Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Don't match donations during an election!

Maybe it's me, but it seemed like awful timing when the Cons announced last week they were going to match donations to this year's Terry Fox Run, up to a ceiling of $35 million. Today, they retracted the pledge - for now. Awful timing, of course, because we're smack in the middle of an election, indeed in the final legs.

This wasn't like the Boxing Day Tsunami, or the earthquake in Pakistan, or even the Katrina horror. In each of those cases, the feds promised to match donations on a dollar for dollar basis provided those contributions went to legitimate NGOs (such as the Red Cross) or faith based charities (like, say, the Salvation Army). We did that because it was the right thing to do, because the victims needed as much help as possible. In some cases, the match proved to be too much. If I recall one example, Oxfam which had an annual budget of around $15 million got bombarded with over $60 million just from the tsunami, and they didn't know what to do with the money.

Of course cancer research is important. I've lost a mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer, so I kind of take it personally that we need to find a cure. I can't help but think if Terry Fox actually survived and finished his run, if the amount of money raised in his name in the 35 years since would be even a third of what it's turned out to be. I would hope not, of course - that actually pulling it off would have made donations go through the stratosphere.

We have every right to demand the federal government and the sub-national governments contribute what they can to sponsoring medical research, particularly in finding cures for these terrible diseases. And encouraging prevention and early intervention to stop cancer before it can spread - and quite possibly even be cured in the early stages.

But it doesn't help that the pledge was made right now. Yes, I will concede the Terry Fox Foundation made the request for funding. It has every right to, and one would expect a positive response. But the Fox family also said that this should be a multi-partisan effort and one party should not score political points over it.

Exactly right.

This reminds me of a line in the 2004 movie Head of State, starring Chris Rock. In one scene, the Republican candidate for President runs an ad emphasizing his support for breast cancer research, then drops the line that his opponent "supports breast cancer." Of course, Rock turns this around and speaks the truth about his country's serious issues and ends up winning narrowly.

Rather than trying to score points by winning favour of one of the country's most celebrated families, the parties should talk about health care. Not just research, of course. But also talking about moving from physician based care to a system where the patient and the community are key. About making drugs more affordable - including cancer drugs, which despite our strict price controls here are still far more expensive than alternate treatments like Mary Jane. (If that means Pharmacare, absolutely.) Where the call for better health is a universal value, rather than a partisan talking point.

We built our system of Medicare mainly because we saw good health as a non-partisan right; and that better off people should take care of the health of the less fortunate, and vice versa. It has major structural issues that need to be addressed, and the system overall has to be modernized. But for heaven's sake, let's not say that because one family is in agreement (or not), that makes one's party's policy better.

Bottom line - either all the parties should have agreed, or the appropriation should have waited until the new term, and properly voted on by Parliament.

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