Health leadership is hard to find

One need not stray far from Parliament Hill these days to hear dire warnings on the medicare front.

One need not stray far from Parliament Hill these days to hear dire warnings on the medicare front.

Just last week, the issue surfaced at the annual Public Policy Forum dinner.

Speaking as a former provincial minister of finance, British Columbia’s Carole Taylor described the impossible task of balancing government resources with ever rising health-care costs.

She’s convinced the system is unsustainable and says so plainly. Reform Party founder Preston Manning echoed similar concerns.

When the federal Liberal party held a policy conference at the end of March, it too got an earful on the failing state of the medicare model. A common theme was a call not let partisan politics get in the way of real debate.

As sacred cows go, medicare is really a bull that has gored the politicians who have tried to seize it in the past; it is hard to anyone in the current political lineup who could do so this time around.

It will not be Quebec Premier Jean Charest. His recent budget was more symptomatic of the decline in intellectual stamina after seven years in power than anything else. In a province where a significant number of people cannot find a family doctor, the argument that introducing a user fee on medical visits will help direct patients to the appropriate door has come across as a sick joke. The user fee proposal and an across-the-board health tax have fuelled a wave of discontent.

This will not entice Ontario to consider going the same route or encourage Alberta and British Columbia to rock the medicare boat.

Federally, the Conservatives were burned by medicare when they were in opposition. Since then, they have kept it off the radar.

Possibly because he was still basking in the afterglow of his thinkers’ conference, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff initially embraced Quebec’s tough love approach. Under caucus pressure but also possibly because he took the time to get briefed on the substance of the Quebec initiatives, Ignatieff then reversed himself.

To all intents and purposes, the political figure who will nurse the medicare debate back to health has yet to come to the fore.

Chantal Hebert is a national affairs columnist for The Toronto Star.