Medicare worth sustaining, says royal commission researcher

Barb Sweet
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Jack Boan (left) chats with his friend Ian Wishart. Boan is in St. John’s for a conference of university and college retirees. He was a researcher on the royal commission that led to medicare. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

By Barb Sweet

The Telegram

Jack Boan remains as convinced today of the merits of  medicare as he was while a researcher on the national royal commission that led to the public health system.

“Oh yeah. It made sense,” he said enthusiastically of his personal support for the conclusion of Justice Emmett Hall and his commissioners in recommending a national health policy in 1964.

Boan, 95, is an economics professor emeritus of the University of Regina and is in

St. John’s this week to attend the College and University Retiree Associations of Canada annual conference, being hosted by the retirees of Memorial University.

A member at large on the retirees associations’ board of directors, Boan was keen to visit Newfoundland for the first time.

“It’s on my bucket list. I always had a warm spot in my heart for it,” he said in an interview at the home of longtime friend and retired

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian clergy Ian Wishart. The men met in the early 1960s when Boan was a member of Wishart’s congregation in Regina.

Boan served as one of the researchers on the Royal Commission on Health Services from 1961-63. Later that decade, he began teaching health economics at the University of Regina.

He retired as a full-time professor in 1983 and taught part time until 1999, but has remained active in scholarly work and conferences ever since.

While wait times and concerns about the sustainability of the system grips the public and governments about 50 years after medicare was born, Boan said he believes a public health system is vital, along with education.

“The right-wing people think health is a commodity like bread and housing. It’s not a commodity. It’s a service —  a service people ought to have provided by the rest of us, a community thing. That’s what I think, anyway,” he said.

Boan said he’s not sure where health care is headed, but he knows who should lead the way to improve the system.

“It will depend a lot on the doctors’ initiative to get this under control,” he said. “I don’t see any other way because they are the captains of the ship. They are the quarterback.”

While conservative think tanks warn about the rising costs of health care, Boan warns about an American-style system where hospitals and private health insurers are driven by profit.

“They have to have a profit for their shareholders,” he said.

“Governments would be relieved of some of the costs, but the total costs to the country would not go down. That’s never mentioned.”

Boan doesn’t recall meeting Tommy Douglas, the socialist premier of Saskatchewan widely regarded as the father of medicare.

But he was encouraged to go hear the politician speak in Calgary in 1944 by an entrance guard at the military base where Boan was then posted — part of his Second World War duty as a wireless operator with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“He had a great gift for oratory. He used to have the crowd in the palm of his hand,” Boan recalled of Douglas.

Boan suspects Newfoundland may have first piqued his interest while he was obtaining his undergrad degree at the University of Saskachewan, when around 1947 an economics professor assigned a paper on the merits of Newfoundland joining Confederation.

“I don’t know if that’s when it started, but I always had a romantic feeling about Newfoundland. But I never got here,” he said.

About 100 people are attending the retirees’ conference, including local members, said Edgar Williams, a retired Memorial math professor and secretary of the national federation.

Boan hopes the federation will become more vocal about issues of national interest, because of the wealth of experience and expertise among its members.

Organizations: University of Regina, Health Services, Canadian Air Force University of Saskachewan

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada, Saskatchewan Calgary

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Recent comments

  • Tony Rockel
    June 13, 2013 - 14:21

    If it's worth sustaining, it's worth doing it properly: this is the only country with universal health care that doesn't have a universal drug plan. What's the use of a "free" visit to your doctor if you can't afford your meds? A federal drug program would make our drugs much more affordable. We should take a closer look at some of the European health care models.