Bill No. 5 integrating the Extra-Mural, Ambulance NB and Telecare Programs is now being studied by a standing committee of the Legislative Assembly. If adopted, it will allow the Government of New Brunswick to privatize these three components with Medavie, which already holds the Ambulance NB contract. Consequently, I made it my duty to suggest to each member of the Committee that they study the Bill in the light of the Canada Health Act principle which requires that health care services be managed under public administration.
Former Minister of Health Victor Boudreau, a member of the Committee, responded quickly to my suggestion by saying: “… do stop spreading fear relatively to this file.” Refusing to admit that the transfer of the Extra-Mural program in private hands constitutes privatization, he added: “… please stop scaring seniors by telling them that the services (Extra-Mural) will be reduced…”
In my reply, I was no nicer than he had been. I asked him to recall his troubles with Parlee Beach, the millions of dollars granted to Atcon, the exaggerated amount of money including assets required of seniors to stay in a nursing home, the $ 720,000 paid by the government in compensatory fees when the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eilish Cleary was fired by him, and the $ 525,000 paid to Reno Volpe when he fired him as CEO of Vitalité Health Authority. I could have added the botched job done relative to the property tax evaluation.
I reminded him that at the nine public meetings held by Minister Benoît Bourque, we could find no one buying the idea of privatization. I myself attended the gathering in Moncton and Miramichi. Everywhere, people are angry and outraged at a government which doesn’t hear them.
I held eleven town hall meetings with groups of citizens (Federation of senior citizens, Community College, Quispamsis, Moncton, Sackville, Juniper, Salisbury, Bathurst, Shediac Cape, Harrisville, Hillsborough, and others to come). The atmosphere is always the same. A reporter from the Telegraph Journal characterized them as “hostile crowds.” The Francophone Association of Seniors has held the same number of gatherings addressing the same issue, but adapted to the interests and concerns of the Francophone populations in Shediac, Campbellton, Caraquet, Petit-Rocher, Dieppe, Grand Falls, Shippagan, Tracadie and Saint-Basile. I personally attended the ones in Shediac and Dieppe. No one wants privatization of health care. This is very clear. But the Gallant government fails to understand.
The Minister Responsible for Seniors, Lisa Harris, has followed me through three of my meetings. According to her, my presentations are only opinions, whereas she and her colleagues possess the facts and the truth. She isn’t the only one of the Gallant Government to attend these citizens’ meetings with this mindset. They all peddle the same idea: We are going to be so much better when Medavie takes charge. What they do not say with much conviction, is that paramedics and ambulance employees will be asked to fill jobs that otherwise were performed by nurses. They do good work in their domain, but they do not have the level of qualification of a nurse. We seldom hear any more government officials saying that privatization is going to cost more to taxpayers.
Dissatisfied with the fact that citizens are holding meetings, current Health Minister Benoit Bourque and his colleagues try to discredit them by saying that they are used to spread falsehoods and inaccuracies. The Minister, on the other hand, can state that home care is not covered under the Canada Health Act, and therefore can be privatized without violating the Federal law. What he fails to understand is that home care services have absolutely nothing to do with the medical services provided by the Extra-Mural program and prescribed by doctors. The first are meant to allow seniors to remain in their homes as long as they can be provided services such as light housekeeping, meal preparation, bath services, etc. It is true that these services are not covered by law, but what we have been talking all along are medical services provided by the Extra-Mural program which absolutely are covered by the Act.
Opposing privatization is not fear mongering. Citizens of this province do not want the government to dismantle their health care system. Simple as that!
Cecile Cassista is the executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights.