine months to get a hip replacement in Canada because hospital beds are crowded with seniors — many of them suffering from dementia and other chronic diseases without long-term care and home-care support. Interestingly, the group says that caring for someone in a hospital costs $1,000 a day, compared to $130 a day in long-term care and $55 a day at home.

Dr. Cindy Forbes: “momentum”

“We cannot lose momentum as we continue to push for federal leadership in the development of a national seniors’ strategy,” CMA President Dr. Cindy Forbes says, adding that the alliance has documented the Liberal Party’s election promises as they relate to seniors’ care (Those, too, are published on the website). They include negotiating a new Health Accord with the provinces and territories; investing $3 billion over the next four years to deliver more and better home-care services for all Canadians, including access to high-quality, in-home caregivers, financial support for family care, and, when necessary, palliative care; and investing in affordable housing and seniors’ facilities.

This spring, the CMA and its alliance partners want the Trudeau government to convene a meeting of provincial and territorial premiers to discuss seniors’ care. They also want to see a national seniors’ strategy in place by 2019.

No mention of pharmacare

Unfortunately, there is no mention in either in Demand A Plan or in the Liberal government’s promises, of a national pharmacare plan. Pharmaceuticals are the fastest growing component in health care costs and the need for such a plan is urgent.

They’ve come a long way

Still, there is no doubt that Canada’s doctors have come a long way since the CMA strenuously opposed the introduction of Medicare in Saskatchewan in 1962, and just as adamantly opposed recommendations for a similar national program by the Hall Commission in 1964.

A version of this piece ran in the United Church Observer on February 18, 2016.

Cindy Blackstock’s victory for First Nations children

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

Since the June release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s preliminary report on the history of Indian residential schools, there has been heightened talk about how non-Indigenous Canadians can become better neighbours to those who are indigenous. Now, a ruling issued by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) on January 26 provides yet another illustration of the shared road ahead. Continue reading Cindy Blackstock’s victory for First Nations children

Great Canadian Speeches, Nellie McClung and the vote for women

Nellie McClung
Nellie McClung

Women received the vote in Manitoba 100 years ago, in January 1916, and it did not happen by accident.  Nellie McClung and others were forced to take an overtly political route to get there. McClung was well known in western Canada as a writer and an activist for women’s rights. On 27 January 1914, Manitoba Premier Rodmond Roblin and members of the legislature met with McClung and a delegation of several hundred from the Political Equality League, which was seeking the vote for women. Roblin treated them condescendingly, and flatly refused them, saying, “I believe woman suffrage would break up the home and send women to mix up in political meetings.” The following evening McClung and others turned that meeting into a piece of guerrilla theatre. McClung played the premier’s role and mimicked his inflated rhetoric in a mock speech which she made to a fictitious group of men appearing before women legislators asking for the right to vote. McClung’s oration is one of those contained in my book Great Canadian Speeches.   Continue reading Great Canadian Speeches, Nellie McClung and the vote for women

Trudeau’s honeymoon, he over-promised and under-delivers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo by Art Babych
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo by Art Babych

Our usually hard bitten media pundits are predicting that Justin Trudeau’s political honeymoon may continue for many months, but I believe that it’s time to begin holding the Liberals to account.

Admittedly there has been a significant shift in tone for which Trudeau deserves credit. He is far more open than was Stephen Harper and he has, for example, met with the premiers, Indigenous leaders, the labour movement and many others who mostly received a back of the hand from the Harper government. Continue reading Trudeau’s honeymoon, he over-promised and under-delivers

A gift they gave me long ago

Lessons for life: A nun teaches me to type on an old Underwood
Lessons for life on an old Underwood

This is not a Christmas story exactly but it is about a gift that was given to me by three people and so it fits with the mood and the season of giving. The story involves a big black Underwood typewriter and the memory of that gleaming old monster was triggered this week when I saw an antique in a used bookstore in my city neighbourhood. Continue reading A gift they gave me long ago

UN climate conference in Paris, no magic fix but signs of hope

25,000 participated in the 100% Possible March in Ottawa on Nov. 29, 2015.
Participants in the 100% Possible March in Ottawa on Nov. 29.

