Lessons in democracy

The people who lined up to criticize health-care changes for seniors have done an excellent job of organizing, research and public education.

The people who lined up to criticize health-care changes for seniors have done an excellent job of organizing, research and public education. Their campaign ought to be recorded into high school textbooks, so that social studies teachers can force at least one more generation of Albertans to study what full citizenship means.

Our youth needs to understand that even in places as democratic as Alberta, you have to keep an eye on your government.

Our seniors understand that even broadly elected and largely trustworthy governments (like ours) are human institutions.

They will act in their own best interest first and then yours — when it’s in their interest to do so.

It’s the generation in between that’s forgotten its responsibilities.

Knowing this, the government can give in on the drug plan and give the well-organized, well-connected seniors a compromise. Many older Albertans will still end up paying more for their medications than they are paying today, but the degree of increase is less than originally planned. Is this a victory for democracy? It depends who you ask. In Alberta, it will certainly pass for one.

Tucked in at the end of the news stories announcing the government’s change of heart, there’s a comment that the campaign over the drug plan may have succeeded but the future doesn’t look that great for people entering the last phase of life.

There simply are not enough beds in long-term care facilities for the number of people who need them. And their number has been frozen for years, despite promises to add more beds and despite a population surge in the demographic that needs them.

And when the program is fully privatized according to plan, it’s going to cost the individual more.

It’s odd that seniors talk about leaving a legacy for their grandchildren and great grandchildren, knowing they’re going to die broke if they stay for long in a nursing home.

But this should not be their battle alone.

Everyone knows that health-care costs are the major part of the provincial budget. If you’re going to trim spending, it has to involve savings in health care.

What is being overlooked is that while we are told health-care costs are soaring —”out of control” is a term often used — when you factor in population growth in the last decade, and the growth in general (taxable) income in the province, health-care spending per person is hardly rising at all.

Health-care costs are “out of control” only if you want to cut taxes for the wealthy.

Health-care costs are “out of control” only if you want the spending to be collected by private corporations, not the state. Our health-care system is in crisis because the government allowed the professions who administer health care — doctors and nurses — to limit their numbers in years past.

Of course we’re short-staffed in the hospitals.

We put a quota on training new doctors years ago and capped spending on support staff. It takes a long time to turn that situation around.

Do we hear about massive increases in government funding for training doctors and nurses? Ever wonder why not?

Seniors are in a position to be sensitive about health care and its costs. They also know the value of being politically active.

Someone ought to put the lessons they’ve learned in a book, so that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will know what to do a decade or so from now when their time comes to take the controls. For the most part, those kids’ parents seem to have given up already.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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