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Harper’s Canada: Swimming against the global development current

By Dena Javadi
on October 7, 2015

I happen to be Canadian by choice. My parents put in a conscious, thoughtful effort into deciding to move to Canada- a decision rooted in the values the country represented, including its role as a peace-maker, a protector of human rights, and a friend to the environment.  Fifteen years later, I can’t honestly say they would’ve made the same choice. Under the Harper administration, Canada can now boast new achievements, such as ranking “dead last” in environmental protection (out of 27 OECD countries), creating a second class of citizens, moving backwards in offering universal health coverage for all as the rest of the world pushes forward, losing a bid for the UN security council, unnecessary military intervention, unwelcoming and exploitive immigration policies, and… well, you get the gist. It’s bad.

What’s worse is that all of this has been happening as the majority of Canadians look on in occasional disbelief. While Harper harps (sorry… it just happened) on part of the population’s xenophobia and economic fears to garner majority support, those who value progressive policies and the lost Canadian identity divide themselves among Liberal, New Democratic Party (NDP) and Green party candidates with similar fiscal and socially liberal orientations (“similar” in a loose, relative-to-conservatives kind of way). For example, in the 2011 election, the conservative party won 39.62% of votes while the NDP and Liberal parties won a combined 49.54%.

After 8 years of this conservative government, many Canadians have had enough. As the relationships of Canadians with one another (recently a tip line was introduced to report “barbaric cultural practices,” and its mandate borders on facilitated racism), with the global community, and with the environment worsen, many have stepped up to reclaim our stated values: respect for Indigenous rights, internationalism, human rights, diversity, and environmental stewardship. The Leap Manifesto – initiated by “representatives from Canada’s Indigenous rights, social and food justice, environmental, faith-based and labour movements” and launched by prominent Canadians such as Naomi Klein and David Suzuki– is calling Canadians to revisit their past, reassess their present, and redirect their future. Social determinants of health are highlighted in the manifesto, making the link between extractive economic policies that are leading to negative health impacts in communities affected by industrial activity, the need for better food security, and access to healthcare barriers that can be addressed by focusing on equitable (and effective) spending in social sectors.

On the political side of things however, health has seldom played a role in debates despite being a tenet of Canadian identity and among the population’s top priorities.  The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) has graded each of the 4 major English-speaking parties around their plans to address Canada’s key health indicators, selected based on population need, including shifting demographics towards an older population, the need for better access to medicines through a national drug plan, and better access to primary care and integrated services for all. This was done through a look at existing policies, public announcements as well as a brief questionnaire sent out to each of the parties (conservatives did not respond).  Parties are graded as either showing “no involvement and does not plan or there appears to be no plan to address the indicator,” showing “a level of involvement or commitment, however there is an opportunity to do more and/or there are no specifics on planned actions,” and “demonstrates leadership on the subject. There is commitment to a specific and actionable plan.” The Green party and NDP are ranked as having the most commitments around these indicators, while the conservatives are ranked last, having not demonstrated any leadership or real commitment to any of these indicators. The parties have been relatively vague about their healthcare platform, but the liberals, NDP, and Green party have all made statements in their platforms around homecare and a strategy for older adults, working towards universal coverage of medicines, and improving mental health services. NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair went a step further to present a $2.6B national pharmacare plan , making this one of the only times healthcare was invited to the party this election. The conservatives have some vague statements about mental health and have been pretty much silent aside from spending issues for the slice of the population they are willing to consider (admittedly I couldn’t bring myself to read their full platform so I just searched “health”). The conservatives’ approach to healthcare so far has been to allocate a standard amount of funding across 13 unique health systems with close to no federal oversight. And the cherry on top was the active dismantling of the Health Council of Canada, mandated to oversee the continued improvement of quality of care across the country, but that was only one blow to Canada’s ability to monitor, measure and report performance.  Their other claim to fame is the dissolution of the mandatory long form census, which isn’t only a bad data nightmare but also leaves Canada unable to identify its most vulnerable and therefore unable to address the systemic inequities that continue to arise. Access to data in general has become somewhat Orwellian, with a sudden dearth of institutional memory plaguing the nation as more and more government data and records disappear.

Come October 19th, Canadians will be choosing the types of values they represent; the inclusivity, equity, and social security we want our country to boast; the level of appreciation and respect for our environment; and the type of role we want to take in the global community- will we find our way back to being leaders in environmental and human rights protection… Or will we finally have a real reason to apologize?

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