Tommy’s Dream


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When the Greatest Canadian, Tommy Douglas, envisioned and fought the long, hard fight for universal healthcare, many average Canadian citizens thought we were headed for the hellfire and brimstone of a Communist society. The sacred cow of capitalism and the free market were under attack. Many wondered which bastion of free enterprise would be next on the hit list. Throughout the implementation of our universal system, there were strikes, lawsuits, and other forms of resistance.

What a difference a few decades make. Socialized healthcare has gone from a troublesome child to independent adult, and now it’s entering the golden years under palliative care as we struggle to find a way to keep the system from completely falling apart. Not only has the pendulum truly swung from right to left, but the paradigm of citizen passion has followed, causing even some of the staunchest capitalists to defend this truly Canadian right.

So why do we struggle with non-traditional models that include components of private partnerships? For some, it is simply the taboo of private involvement in a socialized service. For others, the sticking point is the use of tax dollars to work with these private partners. And which tax dollars from which level of government?

These may very well be valid perspectives, but we have to understand them in the context of our current situation. The reality is that new models for health delivery must be found—and to find them, different models must be tried. I suspect not all of our attempts will be successful, but changing a system as complex as healthcare seldom comes without trial and error.

We must all acknowledge this fundamental truth as we consider the proposed MRI clinic at the Niverville Heritage Centre. When a single system devours 50 percent of our tax dollars—as the healthcare system currently does, and its share grows daily—we have no choice other than to abandon it or change it. It’s that simple. To continue without change is to accept its death, be it immediate or delayed.

If you don’t buy into the death analogy, consider that the current system will increasingly devolve until it’s a shell of its former self. Service times and delivery will be compromised to a level beyond the already inadequate levels. And this is happening at a time when people are calling for increased service, reduced wait times, better equity in geographic coverage, and a national pharmacare system.

It’s foolish to think we won’t just maintain our system but improve it without venturing significantly outside the current model. In fact, believing so is downright asinine. Dangerous, even.

In terms of finding solutions, time is of the essence. Private money, when properly leveraged, can take the financial pressures off the system. It would be unreasonable to begrudge private money when it promises a return on investment.

While healthcare is a provincial responsibility (although federal transfer payments prop it up), does it really matter if other levels of government, such as municipalities, participate financially?

Perhaps it matters more to the bureaucracy. Governments have their various tax envelopes, but as Joe Citizen I only have one wallet, regardless of who’s taking money out of it. Maybe the real impact of municipal involvement is that my dollar doesn’t have to pass through so many layers of administration, each one siphoning off their nickels and dimes. It’s more local, there’s less waste, and more of our dollars get put into action on the front lines.

Even for staunch supporters of socialized services, we must get real. We must embrace pragmatism over utopian ideals. For the system to survive, it has to be reborn. Life is a series of tradeoffs, something we learn as we grow older and begrudgingly accept as we reach maturity.

In the end, will we try new models to save a system that has become part of the Canadian identity? While the reborn system may look different, both for the positive and negative, the fear of watching the death of Tommy Douglas’s dream scares me more.

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