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The Globe and Mail

Let's get the health-care debate out of the parking lot

David Dodge, the former Bank of Canada governor and senior deputy minister, has some wise comments in Tuesday's National Post about the realities of the debate that has yet to happen on health care among politicians. He correctly points out an impending fiscal calamity awaits many governments, and more importantly taxpayers, unless we get real about embracing our systemic challenges.

In The Globe, there's an equally interesting piece by award-winning health reporter André Picard that looks at the debate around hospital parking fees. It is a perfect microcosm of Dodge's narrative. After spending a summer and fall dealing with personal and parental medical issues, I've spent hundreds of dollars on hospital parking in two different provinces. Frankly, it never bothered me nor did I see it as an unjust levy. I suspect like many others, my greatest frustration was trying to find a spot – not opening my wallet.

However, if there are packets of people who have a strong disinclination to paying for parking at a hospitals then god help those trying to push real reform of our health-care system. If the battle starts with parking fees, the tires of true dialogue appear already slashed.

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No politician, no matter his or her party, will do anything about health-care reform unless they have some backup from an engaged citizenry. Nor will they act until some of the founding myths about Canadian identity being intertwined with free, universal medicare are busted. As Picard points out, not even Tommy Douglas believed our system would be entirely publicly funded.

A personal choice to continue to play rugby, though not well, and to run, ever so slowly, means I am constantly paying for all manner of medical services. I go to private service providers and while I have some insurance coverage, the money for this care is coming out of my pocket and not yours. Our mixed system allows for this and it is a reality we must not shy away from discussing.

As recent world economic circumstance makes clear, we must all make wise fiscal choices to protect our future. There is no shortage of examples of what fiscal recklessness does to a country. A healthy economy and a healthy society are arguably one in the same. As we address our own economic system here in Canada, we must not avoid passing judgment on our health-care system. This debate has to move out of the parking lot.

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