Provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael (centre) speaks to reporters Monday morning about an independent review of this province’s health care system and the renewal of the current Canada Health Accord, which expires in 2014. Michael was joined by the NDP MP for Halifax, Megan Leslie (left), and the NDP’s candidate in St. John’s Centre, Gerry Rogers. — Photo by Dave Bartlett/The Telegram
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael says she doesn’t believe Premier Kathy Dunderdale has shown the leadership needed to renegotiate health transfers to this province from Ottawa.
In 2014, the current Canada Health Accord — which includes what the federal government pays provinces annually for health care — will expire.
On Monday, Michael held a news conference at the NDP’s campaign headquarters in St. John’s to highlight her party’s campaign promise for a comprehensive and independent review of the province’s health care system and to talk about the importance of a new Canada Health Accord to ensure stable, long-term funding for medicare.
“These transfers are crucial because about 20 cents of every dollar (the province spends) on health care comes from Ottawa,” Michael told reporters.
With the province’s oil revenues forecasted to diminish in the next few years, she said the province cannot shoulder a higher percentage of health care costs without raising taxes or cutting other important services.
“We will need strong leadership to stand up to the (Stephen) Harper government and negotiate health care for our families,” Michael continued. “The health care system in this province is already facing some serious challenges.”
Those challenges include a shortage of specialists — especially outside of St. John’s — and long wait lists for some tests and treatments, she said.
“Kathy Dunderdale is not the strong voice we need to tell Sephen Harper he must protect and improve Newfoundland and Labrador’s health system,” Michael added.
During the spring’s federal election, Dunderdale gave Harper a “glowing endorsement,” Michael said, but about a month later a majority Conservative government announced the closure the Marine Rescue Sub Centre in St. John’s.
Megan Leslie, the NDP MP for Halifax and former federal NDP health critic, also spoke at the news conference.
“(Harper) and his government are not friends to medicare. They’re not friends to the health care system in Canada,” she said.
Leslie said public health care is too important to let “die a slow death,” and strong leadership at the provincial level is needed to stand up to the current federal government.
Michael also said the current provincial government has refused time and again to do a full review of the province’s health system.
“This government has had eight years to learn what this province’s people need from their health care system and it has squandered that time,” she said.
The NDP leader acknowledged such a review would cost a lot of money and would likely take between one and two years to complete.
But Michael said the money would be well spent, and would likely highlight how money could be allocated more efficiently in a restructured system.
When quizzed on what has been called an already unsustainable amount of health care spending she had this to say:
“The slice of the budget pie hasn’t changed. The money has gone up, but that’s because the budget has gone up. But the slice of the pie is the same,” she said.
Michael is scheduled to hit the road this morning and spend much of the last week of the provincial election campaign in regions of the province she’s yet to visit.
She plans to visit Labrador, the Clarenville-Bonavista area and “hopefully” central Newfoundland.
Michael has already made day trips down the Burin Peninsula and to the west coast of the island.