A Belated 50th for Medicare: A Health Advocate’s Perspective

Canadian Flag waving reflected off mirrored building
A Belated 50th for Medicare: A Health Advocate’s Perspective

About the Author

Gary J. Machan

Gary J. Machan

Gary Machan serves on the Community Advisory Research Committee for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Through the course of his career he has received several provincial awards including the 2nd Stage of Medicare, Ontario Tobacco Network Innovation Award for Excellence, and Food Champion Award. In addition, Mr. Machan is an associate with the Centre for Inner Freedom where his work was featured by Tom Harpur in his best selling book ‘Finding the Still Point’.

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Given the high extent to which Canadians cherish medicare, it is an odd thing that its 50th anniversary came and went without so much as whimper. I say odd because barely a day goes by when there isn’t a special day for this or that. Not to mention, its founder, Tommy Douglas is commonly regarded as the ‘Greatest Canadian of All Time.’

Then again, just to put things in their proper perspective, it was during this same period of time that Toronto mayor, Doug Ford, was doing his utmost to recast Canada’s image on the national stage. Intent on providing daily fodder for the American media machine, all the while doing his best to confirm American’s notions that all Canadians live on the set of the Trailer Park Boys.

It was during this nadir in Canadian politics that I had the privilege of attending a health conference in Saskatoon, the epi-centre of medicare’s inception. Home to the very first Community Health Centre in Canada which interestedly was set up to provide health care to its citizens due to a rabid doctors strike that ensued right at the onset of medicare.

man in trench coat

Premier Tommy Douglas the founder of Canadian Medicare

The real highlight though occurred for me when I had a chance to share a dinner with a few of the brave physicians who broke rank with their colleagues so that Tommy’s vision could be fulfilled. Precisely, because they strongly believed that no one should be denied medical care or be forced to become destitute to pay for vital health care services. Imagine the audacity!

To be sure, I had no idea just how much enmity existed and still does, so much so far from being revered by their peers, they remain vilified. Shunned from various social events. Still regarded as traitors, turncoats, ‘commies’. Not sure about you, but this certainly takes the whole notion of holding a grudge to a whole new level.

All of which brings me to the current state of our health care system, which while remaining afloat is nevertheless in deep distress. Mind you, not because of the age wave, as much as many of the high cost users are poor, malnourished and highly socially isolated. Put yet another way, what ails our health care system is the crumbling social foundation on which it rests.

On this point, it is instructive to note that the original vision of medicare was “to protect and promote the wellbeing of Canadians” as enshrined in the Canada Health Act. All of which begs the question how did we end up with a system which throws ever increasing sums of money at the manifestations of illness and nothing at the root causes.

In a word, it boils down to visionary leadership (or the lack of), as well as the courage of those within the health care system to break rank from the status quo, even if it means being banished for life from the powers that be. Does such leadership and courage exist? Time will surely tell, because if it doesn’t, it won’t be a future anniversary we will have missed, but a eulogy in the offing.

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