Should Canadians receive medical care based on ability to pay rather than need?
That's what's looming on the horizon as a group of right-wing activists launched a constitutional challenge against Canada's health care system this week in the BC Supreme Court – and observers warn the outcome "could transform the Canadian health system from coast to coast."
Dr. Brian Day, who is leading the case with help from a right-wing advocacy group named the Canadian Constitution Foundation that is bankrolling Day's legal team, portrays himself as a champion of "freedom."
But a closer look at Day and the CCF shows this may not be an accurate portrayal of their motives.
Here are a few things to chew on:
Meet Dr. Brian Day
Day is co-owner of Cambie Surgeries, a private for-profit corporation based in Vancouver operating clinics specializing in various surgical procedures who argues it should be his constitutional right to charge patients more than what medicare already covers.
1. Authorities found "significant evidence" Day was illegally billing patients
Although Day claims his court challenge is all about his constitutional rights, it's hard to overlook the influence of an audit that found "significant evidence" Day had been "extra billing" patients on a "frequent and recurring basis."
Day originally filed his lawsuit in 2009. But the BC Medical Services Commission first raised concerns about "extra billing" practices at Day's company as far back as May 2007. His company was formally notified it would be audited in September 2008. Lo and behold, Day filed a lawsuit several months later.
Canadian Doctors for Medicare explains "extra billing" is "against federal and provincial law" and can include "extra fees for medical consultations, examinations, diagnostic testing and other manners of 'upgraded services'."
Day alleges the audit is a "diversionary tactic" meant to force Day to drop his lawsuit – a claim contradicted by court documents showing Day launched the lawsuit after he was notified he was being audited.
2. Before launching his lawsuit, Day hosted a cocktail fundraiser for the Fraser Institute
Day has also enjoyed a long and friendly relationship with the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank that opposes universal health care.
The year before launching his legal challenge, Day hosted a cocktail fundraiser for the Fraser Institute where Day advocated "a greater role for the private sector in the Canadian health care system."
Tickets ran as high as $65 a pop just to rub elbows with "Dr. Profit," the man who "calls our health care system 'ridiculous'."
3. Day believes poor people do not deserve the same quality treatment as rich people
If it sounds to you like Day is advocating a two-tier health care system, that's barely the half of it.
Day recently told the National Post that he thinks "a wealthy person" deserves a higher standard of care than everybody else:
"We in Canada will give the same level of services to a wealthy person as to person who isn't wealthy, and that doesn't make sense."
4. On second thought, Day has a very strange way with words
It's worth noting Day once told the National Post that Canada's health care system works the same way as North Korea's national airline:
"The North Korean national airline, rated the world's worst performing carrier, operates on remarkably similar principles to our health system."
Day also recently compared his struggle to black Americans struggling against racism, telling the National Post he sees himself as not unlike Mohammed Ali's "role in the civil rights movement."
However, as Ricochet points out: unlike Ali who actually did stuff to oppose racism, a few of the people who would likely feel the sting from Day's dream of privatized health care are racialized and Indigenous patients.
5. Day dreams of a multi-billion dollar for-profit health industry in Canada
Another difference between Day and Ali is Ali's fight for civil rights wasn't motivated by profit.
For one thing, Day once boasted that the "changes" he hopes to see include a "massive new industry" that will profit from "$40 billion a year added to the Canadian health system":
"The coming changes will create a massive new industry and enable the Canadian health industry and its workers to enter the international health market and participate in the $2 trillion American health economy. On the basis of extrapolations from other countries, we may see $40 billion a year added to the Canadian health system."
Meet the Canadian Constitution Foundation
If it sounds like Day has trouble putting together persuasive arguments, don't worry – a right-wing organization called the Canadian Constitution Foundation is bankrolling a team of lawyers to help Day out.
6. The CCF has an agenda
According to the CCF's website, the group's activities involve "education, communication and litigation" although others, like the Toronto Star's Thomas Walkom, describe the CCF as a "hidden court challenges program."
The group also professes to advance ideas that fall under the umbrella of "economic liberty" and "equality before the law," although in practice they attack unions and often challenge laws that are at odds with pure business interests, their work on "equality" stresses "special privileges for none," leading them to complain about laws that may be perceived as a threat to social conservative values.
