There is a word you will likely not hear uttered in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget speech on Thursday: health.
There may be passing references to the health of the economy, and a little braggy reminder that Ottawa has boosted health transfers to the provinces. But don’t expect new initiatives or any leadership on the health-care front. Don’t expect the level of passion you will hear on, say, mortgage rates.
This wash-my-hands-of-health approach from the Finance Minister – and the government of Stephen Harper more generally – is disquieting.
It’s as if health care didn’t matter to Canadians. But it does.
Let’s start with the economics: After all, this is the budget.
Health care accounts for 11.6 per cent of the gross domestic product. The $207-billion in total spending on health services this year will account for one in every $9 spent in the economy.
It’s strange that a government concerned with employment and economic stability is indifferent to a sector that employs one in 11 workers. Health care directly employs 1.6 million Canadians, and 500,000 indirect jobs depend on the sector. Most are stable, good-paying jobs. (Read: They pay a good chunk of taxes.)
It’s even more difficult to understand why a pro-business government couldn’t care less about the state of medicare, given that publicly funded health insurance offers Canadian business such a great economic advantage, particularly over its U.S. competitors.
Last, but not least, it seems politically reckless for a government (and a political party) to turn its back on an issue that is consistently identified as the No. 1 concern in public opinion polls – well ahead of the economy.