Canadians want the federal government to take back a leadership role in health care and the provincial premiers to push for changes to funding of the health-care system, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted by Nanos Research and commissioned by the Canadian Health Coalition, says a majority of Canadians – 83 per cent – agree that the federal government plays a "significant leadership role in securing the future of public health care in Canada." This is an increase of five percentage points in the past two years, the survey says.
It also found that 65 per cent of respondents want the premiers to "take a stand" against funding changes made by the Harper government in December, 2011, with its take-it-or-leave-it, 10-year health accord that would guarantee an annual 6-per-cent increase until 2016-17. After that, increases would be tied to growth in nominal gross domestic product, a measure of GDP plus inflation.
Eighty-five per cent of respondents support or somewhat support "public solutions" to bolster the system, the survey says.
The poll is being released as the premiers meet in Charlottetown for their annual Council of the Federation.
"The system is rudderless. It has no leadership," says Michael McBane, of the Canadian Health Coalition. "One of the things Canadians take pride in is the fact that the health care system is there across the country so if people move they have confidence that … access to the care they need would follow them."
But Mr. McBane says this is increasingly no longer the case.
"We are seeing the emergence of different standards in different provinces," he says. "Provinces that have more money are getting better services; provinces with less money and aging populations are having a heck of a time to meet their needs."
The survey of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between July 22 and July 29. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.
It showed, too, that most respondents – 73 per cent – oppose treating all provinces equally when it comes to funding. Another 71 per cent do not want federal funding tied to the economy.
Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, who is the host of the Council of the Federation meeting this week, says health care is on the agenda, especially as it relates to seniors and Canada's aging population.
He isn't looking for any breakthroughs in funding formulas or partnerships with the federal government – but he notes that there is a federal election in the near future and the federal parties that ignore health-care issues do so at their peril.
Mr. Ghiz says he and his provincial colleagues are ready and willing to work with the federal government.
National pollster Nik Nanos says the survey speaks to a "policy/political gap."
"There is a vacuum that people want to see the federal government step into and they expect the federal government to take some sort of leadership role on health care."
The issue of health care isn't a vote getter for the Conservatives. But Mr. Nanos said they must be careful they are not without a strategy to combat the inevitable attacks from the opposition parties on the issue in the coming election, expected in the fall of 2015.
"They need a strategy to manage this so they don't unnecessarily lose support in a federal election that we know is going to be very tight and difficult for the Conservatives under the best of circumstances," he says. "They need to put something in the window on this so they are not vulnerable to attacks from both the New Democrats and Liberals."
But waiting for an election for a change in funding is not an option for Mr. McBane: "The reality is that the system is fragmenting into 14 different pieces and the only way to stop that slide is for the federal government to start resuming its essential, irreplaceable leadership role."