Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The End of an Era

Healthcare premiums were never about funding healthcare. They go into general revenues and can be spent on anything from tax breaks for the oil sector to expensed lunches for cabinet ministers.

The argument for the premiums in fantasticly wealthy Alberta was always a paternalistic sniff that 'people had to understand health care comes with a cost.' This usually from politicians, ivory tower conservative academics and professional right wingers from 'think tanks' like the Fraser Institute, most of whom get their premiums paid for by their employer.

Now, as the writ has dropped the Tories have done a volte face on the health tax and promise to phase it out over four years. Of course this just meant they've joined every other major party in the legislature to do so. The NDP have opposed the premiums since their inception and the Liberals eventually joined the bandwagon too - certainly not the only issue that the Alberta NDP has led the debate on.

Any Alberta voter who might be persuaded on the subject of the health tax alone knows that they have a lot of other alternatives to vote for to see it quashed.

The real point of the premiums was never to fund health care, never even the contemptuous 'making sure the rabble understand health care has a cost' argument, it was always about having a potential back door out of Canada's public healthcare system.
Dr. Tom Noseworthy, director of health and policy studies at the University of Calgary, said premiums have likely been charged for so long in this province to bolster the government's position in case of a potential conflict over the Canada Health Act.

Ottawa has the power to cut off transfer payments to a province for breaking the law.

"I think they've always kept that as a safety net," Noseworthy said of the premiums.

The prospect of dismantling public health care was the only thing that a bloated and lazy Premier Ralph could still get enthusiastic about at the end. But his run at healthcare had more to do with his fall from grace than the Tories are willing to admit and Stelmach has signaled he wants nothing to do with the crusade that branded Ralph as an uncaring right wing ideologue.

Alberta's voters should remember that this is the same government, the same individuals, who rode us off the cliff in terms of sustainability and infrastructure, and the same government eager to dismantle the public system they now claim to champion. The politics have changed, the ideology hasn't.

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