The Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference

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Linda Silas
Linda Silas
President
Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions
Linda Silas  

Excerpts from speech delivered to the Conference:

Leadership is about taking risks, calculated risks if you're smart. It took insane courage to pass the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act 50 years ago. “We need to save Medicare from strangulation. We will always run into people who will say Medicare is a good idea for the soft-hearted humanitarian, but we can't afford it.” Tommy Douglas said these words 29 years ago. Yes, even 29 years ago we were still debating the sustainability of Medicare.

Cries that our public healthcare system cannot be sustained have been very loud and when our economy is slowing, they get even louder.

Are we facing the perfect storm? With an increasing population of elderly, the rise of chronic disease, an increasing reliance on expensive technology, a rising demand on mental health services, and all this with shrinking government revenue.

It is not by fate that this has happened. It is not fate that has shrunk government revenues and ballooned the numbers of Canadians with chronic disease, it is by choice. Choices made by individuals and by society. These choices have created situations, but different choices can create different and better situations.

Foregone revenue from the federal tax cuts in the last seven years equals $220 billion. Imagine what we could do with that money. We could have had a national drug program or universal $10/day childcare for every Canadian, not just Quebeckers. We could reduce post-secondary tuition to 1992 levels and the debate in Quebec wouldn't be happening today. We could provide every child in Aboriginal communities with good education and clean water and still post annual budget surpluses.

What do we do when we are facing the perfect storm? We make different decisions, those that have never been taken before. We take calculated risks toward a stronger focus on good health and prevention.

Can we change the system, modify it or improve it? Can we really change that sacred cow (Medicare)? Can we do it? Yes, we can ... as long as we involve Canadians. Because it's their system; it's not mine as a healthcare provider, and it's surely not politicians'. We have to make decisions based on communities and by communities. In other words, we have to look at relationships when we make our decision, and that's how we will escape the storm. That’s how we will calm the waters.

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