Our health care is in grave danger

Canadians are urged to write to Prime Minister Martin, senators, their MPs and editors of local newspapers to speak against the imminent loss of Canada's health care system.

The Canadian Health Coalition (CHC) tells us that Medicare is being increasingly attacked by social and economic elites in this country. One case, to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada this June 8, alleges that Medicare is unconstitutional. A group of 10 senators, led by Senator Michael Kirby and a group of for-profit health corporations, is joining the case. They are asking the Supreme Court to open the door to a full-fledged private health insurance system in Canada.

Dr. Jacques Chaoulli and his patient, George Zeliotis, are the complainants who allege that the lack of timely access to provincially insured health care services, together with legislative restrictions on access to private care, violate section 7 of the Charter. Two lower courts in Quebec have already rejected this argument.

Although the Attorney General of Canada opposed the Senators' motion, on the basis that senators have unique privileges and roles to play in the legislative process, the Supreme Court ducked the issue by granting them leave to participate in their individual capacities. Committee member Senator Yves Morin, MD, chose not to participate.

Senator Kirby is a director of Extendicare Inc. of Markham, Ontario, a for-profit nursing home chain. It is his fiduciary duty to act in Extendicare's best interests ( a responsibility recently reinforced by the Delaware Chancery Court in its decision about Conrad Black and Hollinger, Inc.) Extendicare Inc. was involved in the largest nursing home abuse and neglect verdict in Florida history. The corporation subsequently sold its operations in Florida and expanded into Ontario, where nursing home regulations and inspections are more industry-friendly, according to the CHC.

In his affidavit, Mr. Kirby says, "I am a former senior member of the Prime Minister's Office, former Deputy Clerk of the Privy Council and a former federal Secretary to the Cabinet for Federal-Provincial Relations." Is Mr. Kirby intervening on behalf of the Government of Canada? The prime minister of Canada? The Liberal Party of Canada? The people of Canada? Or could it be the shareholders of Extendicare Inc.?

Senator Kirby's corporate duties and responsibilities make it impossible for him to represent the merits of the case against for-profit health care.

Mr. Kirby is in a conflict of interest. Under his chairmanship, the Senate Committee's report distorted the evidence documenting the case against a larger role for private, for-profit health care. The CHC gave the Committee expert testimony and peer-reviewed publication references that it is unwise to entrust the sick and the powerless to profit-seeking firms. For some peculiar reason, the Committee report did not refer to this evidence.

If the Supreme Court grants this appeal, it will find the legislation governing Quebec's public health insurance and hospital system to be unconstitutional. Such a decision would apply to all jurisdictions in Canada.

Some jurisdictions, including Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, are currently exploring options to establish a second tier of for-profit health care. Once the door is open and a legislature invites in a private for-profit and foreign investors in health care, the reservations and protection in the international trade agreements would be null and void.

This would sound the death knell for Medicare in Canada.

The senators asking for the legislation governing Medicare to be struck down are Michael Kirby, Marjorie Lebreton, Catherine Callbeck, Joan Cook, Jane Cordy, Joyce Fairbairn, Wilbert Keon, Lucie Pepin, Brenda Robertson, and Douglas Roche. All can be reached at Senate of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4.