19 November 2007

What happened to National Medicare Week?

This is National Medicare Week in Canada (November 18-24), but you would have to look very hard to find out much about the event. Ever true to their political convictions, the Canadian Health Coalition and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are celebrating the week with the publication of a new book entitled Medicare: Facts, Myths, Problems, Promise. (Duly added to my library acquisitions list for when I have a budget again.) No one else seems to have taken the trouble to mark the occasion, least of all the federal government that is charged with watching over our health. Except for the book launch, this so-called celebration week is eliciting scarcely a squeak from Canadians.

The new medicare book, of which only the preface can be previewed online, should be a worthy compilation of brave rhetoric from the usual stalwarts. It is based on contributions to a conference held last May in Regina: S.O.S. Medicare 2: Looking Forward. Among the many contributors are some imposing Canadian health care icons: Roy Romanow, Monique Begin, Tom Kent, Allan Blakeney, Stephen Lewis and Robert McMurtry. Summing up the book's raison d'ĂȘtre, Shirley Douglas comments: “I encourage Prime Minister Harper and CMA president Dr. Brian Day to read this book and commit to working together to fix problems rather than using the problems as an excuse to go back to the days before Medicare — when doctors could charge whatever they wanted and care was rationed on the basis of ability to pay not need.” (Douglas is the daughter of former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas, who introduced universal public medicare in 1961.)

The blurb on the CCPA website does its preachy best to garner interest:

For anyone who cares about the future of Medicare, this book offers a unique source of reliable, independent information and analysis. At a time when ideologues and advocates of privatization capture much of the attention of the media and politicians, this collection is an invaluable source of information and ideas. Celebrate National Medicare Week by picking up a copy of this book today.
Frankly, the publicity could have been done better. Such drearily predictable boilerplate simply does not impress those for whom it is intended: "For anyone who cares about ... At a time when ... an invaluable source." This all may be true, but now that bringing eyes to progressive print is harder than selling sun block in Iqaluit, I am not hopeful that this latest defence of the just and the true will have much success.

Where is the web presence? I am a passionate supporter of universal health care, but I nearly missed hearing about National Medicare Week. It's sliding by with almost as little notice as the demise of the Canadian Health Network. A quick search in Google brings the abovementioned book launch to light, but precious little else, and much of it dated. Where are the media? We have been amply informed about the deaths of two more Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, lead paint in children's umbrellas, and the fallout from the Vancouver Airport taser nightmare; but a week devoted to the celebration of medicare seems to have been overlooked across the country. There is no mention of it in the Mop and Pail, supposedly our "national newspaper," nor have there been any of the usual supportive statements from sympathetic organizations. Even the Canadian Health Coalition's own website is curiously reticent about this week devoted to medicare, providing only a link to a PDF of the book launch blurb — no separate web page, not even the week's dates on the calendar — in short, an abysmal lack of publicity.

Contrast this with last year. To mark the 2006 National Medicare Week the Canadian Nurses Association sent an open letter to the Minister of Health, Tony Clement, in which medicare receives warm praise: "Nurses are proud to be part of a system that assures Canadians' access to health services." (Unfortunately, CNA did not choose to send another one this year. Perhaps frustration has set in. Perhaps they found out the minister doesn't care.)

In a news release marking NMW in 2006 the College & Association Of Registered Nurses of Alberta positively yodelled: “The excellence of Canada’s health system is recognized internationally and registered nurses are proud of the vital contribution they make within it.” Perhaps such semi-socialist bedizenment was too much for Alberta, because that seems to have been the last of the College's news releases, period. Its website shows no further posts for 2007.

The Catholic Health Association of Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees also lent their voices — with their respective emphases — to the chorus, praising medicare as "a reflection of Canadians’ desire to build a caring and compassionate society" (CHAC) and "a social right in Canada, one that speaks to our best values of fairness, pragmatism, inclusion and hope" (CUPE).

Where are those voices now? They had better start making themselves heard, because we can be sure that in Ottawa something's cooking.