16 March 2008

Storm and strife as the Canadian Health Network approaches the chopping block

It is not in the storm nor in the strife
We feel benumb'd, and wish to be no more,
But in the after-silence on the shore,
When all is lost, except a little life.

Lord Byron, On hearing Lady Byron was ill

With a pair of sqawkingly incongruous dangling participles, the Canadian Health Network (CHN) has announced its own demise and its absorption by another government website:

Beginning April 1, 2008, Canadians will be able to access timely, trusted and credible public health information through a single source — the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Web site at www.publichealth.gc.ca. Accessed by over 10 million visitors a year, we invite you to bookmark this Web site as a valuable and unique source for information on healthy living, disease and injury prevention.
In their haste to liquidate this last vestige of independent, community-based health information from the government's official web presence, some faceless committee also succeeded in mutilating the English language as part of their dirty work. As if that wasn't depressing enough, there is now little doubt that the voices of nearly 4,000 Canadians who have signed a petition pleading for the CHN's preservation will be ignored. But we can still shout up a storm until the end of March, when, the Friends of CHN website informs us, Liberal Health Critic Robert Thibault will present the petition to the House of Commons, requesting that Parliament rescind the funding cut and immediately restore full, stable funding for the Canadian Health Network.

Much more fluid in its syntax was the succinct form letter I received from Tony Clement, the Minister of Health, with its admission that the decision to "terminate" the Canadian Health Network was "difficult, and was by no means arrived at without thoughtful consideration." But, as always, there are "other equally important health priorities that require government funding." Yes, like the one billion dollars a year that our military adventure in Afghanistan is costing us and the frightful, ongoing costs of caring for all the Canadian wounded, of whom we hear remarkably little in the media. The Minister likes the idea of providing health information through "a single, consolidated website." Somehow that is supposed to ensure that "more Canadians will have access to quality and trusted health information." I would very much like to know how dumping the CHN is going to provide more people with information.

And as the Social Justice Librarian justly pointed out in a recent post, "it’s one thing to take away a really great consumer health resource. It’s another to take it away and leave a pointer referring people to another resource that is virtually useless for the same type of information seeking!" A query of both the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Health Canada websites provided no comprehensible results to a question she and a student posed concerning the relationship between abortion and breast cancer. By contrast, when CHN and MedlinePlus were consulted, they offered reliable, consumer-friendly information when searched with the same key words.

The quality of that service does not seem to have been of great concern to my MP, James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake). In his response to my complaint about the axing of CHN he pleaded lack of funds. "The Conservative Government has had to make decisions as a result of cuts to spending made in the previous government's ... budgets." That's it. Blame it on the Liberals. Mr. Bezan assures me that "moving from three sites to two will result in saving $7 million per year" — enough to keep the Afghanistan "mission" going for about two days. I am to "rest assured that PHAC will work with CHN in the transfer of information ... wherever possible." The last two weasel words, of course, mean that exactly nothing is promised.

Nothing in Mr. Bezan's letter makes me feel rested or assured. In closing he respectfully counsels me once again to "rest assured that Canadians will continue to have access to the important healthcare information they need." The importance and the need, we can all rest assured, will be determined solely by our wise leaders in Ottawa, whose "thoughtful consideration" has burdened the country with an $18-billion defence budget, the highest level of military spending in inflation-adjusted dollars since the Second World War.

Even if you're feeling benumbed, please sign the Save the CHN petition and write to the Minister of Health and your Member of Parliament.
Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom.

Edward Gibbon, The decline and fall of the Roman empire, Chapt. 3.


RacyKacy said...

I am with you whole heartedly and with be filling out the petition.