Welcome to Stephen Harper's Canada, where hiding books from the government just became an act of civil disobedience.
The federal Conservative government recently shut down health science libraries so abruptly that some Health Canada workers have resorted to hiding books and journals at unsanctioned libraries off-site, including one that was set up in an employee's basement to save irreplaceable health research. The research library can now be accessed by emailing "Fred."
The road to steam rolling the Health Canada libraries was paved with strategic potholes. The government created the conditions that made the information inaccessible, unaffordable, and extremely slow to arrive.
From 36 staff in 2008-09, Health Canada Library Services cut its staff to just six in 2013-14. However, operating costs rose to $2.67 million from $1.75 million, thanks to outsourcing, privatization and ridiculous processing fees. On top of this, there is now a retrieval fee of $25.65 (plus $9 for scanning and $4 to $8 for copyright fees per document), which Health Canada has to pay.
The government can now say that the status quo, which it created, isn't working. But instead of returning to the way it was before privatization, the entire program was axed.
Sounds familiar? It should.
From killing the longform census to muzzling government scientists, there's no denying the fact that the Harper government has declared war on evidence.
In addition to Health Canada cuts, we've also witnessed the loss of the Health Council of Canada this month. The HCC reported on the implementation of the objectives coming out of the 2004 Health Accord. Since the Harper government has no intention of signing a 2014 Health Accord, why would it need the HCC? However, without evidence to show the success and failures of the provinces in implementing the accord, how do we know what's working and what requires improvement? How do we have an informed debate on health care?
The government is killing the evidence now so that we cannot ask questions later. The purpose of these recent cuts to Health Canada libraries boils down to one word: Control.
The reason for this need for control of information should be clear to everyone by now. From the tarsands to fracking to water pollution to abandoning the health accord and slashing the increase to the Canada health transfer by nearly 50 per cent, this government knows that its policies are detrimental to the wellbeing of people and the environment. But it doesn't want us to know how its policies are damaging our lives.
Harper is doing everything he can to surgically remove these facts from the realm of debate. We cannot let him get away with it.
The gutting of Health Canada, health research, and the HCC is all part of the Conservatives' systematic abandonment of health care. The federal government wants out of its responsibilities and has already jettisoned care for refugees, RCMP officers and veterans onto the provinces and territories.
Then, in a bold and disrespectful move, it slashed the Canada Health Transfer by nearly 50 per cent -- a loss of $36 billion for the provinces and territories. It's no wonder premiers such as Ontario's Kathleen Wynne have had enough.
Canadians, too, have had enough. We were promised in 2004 that a national pharmacare program was in the works, that we'd have better access to service and shorter wait times. And for the first few years of the health accord this happened. But since 2006 we've been moving further from our goals of a stronger universal health-care system and closer to an uneven patchwork of public coverage and privatization. That's why people across the country will be taking part in a day of action to defend public health care on March 31, which will be the last day Canadians can rely on stable federal funding for health care. It's the last day Canadians will have a health-care system with national standards.
As we watch Harper continue his attack on our essential public services and the evidence that supports and strengthens them, many Canadians are wondering what they can do. To challenge these cuts, rally for a Canada Health Accord.
Until we defeat the Harper agenda, we're going to need many more "Freds."
This article was originally published in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
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