Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why there has to be due process

Cyclingnews announced today that the judge presiding over the Operación Puerto case has decided to end criminal proceedings against persons accused in the case(Operación Puerto shelved?). This means that Madrid doctors Eufemiano Fuentes and José Luis Merino, team director Manolo Saiz and about 50 riders are off the hook. This is good news and bad news for the riders. The good news is that they won't go to jail. The bad news is that it opens the door for the UCI to use the investigation files in their own investigations.

While it's great that the matter can finally be resolved, it's too bad that the UCI chose to hang the riders in the press before they had the evidence to back it up. It has ruined many careers prematurely and has damaged the reputation of the sport of cycling. Let's hope that as they adopt their new doping code the UCI also adopts a posture where due process is afforded to all who are accused.

I think there's also a less for the Harper government as they look to re-write ant-terrorism legislation. Ensuring the rule of law without due process diminishes our society and makes us more like those we are hoping to defeat.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Stephane Dion at the Canadian Club Ottawa

Much better performance by Stephane Dion at the Canadian Club in Ottawa today. Maybe it was just today, but his English seems much better. I also thought he handled the Harper smear campaign very well. Let's hope that Canadians respond well to his insistence on not descending to Harper's level. Sorry I missed his speech. Looking forward to seeing him in Vancouver in a few days. Keep it up Mr. Dion!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Why isn't Pierre Berton required reading?

This is an awful thing to admit, but until January I had never read a book by Pierre Berton. He is recognized as one of Canada's greatest historical writers and has published books on almost every period of our short history. But in my 45 years I had not read a single one of the many books he wrote over the course of his long career.

Sad as it is to say, I think it might be that I never really thought of Pierre Berton as a writer. Growing up in the Ottawa Valley in the 1960's and 1970's, we only got two or three television stations. Of course, one of them was the CBC. And given the limited selection we tended to watch whatever they put on. One of those shows was Front Page Challenge. And one of the regular panelists on the show was Pierre Berton. I've never been able to think about him in any other capacity since then.

I was shocked then when, almost by accident, I picked up a copy of The National Dream. I was shocked at how good it is. Like many Canadians I've never thought of Canadian history as anything but dull, dull, dull. So imagine my surprise when I find a cast of characters that seem like they were spawned from the imagination of Twain or Dickens. Certainly not the stolid, wearisome texts we were subjected to in school. The book was so good I could barely put it down at night (causing my wife much grief -- she gets up very early).

All of this has me wondering, is Pierre Berton a standard history text in our high schools? And if not why not?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Should Canada support private-sector healthcare?

With so much focus on the environment and the war in Afghanistan, many Canadians have lost sight of what until recently, had been the issue foremost in Canadians minds. But health care is, and should remain, an issue that stays at the forefront of the political debate.

Canada, like most Western nations, has a rapidly aging population and virtually zero population growth. Over the past century we have also had a significant improvement in our overall standard of living and quality of life. As a result, people are living longer. Combined these factors may be creating a perfect storm in the health care industry. As the population ages they will need more care and will also likely need more treatment. At the same time, health care workers are becoming increasingly scarce, and drugs increasingly more expensive.

So it was interesting to read BC Health Minister George Abbott's view of private-sector health in Gary Mason's commentary in today's Globe & Mail ("B.C. is refreshingly candid on private-sector health care"). Mr. Abbott believes that "a vigorous private-sector alternative is an advantage to the public system as a whole." He also believes that we should consider a more market based approach that is advocated by Brian Day (new head of the CMA) and used extensively in Europe. Under this system hospitals would essentially act as private corporations that would compete -- for patients and funding.

I for one agree with Mr. Abbott that we need to look for alternatives in health care delivery. The currently system is unsustainable. And private delivery already exists under Medicare -- after all GP's are really just small business owners who compete for patients and bill the government. We should even look beyond physicians to supporting services. During the past federal election, I was campaigning for a candidate in a Toronto riding. At one door, I encountered a Conservative supporter who had run a radiology clinic, but was shut down by the province and the services were moved to Markham. He claimed (I have no way of verifying this of course) that he ran the clinic more effectively and profitably -- he was open longer hours and his overall billing to the government was less.

Private delivery in this context makes a lot of sense to me -- we're just looking at efficiencies. But in doing so we have to make sure that in embracing competition, quality doesn't suffer. While Mr. Day encourages competition for patients (to reduce wait times for example), doing this without taking quality of service would be a mistake. Before embracing any private delivery strategy governments here should look to major health plans south of the border which are now looking at efficiency and quality in evaluating providers. Ensuring quality saves health plans and employers downstream costs (re-admissions, additional procedures, etc.).

One other big caveat in this private delivery scenario. We should not under any circumstances embrace private delivery outside of Medicare. And this is what Mr. Day really wants -- a U.S. style system that would allow private-sector providers to cater to those who can pay. The U.S. system is a disaster. It has drained high quality providers from the public system, left 40 million Americans without health care, and has driven many others into bankruptcy (medical bankruptcies are the number 1 cause of personal bankruptcies in the U.S.). This is no way to go. Medicare (and hopefully Pharmacare) must be retained at all costs. It ensures a reasonable quality of life for all Canadians. As a side benefit it also serves as a competitive advantage to Canadian corporations, who don't face the overwhelming costs faced by their counterparts south of the border.