Public Health Care and Defining Canada: Readers Speak Out in the Canada Letter

Public Health Care and Defining Canada: Readers Speak Out in the Canada Letter

Few, if any, politicians within the mainstream spectrum would dare suggest ending it today, although calls for reforming its services, which are delivered by the provinces, and its funding have become the perpetual motion machine of Canadian politics.

Space doesn’t allow me to include all of your responses, but here are some of the highlights, which have been condensed and edited for clarity:

Defining Values

“It is all about fairness. Canadians believe that every citizen has a right to the same services and privileges as everyone else — and the same responsibilities as every other citizen. The latter is less often expressed, but is part of the fabric of our society.

We have worked very hard as a society to ameliorate or eliminate disparities as much as possible, across a vast landscape with a sparse population. Universal health care is one of those measures.”

—Jane Mattei, Calgary, Alberta

Setting Us Apart

“We do see our health care system as a defining feature of our society, but as with many of the things we see as integral to our own self-image (multiculturalism, bilingualism, peacekeeping, gun restrictions, the monarchy) we choose to identify with it mainly because it sets us apart from the U.S.A.

Remember: In the context of developed countries, the Canadian health care system is pretty unremarkable. It is the U.S. that swims against the current.”

—John Ringer, from Toronto currently living in Britain


Paramedics with a patient at the emergency department of the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital.

Ian Austen/The New York Times

Diverging Paths

“The Canadian and American health systems did not diverge greatly in the first part of the 20th century. Some Canadians and some Americans shared enthusiasms for public power, a graduated income tax and government-based health care. They included many doctors on both sides of the border, especially those who, in the 1930s, were tired of being paid in chickens and bacon.

The first federal project was concocted during the war, though it remained on the shelf. There was another flare-up in 1945-6 with plans for an Ottawa-run social welfare system and the health part probably resembled Harry Truman’s medical care project. Canadian and American schemes for universal health care strongly resembled each other. But the Canadian one was enacted, while the American was only partially realized.”

—Robert Bothwell, professor of history, the University of Toronto

Ideological Divide

“People say that the border between Canada and the U.S. is artificial and the people are the same on both sides. But Canadians have evolved differently, with a sense of fairness and equality that is not seen south of the border.

It may date back to our founding. The motto of the U.S. — ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’ stresses individuality, while Canada’s Constitution talks about ‘Peace, Order and Good Government,’ stressing a belief in the government that the U.S. doesn’t seem to have.”

—Eric Cohen, Toronto

Community vs. Profit

“There is a collectivist sentiment here that emphasizes equity and interpersonal decency (frequently manifested as Canadian politeness), one that supersedes the highly entrepreneurial approach that health care has long had in the U.S.

This is reflected in every step of the system, including the lack of private medical schools and universities. The health system attempts, with considerable success, to make collective health the goal, rather than emphasizing the intervention-heavy, irrational-life-prolonging-at-all-costs marketplace that is available to the select cadre of Americans who can afford it.”

—Dr. Erica Frank, professor of public health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Global Times

The Reader Center is the place to go with your story ideas, questions and feedback about The Times’s coverage. In turn, it’s also a forum for us to fill you in on how and why we do things.

Right now the Reader Center is looking for questions about how we cover the news for our international readers and, generally, what else those readers would like to see from us. Canadians make up the biggest chunk of our international audience. So I’m hoping that many of you will use this form to submit your questions and observations.

Answering your questions will be Jodi Rudoren, the editorial director of NYT Global, whose task is to find ways to improve the relevance of The Times to readers outside of the United States. Those efforts include our expanded coverage of Canada and this newsletter.

And the editors at the Reader Center also want to hear from Canadians for whom the recent sexual harassment accusations have prompted frank discussions with parents or grandparents.

On that topic, I highly recommend reading this story about the shifts in the discussion of sexual harassment by Jessica Bennett, who recently came to The Times as its gender editor.

Centre Ice

—Tony Harris, an artist in Ottawa, has spent the past year painting portraits of hockey players who have been deemed to be the sport’s 100 best. The portraits will be open to public viewing free of charge Saturday and Sunday afternoon at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

—Alex Ovechkin is, unusually, a favorite son in both Washington and Moscow. But Mr. Ovechkin’s embrace of a group supporting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is making some of his American fans uncomfortable.

Trans Canada

—Paul Se Hui Oei has long stood out among the wealthy Chinese immigrants in Vancouver, British Columbia, for his political connections. But now he’s noteworthy for another reason. Dan Levin reports that the British Columbia authorities have accused Mr. Oei of bilking investors of millions of dollars, promising them access to Canadian residency. Mr. Levin also spoke with CKNW Radio on Friday about the fraud.

—Vancouver hopes to free up some apartments and ease its chronic housing shortage with new limits on Airbnb rentals. The effectiveness of its new law, however, is being questioned.

—The Daily 360 took its cameras to Iqaluit, Nunavut, and into the studio of the jeweler Mathew Nuqingaq.

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