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  Main > Commentary >Hold the self-congratulations
Voting Day September 29, 2003  
Commentary

Hold the self-congratulations
Ian Dowbiggin | Sept. 03

What was Health Minister Jamie Ballem thinking last week when he met the press to talk about health recruitment?

Ballem’s one of the leading Tory contenders for premier Pat Binns’s job when Binns calls it quits. But his press conference of last Thursday might be the first gaffe of a provincial election that only began officially this week.

The minister appeared with Dr. Don Ling, director of medical planning, and Jennifer Caseley, the Public Service Commission’s Health recruiter. With an election call expected within days, Ballem congratulated his government for hiring twenty new doctors since the last election and giving 60 casual nurses full-time jobs.

He also said his ministry was working to make it easier for internationally-trained doctors to practice on PEI.

Now, obviously the minister wanted this to be another of those summer-time, pre-election, good-news announcements from the government. It was anything but. All that Ballem really accomplished was to remind the electorate of an area of government policy that almost everyone believes is on life-support.

In this day and age, governments shouldn’t be slapping themselves on the back for doing a good job on the health care file. Especially at election time.

It only draws attention to something that everyone has a firm opinion about. And most everyone has a bad opinion of the state of the health care system.

The first to rain on Ballem’s parade was the PEI Medical Society. Sure, more doctors are nice, it said. But the Tories still have to go a long way before the big needs of the province’s health care system are met.

Then it was Liberal leader Robert Ghiz’s turn. Predictably enough, Ghiz went into attack-dog mode.

Who are we trying to kid? he seemed to be saying. The province still has the lowest per capita number of doctors in the country. Data also show that PEI’s health care system ranked was the bottom in national standings.

So, what should have been another photo-op for the Tories turned into a tailor-made opportunity for the opposition Liberals to score some political points.

If only Ballem had let Ghiz raise the issue in the first place, the shoe would have been on the other foot. Think about it: as soon as Ghiz started to complain about the state of the health care system, the Tories could have put him on the defensive by challenging him what he’d do that was different.

After muttering a few platitudes about spending more money, Ghiz would probably switch to the other hot-button issues, like the rising cost of living, high taxes, and the crisis in the farming community.

The sad truth is no matter how much politicians do for health care, it’s just not enough. The public and the many groups with vested interests in the industry have an insatiable appetite for health care. In twenty-first century Canada, the less incumbent governments say about it, the better.

And the very last thing the public wants to hear is the government brag about what a great job it’s been doing.
We’ll have to see if the health care issue raises its head again during the election campaign. But I’m betting that the Tories learned their lesson about health care last Thursday: let sleeping dogs lie.

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Ian Dowbiggin Ian Dowbiggin is professor of history at the University of Prince Edward Island. Author of four books, including the 1999 Canadian best-seller Suspicious Minds: The Triumph of Paranoia in Everyday Life, he's well-known to Maritime audiences as a controversial radio and television commentator on today's hot-button issues.

 

 
 

 

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