Monday, November 28, 2005

Public or Private Care: Debate Close to Home

Health care is a big issue for people. People get sick and they want reliable services when that happens. Yet, for some time health services have been strained. So, along comes the Maples Surgical Centre in Winnipeg. The Centre's solution? Allow people to pay out of pocket (up to $700) to receive MRIs in less than 2 days. This shortens the lineups for people waiting for tests. Problem solved, right?

In the first place, I don't feel people should have to be asked to pay for health services. We pay taxes for that, so they shouldn't have to pay twice. As for shortening wait times? The main culprit in wait times is lack of medical professionals available. How does the MSC coming in provide more medical professionals. The article also states that MSC has hired some staff away from the public hospital Health Sciences Centre, and while we cannot say with certainty that it will have any impact on wait times, there is that possibility. This doesn't leave many options for people with limited means to pay, and whether it's an out-of-pocket expense or covered through insurance, it is one more expense people have to contend with. Allowing people to pay to receive services faster, therefore, seems to be merely shuffling around existing resources without attacking the root of the problem.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Gift That Keeps From Giving

Yikes! Where has time gone? Christmas is 39 days away, and time grows short. Many people will still go another 38 days without shopping for Christmas. Why can't we just go without shopping for Christmas entirely?

That's the point of Buy Nothing Day. This event was started up by the consumer group adbusters. Happening every November 25th in Canada, the goal is to raise issues surrounding consumerism and the impact it has on our lives. We stress ourselves out to buy that perfect item for our loved ones, not really knowing what they like and knowing deep down in our hearts that whatever we buy them will likely make it into the dumpster within a few months. The rush of the season also has an impact on those who work in the retail outlets, who may not have much time to spend with their families over the holidays because of their work. By January, we've also come to realise that maybe we should get around to paying off that pesky credit-card, a debt which may have gone towards financing tropical vacations for retail executives.

There are alternatives to the shop-till-you-drop approach to celebrating Christmas with your loved ones. A group of Canadian Christians a while back started up something called Buy Nothing Christmas. Aside from discouraging the mad rush to the malls that accompanies the Christmas season, BNC provides alternatives for people to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones. They include such things as crafts and recipie books, but also crucial is that they remind people about Christmas being the birth of Christ, and what that represents (which deserves its own topic and isn't something I plan to take on right now). This also raises the question about our values. Do we value collecting and distributing material items for the sake of collecting and distributing material items, or do we value simply spending time with and cherishing our firends and family?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Take Me To Your Leader

Recent events have shown luck to be against Conservative political parties in 2 instances.

The first instance relates to Manitoba. Manitoba Conservative Party Leader Stuart Murray announced that he doesn't intend to stay on. This after a convention where he received 55% of the vote, a vote that had been called for by some party members unhappy with his leadership. He had enough to stay on, but had hoped for a stronger showing, so he called a leadership convention. It's too early to start guessing who will replace him, but his departure should help the party, even though their chances of winning the next provincial election after having spent their energy on choosing a new leader are slim. Murray became the leader shortly after Filmon's government was defeated. Listening to him speak, the issue that I saw as being foremost on his mind was tax cuts. People won't say no to a chance to keep more money if you give them one, yet they also have other concerns. Will I have health care when I need it? Can I afford to go to university this year? How are my elderly parents going to be looked after? In addition, the Doer government has implemented tax cuts in most, if not all of its provincial budgets. So Murray's main issue is that the government should be doing what it's already doing? But back to the leadership. If the Conservatives can find a leader who can speak to the concerns of the people of Manitoba, they will once again be a credible force in Manitoba politics.

Now I'll shift gears to the federal scene. Picture this. You're the opposition leader. You are opposing a minority government, it's been in power for over a decade, this government has failed to capture the imagination of the public, and is now the subject of a corruption inquiry, the report having just been released. Naturally, you'd be laughing your way to forming the government, right?

Not if your name is Stephen Harper. A recent poll places the Liberals ahead of the Conservatives, despite the recent release of the Gomery report. An earlier post-Gomery poll had the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals, but the Liberals rebounded so quickly it's almost as if the Conservatives hadn't led. This isn't the first time the Liberals rebounded in a poll: they rebounded last spring, and they rebounded in the last federal election. It's a long-standing pattern of every time the Conservatives tie or overtake the Liberals in public opinion, their support plummets very shortly. Some supporters believe this to be a rejection by Ontario voters of Alberta politics, and can't understand why Ontarians condone corruption.

The issue isn't a matter of Alberta against Ontario. And the support for the Liberals is not support for the corruption we've seen either. The issue is that many Canadians, although not enthusiastic about the Liberals, have a deep fear about what a Conservative government would mean for Canada, and it's this fear that causes Canadians to support the Liberals over the Conservatives. Lesser of 2 evils is how many people see it. And when the Conservatives hammer the corruption issue, the response many have is, "yeah, well all politicians are corrupt." Asking someone to vote for you because the other person is bad is negative campaigning and cynical. The problem is not the Canadian (or Ontarian, for that matter) voting public, it's the Conservative Party, and some self-reflection would be in order if the Conservatives wish to move out of perpetual opposition.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Remember The Fallen

On November 11, 1918, the main players in WWI signed a treaty to end the conflict. Officially known as Armistice Day, it is observed in many parts of the world not only to commemorate the end of the war but to reflect on the lives lost due to war and the need to prevent it from happening again.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like for those young soldiers to sign up for a war, knowing that they may never make it back alive or might make it back severely wounded. Even those soldiers who survived unwounded had deep emotional scars left, and were never the same afterwards. Yet, I have always struggled with the idea that the soldiers went to war to "fight for our freedom." Were the nation's leaders of the time really concerned with freedom and human dignity? Did they wrap up their ambitious causes in the cloak of freedom as a means of getting people to support them? How many of the leaders who made the decisions to delcare war had any firsthand experience with it or were connected to the effects it had on average citizens? What makes the tragedy of German civilian lives ruined in Allied bombings or German soldiers coming back with their baggage any less so than a Canadian, American, or British soldier?

This year has been a major year for veterans in many respects. It is the Year of the Veteran, the 60th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and the death of Smokey Smith. Remembrance Day is an important event for me. Yet, for me, it's not so much about remembering a fight for freedom, a thought that goes unchallenged each year during Remembrance Day, as it is to reflect on war, its root causes, and the destruction and hardship it causes everyone. With the exception of WWII, were any of the wars fought in the past 150 years really necessary, or were they part of a sick game on the part of the nation's leaders to enrich themselves and their friends at everyone else's expense? Yet, amid the destruction, there is also hope. The hope of all humanity that one day "they will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."

I'd like to close by mentioning the song "It Could Happen Again," by Collin Raye. The song takes place in the trenches of WWI. It's Christmas, and the soldiers have been given a few days leave. During this time, German and British soldiers who had been busy shooting at one another, put aside the conflict and joined to celebrate Christmas. Amid all the death and destruction happening around them, they put aside their differences and shared the common bonds that make us human. I think that is the best way to honour the fallen soldiers.