Making Medicare:  The History of Health Care in Canada, 1914-2007 Back to Timeline Back to Timeline
History: 19892007 SAVING THE SYSTEM: THE CANADA HEALTH ACT, THE OTTAWA CHARTER AND ACHIEVING HEALTH FOR ALL, 19781988 THE ENDLESS CHALLENGE: BALANCING CHANGE AND CONTINUITY, 19892007


Introduction

Waiting lists, access to specialists and high-tech diagnostic equipment, privatization and two-tier care are among the many issues Canadians have expressed concern about to pollsters, as governments have tried to determine how to reform Canada’s health care system between 1989 and the present. Poll after poll, however, has indicated that citizens have continued to support medicare’s underlying values. Indeed, many letters to the editor have demonstrated its iconic status. As Sylvia Shortcliffe wrote in August 1996:

Speaking as a middle-class taxpayer, I would like to assure J. Edwin Coffey, MD, that I am not under the illusion that medicare is “free” (letter — Aug. 26).
Nor was our medicare system instituted as a “social safety net.” Canadians collectively decided to spend our money to provide health care to every member of our society because it is the right thing to do, and because the social costs of not doing so demonstrably outweigh the merits of personal choice selectively granted only to citizens above a certain income level.
Living in a community of any size always involved balancing the welfare of the group against individual rights; the battle over medicare was not in the least a matter of “subtly implement(ing) . . . socialist doctrine in the medical and hospital sector” but a democratically free and noisy clash of ideas and principles. (Letter to the Editor, Globe and Mail [August 28, 1996]: A 12)

The “noisy clash of ideas and principles” was to continue as federal and provincial governments attempted to deal with economic challenges such as the 1989–1992 recession and the ballooning deficits that prompted stringent measures to cut social spending. In the 1990s, these measures resulted in downsizing that affected nurses and other hospital staff, prompted doctors to move to the United States, and led to numerous provincial commissions that proposed restructuring the health care system. The media contributed to the growing public concern by highlighting tragic stories of individuals whose needs were not met, and emphasizing the conflict that was erupting between Ottawa and the provinces, especially Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, anxiety among Canadians about the future of the health care system was intensifying as the pro- and anti-medicare forces battled. Health issues consistently topped the polls as a primary political concern for Canadians. For patients, health care providers, academics, policy-makers, bureaucrats and politicians alike, fixing medicare had become the endless challenge.

Photo:  Surgical waiting list: Good news, Sir, your operation  is scheduled for tomorrow ... Sir ... Sir!?
Surgical waiting list: Good news, Sir, your operation is scheduled for tomorrow ... Sir ... Sir!?

Serge Chapleau’s cartoon sums up the common concerns about the state of medicare in Quebec and throughout the country.
McCord Museum, Montréal, M997.52.197



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    Date Created: March 31, 2010 | Last Updated: April 21, 2010