Fabula Canuckus Emendatio (Ooopsus)
The Supreme Court has handed down a landmark ruling that invalidates Quebec's ban on private health insurance and delivers a caustic critique of the shortcomings of Canada's public health system.
The court noted, Mr. Ducky, and Ms. Hillary, "access to a waiting list is not access to health care."
On the face of it, the federal position is clear. "We're not going to have a two-tier health care system,"said Prime Minister Paul Martin after the ruling came down.
But a two-tier system has been taking root and growing for years, and the federal government has taken no effective action to stop it.
Martin's own doctor, Sheldon Elman, is the founder and CEO of the Medisys Health Group, which operates a chain of private MRI clinics.
The Prime Minister's Office has stated repeatedly that Martin uses his public health card, not his own money, to cover any services he receives.
All the same, it's estimated there are more than 90 private clinics in Quebec. Many of them offer diagnostic imaging, vital for the early detection of tumours and cancer. Some offer surgery at fees which run into the thousands of dollars.
The most aggressive private clinics operate in British Columbia, home province to Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh.
The Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver describes itself as "the largest and most technologically advanced private surgical facility in Canada" with six state-of-the-art operating rooms.
The centre's web site says it offers general surgery, laparoscopic surgery, gynecology, vascular surgery, neurosurgery, ophthalmology and other services.
Earlier this month the Copeland Healthcare Centre, also in Vancouver, announced it will provide clients with "unparalleled levels of patient care" for a $2,300 annual fee.
Facility fees are banned under the Canada Health Act. When asked Friday why he has not cracked down on the private clinics, Dosanjh said:
"On the issue of the private clinics, the Canada Health Act violations, you know, I wrote to all the provinces, I received a response from one or two, I haven't thoroughly reviewed those letters, we're awaiting response from others, we're talking to officials."
It irks me that a prisoner can get quicker specialist consultations or surgery than law-abiding Canadians, but that's the law. Go bark to your MP about it.
Just last week, you may recall, a New Brunswick man who told police in Toronto he was planning a shooting rampage was jailed for three years. He wasn't actually going to kill anyone. The 44-year-old man, who had no prior criminal record, just wanted heart surgery. And he got it quickly while in custody.
Yes, he resorted to drastic measures to jump the queue, but people desperate for treatment will do extraordinary things. Some spend $50,000 to get surgery abroad.
First, of course, we must ask the usual suspects on the left -- the "health care activists", the CBC commentators, the union leaders, the Toronto Star columnists, the professors, the Liberals and last but not least, the NDPers, some of whom are calling for the use of the notwithstanding clause to strike down the Supreme Court's ruling (and oh, the delicious irony of that) -- just what it is that you are all so upset about?
This is exactly what you said you wanted -- an activist, interventionist Supreme Court broadly interpreting the Charter of Rights (in this case, both the Quebec Charter and Canada's) and standing up for ordinary people when gutless politicians won't act.
A year ago, supporters of Canada's government-run health care monopoly stood aghast as a Quebec doctor named Jacques Chaoulli and a hip-surgery patient named George Zeliotis presented the Supreme Court of Canada with an original argument. Medicare's waiting lists have become so dangerously long, they asserted, that legally banning people from paying for their own health care or purchasing private insurance violates the Charter of Rights' guarantee of life, liberty and security of the person.
What the hell does it take for Canadians to rise up in outrage?
A group of relatively wealthy Canadian men and women, in black robes and powdered wigs, have ruled unconstitutional the law that bans the private delivery of medical services in this country.
The case for marketplace solutions over a national health system was made at the forum by Sally Pipes, a conservative Canadian economist who heads the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco. Some of her indictment of Canadian health care:
• Canada has a severe shortage of diagnostic machines, ranking 16th in computed tomography scanners and 20th for magnetic resonance imaging devices. Pipes' elderly mom couldn't get an MRI and had to wait six months for a CT scan.
• Waiting times for a referral from a general practitioner to non-urgent treatment by a specialist can be 18 weeks. Pipes' mom had to wait one year to see an orthopedic surgeon about her knee and then another year for a replacement. Then it wasn't the titanium prosthesis she wanted.
• If he were Canadian, President Clinton's wait for bypass surgery would have been six weeks, instead of the four days he enjoyed in the states.
• "Illegal" private clinics are popping up all over Canada to fill gaps in the country's rationed treatment. The prime minister uses one in Montreal, Pipes asserts.
• Some 250 Canadian doctors head to the U.S. each year.
• Canadians routinely cross the U.S. border for timely and effective health care and pay out of pocket, including top politicians.
"The Canadian health care system is that of a Third World country," Pipes said.