Social media play key role in defending medicare
TheStar.com – Opinion/EditorialOpinion
Published On Thu Nov 18 2010. By Bob Hepburn, Editorial Page
Most Canadians likely don’t have a clue that this is National Medicare Week, a time to promote our universal health system.
It has received no media coverage, is ignored by politicians and sparked no public rallies or marches.
Despite this lack of attention, though, the week is being used as a springboard for one of the biggest grassroots campaigns ever aimed at supporting medicare.
Timing of the campaign, launched Monday without fanfare, is critical because our public medicare system is under greater attack from supporters of private health care than at any other time in its 50-year history.
The campaign, which urges Canadians to write and email Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is the brainchild of Mike McBane, head of the Canadian Health Coalition.
Operating almost exclusively through social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and e-blasts, the campaign is already the most successful in the coalition’s history.
It’s the ultimate in modern-day lobbying, replacing public rallies and formal press conferences that were once the mainstay of pro-medicare groups.
Within hours of the launch, thousands of medicare supporters had written to Harper, with copies sent to McBane’s group.
“The response has been stunning,” McBane said. “It’s great because Mr. Harper needs to hear from Canadians who support medicare, not just from those who want to dismantle it.”
Harper has remained disturbingly silent as the proponents of private health care kick up their push to expand two-tier medicine. As well, he has failed to act as provinces delist medical services, allow doctors to extra bill patients and permit queue-jumping.
“Defend our health-care system. Stand up for medicare,” says the email that the coalition wants people to send to Harper.
Polls have repeatedly shown that a vast majority of Canadians support our current medicare system.
But McBane said Harper, who for most of his life was a critic of universal medicare, has done nothing to support medicare or stop the rapid expansion of private, for-profit health care.
Over the past month, the ringleaders of the small, highly vocal movement to dismantle medicare in Canada have been busy.
Spouting their mantra about how medicare is “broken,” they’ve received widespread attention by giving speeches, granting interviews, writing opinion articles and appearing on “expert” panels about the future of health care.
It’s all part of a concerted campaign to soften up Canadians for the complete dismantling of medicare, says McBane.
Indeed, these promoters of private health care, cheered on by right-leaning media outlets and politicians, have seized control of the health-care debate.
The evidence is widespread.
• Former prime minister Brian Mulroney called last month for an “adult discussion” on medicare, suggesting it may be necessary to introduce user fees and more competition to make the system more financially sustainable.
• Maxime Bernier, a former Harper government cabinet minister, proposed ending the $40 billion in health and social transfers to the provinces, claiming Ottawa has no constitutional authority over health care. His proposal would basically mean the end of medicare.
• Dr. Keith Martin, an outspoken Liberal MP, last month suggested Canada introduce a parallel private health-care system to relieve pressure on the public system.
Part of their overall strategy has been to shrewdly — and falsely — portray medicare defenders as strident ideologues who won’t even admit the financially stretched health system needs some repairs
Through all this, Harper has remained aloof, close-lipped.
Is he concerned about illegal fees being charged patients? Does he share in the values of the Canada Health Act? Will he preserve medicare? Defend it? Improve it?
Given the success of this social media campaign, Harper may not be able to stay silent for long.
For Canadians wanting to show their support for medicare, a form letter to Harper is available on the Canadian Health Coalition’s website: www.healthcoalition.ca.
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