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A Canadian Alliance government would support the development of a two-tier health-care system, with a universal public system supplemented by private clinics, Alliance campaign co-chairman Jason Kenney says.

On the weekend, Alliance Leader Stockwell Day accused Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien of "fertilizing the truth" when he said last week that the Alliance is plotting to privatize medicare.

Yesterday, however, Mr. Kenney and Alliance health critic Val Meredith said the federal government should allow the provinces to expand the use of private clinics if they so choose.

Liberal Health Minister Allan Rock said such a system -- similar to one now in place in Britain -- would cripple medicare by siphoning off critical resources and allowing top physicians and nurses to migrate to the private system.

Mr. Rock said the Alliance plan would eliminate Ottawa's ability to maintain national standards of universal and public health care, just as provinces such as Alberta are more aggressively pushing private-sector medicine.

In its platform, the Alliance promises to provide reliable, long-term funding for public health care, while negotiating with the provinces to develop national standards that respect the principles of the Canada Health Act.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Kenney said the Alliance would never impose any cuts on health-care funding as the Liberals did in the mid-1990s as they fought to reduce the deficit.

However, he added the party would encourage the provinces to develop their own policing mechanism for the Canada Health Act. In addition, it would not unilaterally punish provinces that expand private health care.

"I think that should be up to the provinces," he said.

"I don't think the federal government should dictate what options the provinces have. The federal government should dictate that every Canadian must have access to quality, comprehensive care that is publicly funded and costs nothing to the patient . . . And if the provinces want to experiment with other forms of financing health care, they should be given the flexibility to do so."

Last spring, Mr. Kenney was even more forthcoming in defending Alberta's controversial Bill 11, which expands the use of private clinics in that province. "I do support the idea of private health care," he said in a Calgary Herald interview.

Ms. Meredith said Canada now has "multitiered" health care, with the public system augmented by private clinics and the ability of higher-income Canadians to go the United States to avoid lengthy lineups for treatment.

"If we think we don't have a system now that is broken and a system that is two-tiered, then people are living in a fantasy land," Ms. Meredith said in an interview.

She said the provinces need to have maximum flexibility to find solutions to the current problems in the health-care system, including the expansion of private clinics.

For his part, Mr. Rock said the Alliance plan would be "fatal to our national system of public health care."

The Health Minister noted that, in a September letter to the premiers, Mr. Day promised to remove the stick from Ottawa's hands by having the provinces police the Canada Health Act, and by eventually eliminating the federal cash contribution to the provinces in favour of transferring more taxing power.

"So the cash clout is gone and the power to interprete and enforce is gone . . . so you have 10-tier health care system," Mr. Rock said, in reference to the 10 provinces.

The Alliance argues the provinces can be trusted to preserve medicare, a view Mr. Rock does not share.

"You are going to lose the national character of this program . . . it will be a patchwork system that is no longer a national enterprise," he said.

"But also, there are some provincial governments -- one of which Stockwell Day was a member of -- that have expressed an interest in going in directions that are inconsistent with the Canada Health Act."

The Liberal minister acknowledged there are problems in the public system but he said the recent $21.5-billion, five-year deal between Ottawa and the provinces should alleviate some of the pressure in the system.

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