CCF's Chris Schafer is on "The Source" today @ 5pm EST with @ezralevant re right to peaceful assembly & speech outside abortion clinics.— CCF (@CDNConstFound) June 13, 2011
7. They're part of an international network funded by the Koch brothers
The network includes American think tanks like the Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute and the Becket Fund – a right-wing religious organization that has funded lawsuits challenging birth control regulations.
The Atlas network also includes Canadian think tanks and pressure groups like the Fraser Institute, the Manning Centre and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The network receives substantial funding from wealthy Tea Party donors, including American oil tycoons Charles and David Koch.
8. They have deep roots in Canada's conservative movement
The organization is also deeply connected with Canada's conservative movement.
They've also organized events with Canadian conservative figures like Ezra Levant:
See you tomorrow! RT @CDNConstFound: Ezra talks about human rights Sept 27 UofT, Faculty of Law, Flavelle House, 430-6pm Moot Court Room— Ezra Levant (@ezralevant) September 26, 2011
9. The CCF's Executive Director was Chief of Staff to Jason Kenney
Executive Director Howard Anglin was formerly Chief of Staff to Jason Kenney and head of legal affairs in Stephen Harper's PMO.
In 2006, Anglin and former Harper adviser Alykhan Velshi penned an article in the National Review criticizing a US Supreme Court decision that ruled Guantanamo Bay detainees are covered by the Geneva Conventions.
10. The CCF's Chairman is old pals with Stephen Harper
The CCF's board is chaired by Andy Crooks, former Chairman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and co-author of Stephen Harper's infamous Alberta "Firewall" letter.
Among other things, the firewall letter called on then-Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to take full control over health care and violate the Canada Health Act.
11. The founder of the Fraser Institute is a CCF board member too
On the CCF's board of directors is Michael Walker, founder of the Fraser Institute and the right-wing think tank's executive director between 1974 to 2005.
Aside from releasing inaccurate reports that wildly inflate the amount of taxes Canadians pay each year, the Fraser Institute is also known for releasing inaccurate reports attacking the health care system.
Also joining Walker on the CCF board is Fraser Institute Senior Fellow Glenn Fox.
12. One board member is the president of an anti-abortion group
Another board member, Dr. Will Johnston is president of the anti-abortion group Canadian Physicians for Life.
13. They're effectively subsidized by taxpayers to oppose public health care
And although the group misses no opportunity to condemn "wasted tax dollars" spent on health care:
So isn't it ironic that the CCF's charitable status means their activities opposing public health care are also subsidized by taxpayers:
As the Toronto Star's Thomas Walkom has pointed out:
"Thanks to the Canadian Constitution Foundation's charitable status, anyone who supports its particular political causes gets a tax writeoff that, in effect, all other taxpayers – including those who disagree with its aims – have to cover. The more successful the foundation is in encouraging wealthy Canadians to support its particular brand of political advocacy, the greater will be the tax loss that other Canadians will have to make up."
The CCF took in $813,994 in "receipted donations" in 2015.
UPDATE: Shortly after publication, the Canadian Constitution Foundation deleted several tweets and webpages cited in this story.
Here's a list of what they've removed:
1. A tweet announcing their former executive director would be appearing on right-wing pundit Ezra Levant's TV show on the now-defunct Sun TV to defend protesting "outside abortion clinics":
2. A tweet describing health care spending by the BC government as "wasted tax dollars":
3. A page on their website (a cached copy is available here) criticizing a Supreme Court ruling that stands in the way of American-style "right-to-work" laws and attacking unions, claiming they do not "serve the interests of the workers":
4. A page on their website (a cached copy is available here) describing the University of Calgary as a "university of censorship" after anti-abortion activists were blocked from displaying graphic imagery of bloodied fetuses on campus:
Editor's Note: This article incorrectly identified Dr. Will Johnston, President of Canadian Physicians for Life, as the defendant in a 2013 Supreme Court of Canada ruling. In fact, that case involved another doctor with a similar name who has no involvement with CPL. We've corrected this article and PressProgress apologizes for the error.
Photo: Fraser Institute, YouTube.