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​Health care system one of Canada’s most valuable assets: Charest

One of the country’s most experienced politicians says the CMA should work to make pursuit of a national seniors policy an issue in next year’s federal election, and he thinks it should liaise with other groups to help make this possible.

In a wide-ranging speech to 150 General Council delegates that focused heavily on demographic change, former Quebec premier Jean Charest also argued that the “extraordinary” increase in Canadians’ longevity should be celebrated, even though there will be consequences for everything from the health care system to pension plans.

Charest, who also served as a federal cabinet minister, spoke Aug. 19 during the CMA’s annual meeting in Ottawa at an education session that discussed the association’s readiness for the 2015 federal election.

He described Canada’s universal health care as one of our most valuable assets, “one that serves us well from a health perspective and also gives us a major economic advantage over the US.” He expects next year’s election to include a debate on health care, particularly funding issues.

Although he never served as health minister at the federal or provincial level, Charest said that his time as Quebec premier provided on-the-job training regarding health care funding. “If you’re a premier in Canada, 43 to 45% of your budget is for health,” he said. “Eventually, you become an expert [in health issues], or close to it. It can’t be helped.”

Charest said the country could learn from Quebec’s experience with the introduction of universal day care for children, a move that he said transformed the employment participation rate for the province’s women. He said that can stand as a lesson for some of the changes our aging society will require.

He said Canada is not organized to deal with the rapid increase in the number of seniors, and therefore must make alterations before pension systems become unsustainable. “There’s no reason why a person who enjoys work should be told to stop at a certain age,” he said, arguing the country will have to “reorganize” to deal with demographic change, particularly by integrating older employees into the workforce.

Charest said the medical profession is in a strong position to influence future change, but stressed the need to ally itself with other groups. (The CMA is already working closely with organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, discussing the impact of demographic change on health care.)

Charest drew his loudest applause when he reminded delegates that Canada, despite the upcoming demographic challenges, is in an enviable position. “If citizenship was a lottery, you and I have won first prize,” he said. “We’re extremely fortunate to live here.”

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