Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, March 13, 2006

This and That, Rapping Politicians and Irritating Columnists

Via Lotusland, this political endorsement (in rap video form) really puts the (high heel) boots to anything I've ever seen attempted in Canada, as far as campaign materials go. The Economist had a cover story suggesting Canada was 'cool' (this was before Harper was elected, obviously) a while back, but I'd say Finland has us beat there (as well as in (men's) hockey).


Greg made a great point a few weeks ago,
"Note to bloggers: Can we stop saying things like "Well we did X today and the country did not fall apart"? It takes time for things to happen, folks."

My only quibble is that he could have cast his net a little wider, at least wide enough to include columnists like Andre Picard in the Globe who started his column last week with,
"It has been more than one week now since Alberta Premier Ralph Klein unveiled details of the so-called "third way" for health-care reform and, despite what the chorus of Chicken Littles predicted, the sky has not fallen."

Yes, all those people who predicted that Klein's plan would have dire consequences in less than a week sure have been proven wrong, haven't they? Moron.

Still with the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson was kind enough to bring to my attention an 'argument' in favour of privatizing health care that I foolishly overlooked in my series on stupid/misleading arguments in favour of privatization. Said John,
"For supporters of the public health-care system ... the solution is to re-embrace the recommendations of the Romanow report, which seeks to preserve that system by reforming it. For this writer and others, private-sector initiatives are inevitable and provinces should be encouraged to experiment with alternatives."

If you can't think of a reason why what you want is actually a good thing, just state that is inevitable and sidestep the whole argument altogether. This inevitability argument always makes me wonder something: if the person advocating it really believes it, why bother writing and arguing about the topic at all?

In the same column, Ibbitson has a great example of the media two-step in his opening paragraph:
"The more an issue becomes politicized, the more truth is sacrificed to rhetoric. In the case of Canada's health-care system, the truth is in danger of disappearing.

Driven by rising costs, frustrated citizens and Supreme Court rulings, politicians in several provinces are looking at whether to increase private-sector delivery of health care, despite its proscription under the Canada Health Act."

Here's one truth that seems to be in danger of disappearing, the truth that there is no proscription of (on?, against?) private sector delivery of care under the Canada Health Act.

I'd say that it's ironic that a column about the importance of truth in health care opens by propagating one of the bigger myths about health care, but (in truth), the word I'm looking for is 'typical', not 'ironic'.

Aside from all that nonsense, Ibbitson actually raised an interesting question in his article: which is a greater threat to public health care - a system like what is proposed in Alberta, where doctor's can work in both the private sector and the public one or a system like the one in Quebec where doctor's have to choose one or the other?

Leaving aside the smartass response (given that the privatization of the system is inevitable, what difference does it make?), there are the usual three ways of answering this question: reference to empirical evidence (i.e. what has happened in other countries), deferrence to the judgement of subject matter experts, or logical arguments based on the expected (based on our judgement) chain of cause and effect. Ibbitson ignores the first and second approaches, and his only stab at a logical chain of cause and effect is to note that, as more doctors leave the public system entirely, there will be increasing economies of scale in the private system, suggesting that the Quebec approach could be a greater threat in the long term.

Here is how Ibbitson ends his column,
"But what matters is being truthful. And the truth is that the Quebec experiment is as much a threat to the status quo as is the Alberta experiment. Politicians should admit as much, rather than inventing saviours and bogeymen out of perceived political necessity."

Leaving aside the smartass response (given that the outcome is inevitable, why shouldn't politicians seek to gain maximum political advantage out of the situation), I think that if being truthful matters so much, Ibbitson should admit that he hasn't even scratched the surface of doing enough analysis to make a credible claim that the Quebec experiment is as much of a threat to the status quo as the Alberta experiment.

(Note: I'm not saying it isn't, just that there is nowhere near enough evidence presented here to make a case one way or the other or to criticize anyone for treating either system as the greater threat.)

And yes, this post was largely pointless, unless you remember that one of the purposes of this blog is simply to be an outlet for the frustration I feel when I read the paper. It's cheaper than medication, anyway.


  • Ibbitson knows instinctively that private health care is 'inevitable' because powerful people want it to happen and so he and his fellow indoctrinated crony journalists are going to keep pimping on for it on behalf of said power until it happens, as they always do.

    He also instinctively knows that if he and his buddies bother to do proper analysis, then privitization of health care is no longer 'inevitable', since after all, most Canadians don't want it.


    By Blogger Simon, at 1:04 PM  

  • While I agree that Mr. Picard's lead was poor one, he does (as is often the case) make some good points, some I think you would agree with Declan.

    Like this one:

    "That kind of rhetoric clouds the real issue: Would allowing physicians to simultaneously work in the public and private sector actually improve care? More specifically, would it reduce waiting times?

    The evidence is scant, but it suggests that, if anything, waits would worsen.

    A 1998 experiment in Manitoba allowed cataract surgeons to work in the public or private sector or to straddle the two worlds. Those with private clinics (who set rates themselves and attracted a wealthy clientele) had the shortest waiting times at four weeks. Those who practised only in the public sector (at government rates) had waiting times that averaged 10 weeks. Finally, those who practised simultaneously in private and public practice had waiting times of 23 weeks for the public patients."


    By Blogger RossK, at 8:28 PM  

  • Simon - agreed. Although I think Ibbitson genuinely sort-of believes it is inevitable, I just wish he'd question his assumptions a little more.

    Gazetteer - Yes, good point. I was focussing on just the point Greg made about people talking about the sky not falling in a week as if that proved anything, but you're right that he makes some good points in his column.

    I should probably be more constructive sometimes, but somehow irritation is more motivating.

    By Blogger Declan, at 11:52 PM  

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