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Canadian citizen Shona Holmes (R) joins members of the House Republican leadership (L-R) Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) for a brief news conference about health care policy at the U.S. Capitol July 23, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla/2009 Getty Images

The Ontario government has filed a defence against a claim made by a Hamilton woman who's at the centre of the U.S. debate over health care.

Shona Holmes is featured in a TV campaign in which she claims she had to mortgage her home and travel to a U.S. clinic for brain surgery in 2005, due to a six-month wait for care in Canada. The ad, which began airing about two weeks ago in all 50 states, warns Americans to reject Canadian-style health care because it failed her. In the ad, Ms. Holmes states that if she relied on her government, she'd be dead.

The filing - Ontario's first response to a lawsuit launched two years ago by Ms. Holmes - was filed by the attorney general two weeks ago.

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The lawsuit says Ontario's monopoly over health services is unconstitutional and that long waiting lists cause patients to "endure significant financial, emotional and physical hardship to access such services in the United States."

Ontario's defence, filed July 14, denies that Ms. Holmes and a co-plaintiff, Lindsay McCreith of Newmarket, Ont., have been prevented from accessing timely treatment. An official in Attorney General Chris Bentley's office said there will be no comment on the case since it is before the courts. Ms. Holmes said Tuesday she also does not want to discuss the lawsuit to keep it from being "played out in the media."

The ad, entitled "Shona's Story," is sponsored by a conservative lobby group and has gained traction in the U.S. media and through Ms. Holmes' testimony before Congress.

Canadian physician Robert Ouellet said he is tired of hearing Canada's health care system being cast as the boogeyman in the vitriolic U.S. political debate over health care reform. Critics of U.S. President Barack Obama's reform drive have accused him of trying to adopt the Canadian system of public health care funding, which they say endangers patients with lengthy waits for medical care.

While Mr. Ouellet, president of the Canadian Medical Association, admits the country's system has its flaws, including excessive wait times for some medical services, he denies the accusation that it puts lives at risk. "To say that the system is a complete failure is not fair. When people go to the hospital they get good quality medical care. ... People are not dying on the street," said Mr. Ouellet, who practices medicine in Quebec.

The Canadian health care system is "seen as something that separates us from the United States," said Mike Luff, a spokesman for the National Union of Public and General Employees.

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The U.S. attacks on the system are also "ironic" because "Obama's plan doesn't come close to what the system is in Canada," Mr. Luff said.

White House-backed bills now making their way through the U.S. House and Senate would overhaul rules for private health insurers, and offer them competition in the form of a government-run health program.

Mr. Ouellet says each country has something to learn from the other about health care, and should also take lessons from European countries that provide universal care while reducing both costs and wait times.

Dr. Brian Day, a past CMA president who has advocated for a bigger private-sector role in Canada, is also dismayed that Americans and Canadians focus on one another and ignore the rest of the world when discussing health care reform. "Clearly the Canadian system has problems, but the United States has more problems. ... Neither country is giving value for money."

The Canadian government has stayed quiet on the U.S. debate, but it may have no choice but to speak out if the Canadian public grows more upset at what it sees as unfair U.S. attacks on a source of national pride, said Mario Canseco, of the polling firm Angus Reid Strategies. "Sooner or later someone from the federal government is going to have to stand up and say leave us out of this," Mr. Canseco said.

Canadian politicians may be leery of involvement in the U.S. debate because they recognize if the Americans reform their system it could force Canada to address its own health care problems, Mr. Ouellet said.

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"It's good to have someone like President Obama who wants to fix things."

Meanwhile, Ontario Health Minister David Caplan said Ontario's publicly funded health care system is one "every Ontarian can be proud of," adding he's working to increase access to care and lower wait times.

People in the province get access based on their needs, he says, not on their ability to pay.

With files from Allan Dowd of Reuters, writing out of Vancouver

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