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Stephen Harper is likely hoping no one pays attention to last week’s Conference Board of Canada health report card.
That’s because the results are a perfect illustration of why his government’s unilaterally imposed changes to the Canada Health Transfer make no logical policy sense. The new formula is per capita based. But as the Conference Board report highlighted, there is a lot more to consider than the number of residents per province.

The Conference Board ranked Canada and its provinces based on health outcomes such as infant mortality and other health status indicators.

British Columbia and Ontario are top-ranked and performed better than Canada as a whole. They certainly fared better than most Atlantic provinces, with Nova Scotia ranked at a D and Newfoundland and Labrador ranked at D -.

Clearly, provincial health outcomes vary. Some provinces report lower life expectancy and greater premature mortality (including infant mortality) due to cancer, or heart disease and stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes or suicides.

Shouldn’t they receive federal funding that reflects the health needs of their populations and not just the size of the population? Not according to the Harper government.

The Conference Board report is clear that health outcomes are a square hole and Stephen Harper has defined health funding as a round peg.

The Harper government continues to push the round peg even when provinces vary on such a simple measure as average age — the Atlantic provinces currently have the highest proportions of seniors (ranging from 15 per cent to 16 per cent), for instance.

The federal government is also completely at odds with the tradition and reputation of Canada — internationally recognized as a leader in the field of social determinants of health.

The Canadian contributions to the social determinants of health concept have been so extensive as to make Canada a “health promotion powerhouse” in the eyes of the international health community according to Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts.

Not so much now, as the Government of Canada declined to even send ministerial representation to the crucial World Conference on Social Determinants of Health gathering of over 100 member states of the United Nations that took place in Brazil in 2011.

The Conference Board’s report clearly shows just how out of step the Harper government’s funding of health care is with the health needs of all Canadians, no matter where they live.

The federal government’s changes to funding will result in a whopping $36-billion cut in health transfers to the provinces over the next 10 years. Nova Scotians will lose over $900 million — cash the province will need to deal with its diverse health needs.

Simply, our health-care system is at a crossroads.

We need a new health accord in order to protect, strengthen and expand our universal health-care system, one that includes a pharmacare program.

In every election, health care is one, of if not the primary, issue that Canadians are concerned about. It is an issue that touches us all, regardless of age or income. If we want to be able to count on high-quality health care for our parents, our children and ourselves, we must make health care a federal election issue.

It is really up to all of us to ensure our health care remains one of those values that define us as Canadians. It’s up to all of us to ensure it survives the Harper government’s neglect. The Conference Board report is just more evidence for why we must stand up for a properly funded health-care system.

Lana Payne is Atlantic regional director of Unifor, a national union representing of 300,000 workers and associate members in various industries.