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CMA faces tough slog to make health care an election issue

The CMA faces some harsh realities as it tries to make health care an issue in the upcoming election, three political pundits agreed during an Aug. 25 political action session held at the CMA’s annual meeting in Halifax.

Tasha Kheiriddin, a public policy columnist and TV panellist, said health care and the CMA’s call for a national strategy on seniors care have gained little traction as issues in the current federal election campaign largely because health care is seen as a provincial issue. She also described seniors care as a “stealth crisis — you have to make [the aging population] a crisis of today, not 2036.”

Bruce Anderson, a political panellist and pollster, said that even though health care is regularly ranked as the most important issue facing Canadians politicians often ignore the fact. “Politicians are most gifted at saying ‘no’ to professional lobbies,” he said. “My advice is to recognize what politicians need, and that’s not something that takes seven years. They are short-term oriented — they want immediate impact.”

“We’re already four weeks into the longest election campaign in modern Canadian history, and health care has not been an issue,” observed TV panellist Kathleen Monk, a former spokesperson for the NDP. She said there are several reasons for this, including the high-profile trial of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy that has been dominating media interest.

Outgoing CMA President Chris Simpson made it clear that while it may be a hard road, the association will not give up.

“We’ll be tracking commitments made by the parties, and we’ll publish the results at the end of the campaign, so that Canadians who care and are worried about seniors care can make an informed decision when they’re at the ballot box,” Simpson told delegates in his valedictory address. “We’re not going to let candidates off the hook.”

One physician complained that the CMA is “very scattered” in its advocacy because it switches advocacy targets too often. “If I’m a politician, I know (the association) will be switching to something else,” he said, adding that the CMA should consider making its drive for better seniors care a long-term strategy.

Kheiriddin agreed. “If you’re constantly asking for something new, you will be ignored,” she said.

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