Ivy Bourgeault has been frustrated for much of this federal election campaign at the lack of discussion over health care, and that was exacerbated on Monday evening during the federal leaders’ debate when it was also barely mentioned.
“There was very little linkage of health care to climate crisis, around Indigenous issues,” said Bourgeault, a health policy professor at the University of Ottawa, in an interview with Global News after the debate.
Health care was not among the five topics raised during the debate, which otherwise included affordability and economic insecurity, environment and energy, Indigenous issues, leadership in Canada and on the world stage, and polarization, human rights and immigration.
That said, health care did come up sporadically — particularly through mentions of pharmacare.
Bourgeault and hundreds of others tweeted throughout the night using the hashtag #vote4care to express what they would have liked to hear from leaders, including plans to help improve access to primary care providers.
“There are health care dimensions to all of the topics,” she said, adding that federal leaders should be thinking about it as they would any other sector such as oil and gas.
“We could be doing much better.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May briefly mentioned their pharmacare and dental care plans, even though they were not official debate topics. Singh seems to have mentioned health care the most compared to the other leaders.
Bourgeault also pushed back against the notion put forward by some party leaders that health care is solely a provincial matter.
People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier said that, if elected, his government would not intervene on matters of health care as they are “provincial jurisdiction.”
For Bourgeault, the federal government plays a number of key roles in overseeing health care, including enforcing regulations and ensuring equity of services across the country.
The most detailed discussions on health care came after the debates themselves, during scrums with journalists.
In response to a question about pharmacare, May said that she’s proud of the fact that in 2015, her party was the only one calling for such a program at the time.
Now, there’s also the NDP and the Liberal Party supporting it, though the NDP plan is more in line with her party’s than the Liberals’.
“We are really on the verge of being able to push through universal, single-payer pharmacare,” May said.
She said that while she had a bit of “sticker shock” at the Parliamentary Budget Office’s costing of her party’s pharmacare plan, which said it would cost around $27 billion, “we found enough revenue to be sure that we could do it.”
On a question about more doctors in rural areas (where only 8 per cent of family doctors are located, according to recent data), May said that the federal government needs to do a better job of enforcing agreements with the provinces and territories.
“We must never forget that while health care is delivered by the provinces, it’s the federal minister of health who is responsible for enforcing the Canada Health Act,” she said.
Also during a scrum after the debate, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was asked whether his party’s plan for pharmacare would be a single-payer system, as promised by other parties.
Trudeau said that a federal government doesn’t get to determine the final outcome of such a proposal, and that there needs to be discussion and agreement with the provinces and territories.
Trudeau said that he is unsure whether every province would be on board with pharmacare, including the province of Ontario.