Healthcare Debate Missing from Federal Election

Thirteen years have passed since Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day famously held up a “No 2-Tier Healthcare” sign during the 2000 leader’s debate, after former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien raised doubts about an Alliance commitment to universal healthcare.

During the 2011 election, the Harper Conservatives essentially neutralized the issue of the Federal Government’s commitment to healthcare by announcing transfers to the provinces would continue at six per cent per year. Later in 2011, the federal Conservatives became a lightning-rod for provincial criticism when the government announced the Canada Health Transfer funding formula would move to a per capita model and the escalator would be tied to GDP growth after 2016.

From that point forward, the Conservatives have maintained a strict jurisdictional approach to healthcare with a limited federal role.

This pattern has continued into the 2015 campaign. 17 days passed before healthcare was even mentioned by Harper; during a campaign appearance in Fredericton, Harper discussed the Canada Health Transfer, but did not discuss any substantive healthcare policy.

This comes as no surprise; healthcare has traditionally been a red herring issue among federal parties, as it is an area of provincial responsibility. This is helpful to the Conservatives, as the lack of a substantive health discussion allows them to focus on issues that are of importance to their base. However, the campaign is a long one, and we can expect other parties to latch onto issues like national Pharmacare as the campaign continues.