Journalist Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun reports that the BC government has blocked Minister of Health Terry Lake from testifying in court about the history of wait lists in the BC healthcare system in connection with the landmark Cambie Clinic healthcare freedom case.
We think we know why.
Minister Lake has been admirably candid both about the shortcomings of the BC healthcare monopoly and the benefits of more competitive systems in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. For example, Minister Lake has said:
About Public Funding Deficiencies and Cost Pressures:
Health Minister Terry Lake on Sunday said they have been working to reduce wait times for surgeries around B.C. Last year, an extra $10 million was pumped into the medical system to reduce wait lists, he noted. “(But) we are still not where we want to be,” he said. [Vancouver Sun, April 24, 2016]
About Unused Resources:
“But the reality is there are some things that the private sector can do under the Canada Health Act and under the Medicare Protection Act which will actually prove efficient. It can provide a shorter access to care without draining resources from the public health system.” [Hansard, May 26, 2015 (Volume 27, Number 4)]
“Patients want the best available service,” Lake said. “They want it to be effective, efficient and have high quality. I’m not an ideologue in terms of where patients get that treatment. The private system has always been an important part of public health care in Canada.” [Victoria Times Colonist, June 2, 2015]
About Wait Times:
“The reality is we’re still struggling with wait times, despite a huge increase in the number of surgeries that we are performing each and every year.” [Victoria Times Colonist, June 2, 2015]
Health Minister Terry Lake responded to Darcy in the legislature Monday, noting that the wait times are not acceptable. “We have to do better,” he said. “We have long wait lists for MRIs, even though we are doing three times as many as we did in 2001. The reality is we need to do better.” [Vancouver 24 Hours, Nov 3, 2015]
About Canada’s Performance Relative to Other Systems:
Lake said medicare isn’t performing as well as health systems in places such as Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He predicted there will be heightened interest in reform as the Canadian population ages and baby boomers discovery they can’t get the medical services they need. [Vancouver Sun, January 16, 2016]
When asked to formally admit that Minister Lake made these statements, the BC Government’s lawyers responded with the nonsensical answer that:
“The Defendant admits that Minister Lake was quoted in an article published on or about 15 January 2016 in the Ottawa Citizen as having said words similar to those quoted in this request, but denies that that fact is relevant to the issues raised by the pleadings in this litigation”.
Well, of course he was quoted as having said words similar to those he was quoted as saying! And saying that his statement (which was about the quality of healthcare in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand) is not relevant to this case is beyond absurd. The plaintiffs in this constitutional challenge would like Minister Lake to be able to confirm this definitively in court, and also to testify about his extensive experience with the political and practical aspects of administering the BC healthcare system.
The BC government is probably scared that Minister Terry Lake might actually say what he apparently thinks! As a result, they are hiding behind some flimsy arguments about the relevance of his testimony and the doctrine of parliamentary privilege.
Parliamentary privilege protects legislators in Canada from being called as witnesses while the legislature is in session. There are good reasons for the privilege, such as not wanting legislators to be distracted from their public service or harassed by frivolous subpoenas. However, the privilege can be waived at any time by the government when the public interest in the Minister’s testimony outweighs the burden on his time. This constitutional challenge for healthcare freedom is of the highest public importance — the suffering of BC residents and even their lives are literally at stake — and the burden of testifying about matters that he has been working on for almost three years as Minister of Health is minimal.
The government’s refusal to waive the privilege and allow Minister Lake to testify is consistent with the obstructionist tactics that government lawyers used to drag out this case for seven years before the plaintiffs even got to court, and which the government is now using to drag out the trial. These delays test the bounds of good faith. It is unacceptable that the government, with effectively unlimited resources, should be able to drag out a constitutional challenge to its policies for year after year, trying to win a legal war of attrition because they know they can’t defend indefensible healthcare wait lists.
For a copy of plaintiffs’ response to the Government’s motion to strike the subpoena of Minister Lake (which contains a full list of Minister Lake’s quotes), see here.
For more on the Government’s delay tactics, see here.