A victory for medicare

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial – A victory for medicare
March 09, 2009

If the debate over health care has sounded off-key in recent years, one reason may be that the leading voice of Canada’s doctors has been skewing rightward at the highest levels.

The last two presidents of the Canadian Medical Association were proud owners of private clinics who campaigned aggressively for more privatization that could create a two-tier health care system across the country. The current CMA President, Dr. Robert Ouellet, and his predecessor, Dr. Brian Day, both mounted high-profile crusades that were out of sync not only with Canadian public opinion but even the sentiments of many doctors.

The internal politics of the CMA, like any union or national organization, are complex. Low turnouts and split votes meant that Ouellet and Day were elected by tiny minorities of the overall membership, resulting in a disconnect with the grassroots.

Under the annual rotation of the CMA presidency, it will be Ontario’s turn to take the helm next year. Now, a hard-fought campaign for the support of the province’s doctors has culminated with the victory last week of Dr. Jeff Turnbull, who looks set to become president-elect at a convention this summer, barring a challenge from the floor.

A member of the Order of Canada and chief of staff at the Ottawa Hospital, Turnbull has also headed the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the province’s self-regulating body. He won broad support thanks to a coalition of idealistic young doctors and endorsements from the influential deans of medical schools.

Turnbull called his victory “a message to those setting health-care policy that doctors want to see change, but they want to see it within a publicly funded system.” His victory is an encouraging sign that, under new leadership, the CMA will change its tune on privatization to become more in harmony with the ethos of Canada’s 67,000 doctors, their patients, and most of our politicians.

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