By displaying all of the grace of a bull in
a china shop, Premier Mike Harris has chosen the worst
way to convince the federal government to provide more money
for health care in the December budget. It wasn't enough
for the premier to start a nasty war of words
with Prime Minister Jean Chretien over health funding. Harris raised
the stakes even higher by threatening to stop paying for
Ontario's home-care and drug programs if Ottawa doesn't come through.
While Ottawa can't shirk its responsibility to do more, increased
spending will never be an adequate remedy in the absence
of reforms to the status quo. Neither government has an
impressive record on that score. The Chretien government has essentially
left it to the Romanow Commission to make the hard
decisions about how to inject more private money into the
system -- whether through private clinics, extra-billing, individual health accounts
or similar measures. The Harris government, meanwhile, has proceeded at
a glacial pace in reforming primary care by encouraging doctors
to work together in group practices and assigning more work
to nurse practitioners.
Canada faces a herculean challenge in finding ways to make
the system more cost-efficient while preserving universal health care. A
partisan war of words is no substitute for leadership that
addresses the desperate need for a new formula to address
the critical problems facing health-care consumers and providers alike.