Canada’s blind commitment to a failed ideology is worsening health-care outcomes

Brian GiesbrechtWhen COVID-19 first appeared in Wuhan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) strategists seized upon a radical plan to prevent the spread of the virus.

Instead of adopting a pandemic plan to protect the oldest and weakest while keeping daily life functioning as normally as possible, the CCP did the opposite and initiated a radical lockdown. Businesses were closed, workers were sent home, and infected people were sent to quarantine camps. Normal life came to an end because of COVID Zero – a plan unknown to both science and common sense.

The CCP was so ideologically committed to its failed lockdown policy that the virus, now running rampant through the Chinese population, could potentially lead, according to the Economist, to 1.5 million deaths.

Clearly, ideology trumped common sense.

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But as I waited in a hospital ER for interminable hours with a family member, it occurred to me that we Canadians have done something similar: We have allowed our ideological commitment to the idea that our medical system must be 100 per cent publicly funded to override our common sense. Yes, we have good doctors, nurses, and health-care personnel. Yes, once we finally access treatment, the medical standards are adequate. But let’s face it – our system is a mess, and standards of care are greatly diminished as we wait hours, days, and even years for treatment.

Some people in that emergency room waited 9 1/2 hours to be seen. Many had no family doctor and were forced to choose between a long wait at a walk-in clinic during office hours or a long wait in an ER after hours. (I talked to one person who was number 1,400 on the waiting list for a family doctor). Masks were mandatory, but a crowd of coughing and sneezing people became a scene out of Dante’s Inferno, making mask-wearing a joke.

Older folks were no doubt frustrated that the health-care system they had supported with decades of taxes could not provide them with the timely care they needed. Thousands of Canadians live in agony for years because they can’t get hip or knee replacements and other necessary treatments. Even those needing heart and cancer treatment must wait, with some dying during the waiting. Meanwhile, Canadian hospital capacity so overwhelmed by last year’s COVID patients is now similarly overwhelmed by this year’s influenza cases.

Our system is failing, and things will only worsen with our aging population and deteriorating economy. New plans, additional bureaucrats, dumps of money, and other “fixes” simply rearrange those proverbial Titanic deckchairs. Canadians pay more per capita in taxes for the public health services we receive than almost every other country. And still, we wait.

The quickest and most obvious fix would be to meld private clinics/private delivery with public financing.

Successful medical systems in every other Western democracy use a combination of public and private financing and, as a consequence, do not have the waiting problems that are unique to Canada. For example, European nations and Australia have successfully blended private insurers into their publicly funded system to create top-ranked health-care systems. Yes, those who pay get extra services, but private care frees up space for those who rely exclusively on public services. If done intelligently, everyone benefits.

So why is Canada virtually the only democracy that allows almost no private money to coexist with public funding?

The answer is a blind commitment to a failed ideology. Just as Communist China insisted on maintaining a Zero COVID policy that clearly wasn’t working, Canada insists that all health services be “free,” that there be no “two-tiered” system, and that a system created in the time of Tommy Douglas never be changed. A few brave pioneers (like Dr. Brian Day in British Columbia) are trying to change this myopic mindset, but with minimal success. It would be political suicide for politicians to mention such changes. So, Canadians will continue to wait. And wait.

Like China’s COVID policy, it is a triumph of ideology over common sense.

Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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