Oct 25, 2014

Health care town hall takes aim at private clinics


COURTENAY—A town hall meeting held here earlier this week revealed a deep well of frustration and anger with the Harper Conservative government for dismantling public health care while allowing private, for-profit clinics to proliferate.

The meeting, which attracted a crowd of about 350, was hosted by CUPE, HEU, the Comox Valley chapter of the Council of Canadians, and the BC Retired Teachers’ Association. It was the latest in a series of health care town halls that have targeted ridings that narrowly elected Conservatives in the last federal election.

As in Campbell River on Monday night, the event on Tuesday was emceed by Barb Biley, a health coalition activist and member of HEU’s provincial executive. This time, CUPE National President Paul Moist and Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow were joined on the panel by Duncan Etches of Canadian Doctors for Medicare (CDM).

Etches spoke of CDM’s intervener status in a lawsuit against the B.C. government by a group of for-profit clinics led by former Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Brian Day. The owner of Vancouver’s for-profit Cambie Surgery Centre, Day is the leading proponent of privatized health care. His group is seeking to strike down provincial health legislation that limits the for-profit delivery of medically necessary services, claiming that these rules violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“What this trial is asking for is to legitimize greed—we need to put some kind of limits on greed,” said Etches, noting that the case will likely end up in the Supreme Court of Canada. (For more information on the court challenge, visit  

The gutting of Medicare has moral implications, Etches added, but it also has consequences for the medical profession itself.

“Even medical education is threatened by privatization. Private facilities are not nearly as interested in providing education as public institutions are,” he said.

Moist and Barlow both paid tribute to the frontline health care workers in attendance and thanked everyone for taking part.

“The fact that six hundred people from the mid-Island have shown up at these meetings to stand up for public health care is a very encouraging sign,” said Moist, adding that he and Barlow have been on a mission to keep the Harper government’s attacks on public health care in the news.

Sometimes, lack of awareness—or skepticism—in the media can be surprising, noted Barlow.

“In Campbell River I was doing an interview with a young woman who asked, ‘So, what proof do you have that the government is doing this?’ I just looked at her and said ‘It’s been well documented, everywhere,” said Barlow.

“At last night’s meeting, it was heartbreaking to hear the story of the health care worker who drives home every night after her shift in tears because she can’t provide patients with the care that they need.”

In Courtenay, several candidates (or those seeking nominations to run) for the next federal election were in attendance, all pledging to defend public health care if elected. Others called for more education on the issue, particularly among young people.

The event was also an occasion to pay tribute to Gwyn Frayne, an activist in the Comox Valley chapter of the Council of Canadians who recently passed away from lung cancer. Frayne’s passionate commitment to her community included strong support for public services.

“Gwyn would have wanted you to come to his meeting,” Biley told the crowd, recalling one of Frayne’s final e-mails, “so thank you for coming in honour of Gwyn and in defence of health care.”

For photos of the event, visit the gallery.





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