January 22nd, 2022

Laying it Out: The con is the same as it’s always been; COVID just gives them ammo

By Scott Schmidt on January 15, 2022.

Last week’s column discussed provincial staffers complaining about a lack of hospital beds after helping brand the #BestSummerEver that broke the system in the first place. But, while those who speak when Premier Kenney pulls their string are easily refuted with the internet and a six-month memory, the end goal has been around for decades.

I’ve hammered this point a lot, but the push for privatizing health care continues, and those who want it will lie until they get it.

As I detailed last week, several conservatives have begun to reference Canada’s hospital bed shortage. And while it’s worth mentioning again just how ridiculous it would be for them to urge more public spending, the idea itself is enough to know that’s not what they’re after.

An op-ed appearing this week in the National Post, the flagship paper of Postmedia, laid out the “need” for more private options, complete with all the usual talking points — the “rickety system,” the “long wait times,” that “other countries with two-tier care” have it better, etc.

(A little about Postmedia… In a country with no shortage of complaints about “liberal media” or the evil “state broadcaster” CBC, this media giant owns nine out of every 10 daily newspapers [the News and Lethbridge Herald excluded].

A Canadaland investigation in 2019 revealed a top-down plan to better sell its ideology. Sean Craig, a former Postmedia employee, reported that in 2018, CEO Andrew MacLeod told editors from the National Post that their paper, which had been founded on a conservative mandate, was “insufficiently conservative.”

Kevin Libin, a well-known conservative commentator, was put in charge of company-wide political reporting and given orders to make all Postmedia papers “reliably conservative.”)

Back to the op-ed.

It takes no time pulling its first punch, suggesting in the opening sentence that Canadians are “in denial” about public health care, even though the author-less piece links to a poll showing they value it second only to the Charter of Rights. The piece then reminds the reader how bad the pandemic has been — backlogged surgeries, staffing shortages — and how we’ve had to use those dastard restrictions to keep health systems from bursting.

Funny, since the same people pushing this reality are the ones who helped create it. Obviously the public system wasn’t equipped for a pandemic — the narrative of overspending on health care has been around for years, and thusly, so has the declining number of beds and staff required to serve them.

Next the piece claims “Canadians pay about 25 per cent more for heath care than the OECD average,” linking to an extensive document they know most people won’t read. If you did, you’d notice the op-ed neglects to mention its figures are incomplete and not adjusted for a nation’s purchasing power. Once done, Canada is barely above average, and every country the article goes on to brag about spends more than we do — the U.S., for example, pays more than double, and it has more privatization than anyone.

The author(s) could have mentioned some that pay less, but maybe they didn’t think you’d feel too envious about health care in, say, Estonia, Slovenia or Latvia.

It then talks about beds-per-100K people, occupancy rates, doctor numbers, nursing numbers and more, citing countries like the U.S., Austria, Germany, Japan and Korea (all of which spend way more per capita than Canada), while finally revealing that those countries have a two-tier health-care system.

The piece even throws in a study from the foreign-funded Fraser Institute, the go-to “think” tank for all things Postmedia. The whole op-ed would be a solid tactic if it wasn’t so lazy.

First off, Canada is already a two-tier system. We mandated “medically necessary” needs to be free, but we charge out the wazoo for anything that isn’t — dental, optometry, pharmaceuticals, etc. Without benefits (which you still pay for), 95% of the population would never see a dentist or an eye doctor, because prices are bananas.

If you think further privatizing health care will save money, you’re not operating in reality.

As for the usual attempts at humanizing a private surge — wait times, bed and staff shortages, etc. — each can be, and must be, solved with public solutions. Not only are they cheaper than the private sector, they work much better.

The wait-times-will-get-better argument is bogus, as is the idea that private health means more health-care workers. And by now we should all understand that profit needs negate any perceived gains in efficiency.

I’ve detailed all of this in past columns, and the extensive work debunking two-tiered health is available to anyone online. But these politicians, their staffers and the media pundits who trade integrity for marching orders know most people won’t look into it, and if they stick to the script, they might just convince us to give up the most important aspect of our social safety net.

It’s a straightforward grift, but it can be effective: Remind us the public system is strained, provide vague statistics, then tell us we “have no choice” but to let the private sector swoop in.

Except, the con is old — COVID is just the latest way to launch it — and the only reason it hasn’t fully succeeded is because we choose not to let it.

The pandemic hasn’t changed their profit-driven goals, but they can’t achieve them without our consent. And we don’t need to give it to them just because they’re pointing out flaws that wouldn’t be there without them.

Scott Schmidt is the layout editor for the Medicine Hat News. He can be reached by email at sschmidt@medicinehatnews.com

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