The House

Midweek podcast: Is it time to 'press the reset button' on health care?

On The House midweek podcast, the new president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Granger Avery, explains why the negotiations to reach a new health accord present a unique opportunity to "revise" the Canadian health care system.
Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Granger Avery speaks after being installed during the association's General Council in Vancouver last month. With the health accord in the midst of negotiations, Avery says it's a perfect time to revise the current setup. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The new president of the Canadian Medical Association is urging federal and provincial politicians to think beyond dollars and cents as they negotiate a new health accord.

​"We have an iconic time now that will set the course for the next 50 years," Dr. Granger Avery told The House.​

The former Conservative government decided in late 2011 to cut the rate of growth in federal health-care transfers from six to three per cent, starting in the spring of 2017. 

Federal health minister Jane Philpott announced this week that she would be meeting with her provincial counterparts in Toronto on Oct. 18 to continue discussions on a new deal.

Philpott has already suggested she is not inclined to revise the three percent annual increase and that she'd rather allocate extra money to specific areas.

"I'm convinced that we have an obligation as a government of Canada, for example, to do more than simply open up the federal wallet," she told an audience at Queen's University in Kingston Monday.

She said the federal government is committed to giving the provinces more money, but "we must ensure that new money doesn't simply inflate health systems, but helps to put health care on the road to long-term sustainablilty."

We need to press the reset button.- CMA president Granger Avery

"That's a breath of fresh air. For the ten previous years, we didn't hear anything like that," Avery said.

"The health accord, at the moment, seems to be a lot about money, and that's understandable and predictable. I would be thinking we'll be falling short of the mark if we don't include some agreement on how we make decisions," he said.

The head of the CMA argued that rethinking how health care services are provided, and putting patients first, would also translate into a more efficient use of money.

He emphasized the need to focus on seniors' care, pharmacare, and palliative care.

"What I'm suggesting is that we revise our current system," Avery said. "We need to press the reset button," he said while also acknowledging there is reticence to fundamental changes.

Charities and political activities

Tim Gray of Environmental Defence is seen at far right in this 2013 photo with former U.S. vice president Al Gore (left), and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Gray's group has been under continuous political-activity audit by the Canada Revenue Agency for several years (Environmental Defence/Canadian Press)

The head of a charity under review by the Canada Revenue Agency says the Liberal government needs to halt all ongoing political audits, not just host consultations.

"Why would we would allow audits to continue that are under rules that they themselves want to change?" Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, told The House. 

Many charities targeted by CRA's political activity audit program, begun in 2012 under the Stephen Harper government, had expected relief from the Liberals, who campaigned on a promise to set charities "free from political harassment."

On Tuesday the Liberal government announced it would consult with charities before it draws up new laws about the role they can play in the political process.

For years critics like Gray have said the rules restricting political activities are unclear, and that the political audits, started under the previous Conservative government, effectively gagged some groups.

"The public expects that a charity involved in climate change would be expressing opinions on what should be done to mitigate climate change," Gray said.

"People need to realize that political activity in CRA parlance means being involved in encouraging people to go to public hearings, it's expressing opinions on particular issues, asking your supporters to write to your member of parliament about issues like climate change. People quite often think it's about partisan activities like supporting a political party...partisan activities are completely banned."

Gray said he and other charities have asked the Minister Diane Lebouthillier why their audits haven't been dropped, but haven't received a response back yet.