Glorious and Free Healthcare

July 19, 2017

Both sides in America’s never-ending healthcare battle like to point north and either commend Canada’s system as a model, or condemn it as a worst-case scenario.

Meanwhile, the concept of doctor’s bills seems odd, or even quaint, to nearly three generations of Canadians. But if you think universal healthcare has always been the Canadian way, just ask your parents—or their parents.

The days when Canada’s medical system was more like the current one in the United States are well within living memory. This country only established a publicly funded healthcare system like the one we now find so familiar in 1966. That’s long ago, in the sense that it preceded the first manned moon landing. But the millions of your fellow Canadians who are over fifty today arrived with a price tag. And for those over sixty, doctor’s bills were as common through their childhood years as…internet provider bills are today. (Generally much lower, though.)

Of course, we still pay for medical services. Mostly it’s through our income taxes, which are higher than in the USA. And we pay for prescription drugs, dental services, optometry, some cosmetic or elective surgeries… But the chance of financial ruin in the event of serious illness ,strong in the States, is far smaller here.

Although “Medicare” is actually the name of an American health insurance program for seniors aged 65 or older, most Canadians informally apply that label to this country’s universal healthcare. And Canada’s first federal NDP leader, Tommy Douglas, is commonly credited as the “Father of Medicare.” He began his crusade for government-funded healthcare in the 1940s, when he was Premier of Saskatchewan. He instituted the country’s first such program in that province in 1947, despite strong opposition from the medical establishment. Alberta soon followed with their own version. The NDP never did win a federal election, but Douglas continued campaigning for Medicare. And largely thanks to his efforts, in 1966 Liberal Prime Minster Lester B. Pearson introduced the Medical Care Act, which launched publicly funded healthcare throughout Canada. In 1984, the Canada Health Act expanded on and refined the legislation. And as recently as 1999, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and most Premiers reaffirmed in the Social Union Framework Agreement that healthcare in Canada has “comprehensiveness, universality, portability, public administration, and accessibility.”

Universal healthcare is one more distinctly Canadian achievement to consider as we celebrate 150 years of Canada—alive and well.