New Options or Scare Tactics?
In July 1975, Minister of Finance John Turner brought down a budget that included cuts to the medicare and hospitalization programs, and announced that the Minister of National Health and Welfare would be bringing in legislation to end the Medical Care Act and give the required five years’ notice of termination of the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act. The provinces and many members of the Opposition parties were outraged. How dare the federal government propose such actions when it had compelled recalcitrant provinces to join medicare in the first place? As Tommy Douglas argued in the House of Commons on June 13, 1975:
While I have great respect for the Minister of National Health and Welfare and believe that he wants to do a commendable job, I say to him and to the government that they have been marking time on health programs ever since the medicare program came into effect in 1967. What is even worse is that the government has been seeking to welsh even on the medicare program... In conclusion, I want to say that we need to develop more community health clinics... Under medicare we made a gigantic step in this country in that we removed the financial barrier between the patient on the one hand and the doctor and the hospital on the other. But that was only the first step... The government should not rest on its laurels. It should not try to live forever on having passed the medicare legislation, fine and noble as that legislation was. The time has now come to begin to improve the delivery system, to begin to institute preventive medicine and, above all, to do the kind of medical research that will make it possible for us to improve the health, happiness and prosperity of the people of Canada. (Canada, House of Commons Debates, Hansard [June 13, 1975])
“Point me in the right direction — and I’ll cut where necessary”
John Collins showed Montréal’s Anglophone community what financial cuts to the provinces’ health care budgets would mean, circa 1975.
© Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1986-9-137, e008440959. Artist: John Collins.
Minister Lalonde’s response to this and to other criticisms from the Opposition was to note the funding that his department provided for medical research; to remind his colleague of the pitfalls of federal–provincial relations; and to urge Canadians to stop smoking, to wear seatbelts and to take responsibility for improving the environment. He also reiterated the government’s offer to take a “step-by-step approach rather than to have an overall financing formula,” in an effort to indicate to the provinces that change must occur.
Wisely, the Canadian Medical Association Journal recognized these comments as a negotiating tactic, and during the fall of 1975 as the government brought in wage and price controls, Lalonde and his officials crossed the country working out bilateral agreements with the various provinces.