Canada's health care system is not fully protected from NAFTA and the WTO--but it could be

October 21, 2002

OTTAWA--Contrary to misleading government assurances, Canada's health care system is not fully protected from international trade agreements, namely, NAFTA and the WTO. But, if Canadian governments act soon, they can still strengthen Medicare before trade-deal threats make health care reforms too costly.

Those are the main conclusions of a major report to the Romanow Commission on the Future of Health Care prepared under the auspices of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The report examines the key trade provisions that affect health care policy, assesses their possible adverse effects on Medicare, and urges prompt corrective action before trade treaty restrictions shut the window of opportunity for reform.

"The principles underlying these trade agreements are at odds with the principles on which Medicare is based," says CCPA Executive Director Bruce Campbell. "The commercial priorities of the trade deals conflict with the fundamental purpose of Medicare--the provision of health care to everyone on the basis of need, not on ability to pay."

He adds that, if Medicare did not already exist today, Canada's current trade commitments would almost certainly make its creation far more difficult, if not impossible.

"These trade commitments, if not changed, could lock in provincial government moves to commercialize and privatize health care, making them essentially irreversible," warns senior CCPA researcher Scott Sinclair, one of the study's drafters.

Sinclair urges Ottawa to take immediate steps to stop the creeping commercialization of our health care system before trade treaties lock it in. "It's time to put health first," he says.

"The creation of Medicare required governments to take decisive, principled action, often despite strong opposition from commercial interests," notes CCPA Research Associate Matthew Sanger. "Today, the same decisive, principled action by governments is needed to strengthen Medicare and protect it from the powerful commercializing bent of trade treaties."