The UN Climate Conference in Paris (COP21) will not produce a magic fix to curb the emission of greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels.  Given the number of countries and competing interests involved, that is not a surprise. The world’s political leaders have been negotiating since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero in 1992 yet carbon emissions have continued to rise.

Cooperating fully

On the other hand, the Paris talks have shown an improvement over previous negotiating sessions. The question is whether human societies can find ways to cooperate fully and quickly enough to stave off a disaster which is already being felt in droughts, wild fires, increasingly violent storms, melting ice caps and rising sea levels.  The world’s climate scientists have been telling us with growing urgency that we are on track for temperature increases of four or more degrees Celsius by the end of this century, and that would produce catastrophic results.

Leaders accept science

One promising sign is that most political leaders now accept climate science and know they have to act. For example, China was previously determined to grow its economy on the basis of carbon consumption no matter what the environmental costs. However, choking smog caused by emissions and the startling rise of coastal sea levels have sobered the Chinese. In just a few years they have become the world’s leader in a various green energy technologies, including wind and solar.

Barack Obama also understands climate change and wants to do something about it. For years, the Americans were stuck with leaders such as George W. Bush who showed little or no interest in the issue. For the most part, Republicans said either that climate change did not exist, or if it did that it was not caused by human activity. The subsidies to big coal and big oil continued unabated in the U.S. Unfortunately, the Republicans are now warning that Congress may negate any promises that Obama makes in Paris. The American people must not allow that to happen.

Canada’s record

Canada has been a leader both in pledging to lower greenhouse gas emissions and in breaking those promises. This began with Jean Chretien’s government blithely promising at Kyoto in 1997 that it would reduce emissions but then putting no plan in place to do so. The Liberals were replaced by Stephen Harper who was at first a climate change denier. Later he switched to promising environmental regulations that never materialized.

Canada’s new federal government says that has all changed now. Rhetorically, that is promising but a vigilant citizenry must hold political leaders to their word. Tens of thousands of Canadians did just that by marching on Sunday, November 29 to call for a carbon free future.

Deniers discredited

Another hopeful sign is that the cadre of climate change deniers has been discredited and is shrinking.  Be vigilant, however. The state of New York is investigating Exxon Mobil for allegedly funding groups that deny climate change even as the company’s in house scientists warn executives about the consequences of those changes.

Moral and ethical sphere

A final sign of hope has the debate moving beyond the technical to the moral and ethical sphere. Much of the credit must go to Pope Francis who produced a climate change encyclical called Laudato Si in June 2015 in which he accepts climate science and thus further inhibits the deniers.

The pop says that climate change affects the world’s poor disproportionately and much of the problem rests with the consumerism of the affluent. He says also that changes can and must occur at both personal and political levels.  There is at least a chance that religious faith may influence behaviour in a way that cold, hard facts have failed to do.

A shorter version of this piece appeared as a United Church Observer blog on December 9, 2015.

Welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada, we cannot turn away

Canadians cannot turn away. We must accept Syrian refugees
Syrian refugees disembark in Greece, UNHCR photo

It is heartening to see Canadians rallying to welcome Syrian refugees but before we congratulate ourselves too heartily we should acknowledge that our contributions are modest and the need is great.  In the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals rashly promised to provide for 25,000 government-sponsored refugees by December 31, 2015. Immigration Minister John McCallum has now announced that this deadline cannot be met and it has been moved back. That is sensible but it also represents a sleight of hand.  Continue reading Welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada, we cannot turn away

Ernie Regehr, peace cannot be won on the battlefield

Peace researcher Ernie Regher has a new book, Disarming Conflict
Peace researcher Ernie Regher has a new book, Disarming Conflict

Ernie Regehr has been studying war and promoting peace since the 1960s. A tireless researcher, he has just produced another book called Disarming Conflict: Why Peace Cannot Be Won on the Battlefield. It would make good reading for new ministers as Canada’s recently-elected government contemplates changes to our defence and foreign policy. Continue reading Ernie Regehr, peace cannot be won on the battlefield