A National Day of Action for a new health accord had nearly 15 community members standing outside Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire’s office yesterday.
Monday marked the end of the 10-year health-care funding agreement between the federal government and the provinces, igniting nearly 44 protests across the country organized by members of the Council of Canadians, Canadian Health Coalition and Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Those in attendance yesterday were asked to sign the "preserve Canada’s medicare" petition, which over the past week has collected roughly 150 signatures from Brandon and area residents, according to Vanessa Hamilton, a local health-care provider and Council of Canadians member.
The petition states that in December 2011, the federal government "decided to reduce health transfers to the provinces and territories by $36 billion, thus increasing the likelihood of higher provincial taxes, lower provincial spending on health and other sectors and privatization of health-care services." The petition also calls upon the prime minister to meet with provinces and territories to negotiate a new health accord.
"We’re trying to get the word out and stand up and say that we care about our public health care," Hamilton said.
Among those in attendance yesterday were longtime Brandon residents Chester and Rosemarie Letkeman, who said they signed the petition because they worry what the future holds for health-care services across Canada.
"I question whether it will continue, how it will continue and I guess the biggest worry is whether they’re going to dismantle it in some way or another," Chester Letkeman said. "Health is a major issue as an individual, employer and as a community. Health is a big issue for all of us."
Newly elected Brandon-area CUPE representative Barb Gribben, waving a bright pink CUPE flag, echoed similar concerns about the future of Canada’s health care.
Gribben said wait times for surgeries across southwestern Manitoba are already "long enough."
"Now with the money transfer not there, what’s going to happen to all of these services?"
After taking a look at the petition, Maguire said he wanted "to set the record straight."
"The public government here has committed to a publicly funded, totally universally accessible heath-care system founded on the principles of the Canada Health Act. Nobody’s suggesting we deviate from that," Maguire said, adding the act prevents the privatization of health-care services.
"In 2011 ... we committed to continued growth in health transfers to all of the provinces and our plan has provided record growth to the all of these provinces."
In 2011, former finance minister Jim Flaherty said the Canada Health Transfer to the provinces and territories would grow by six per cent a year until 2017-18.
After that, health transfers will be tied to the rate of economic growth and inflation, but the government says the annual rate of increase won’t fall below three per cent.
Maguire said funding is expected to increase by at least three per cent "regardless of what the economy does."
Hamilton said delivering the petition to Maguire’s office yesterday was just the "kickoff" and she hopes other areas in upcoming weeks will present copies to their local MPs. Hamilton said they will also be asking Maguire to present the petition in the House of Commons.
Maguire said he plans to table it.
» email@example.com, with files from The Canadian Press