It’s five weeks to Election Day, in what is being called a potentially historic federal election. For the first time in Canadian history, three parties are vying for power and much can happen in the next few weeks. We have heard much talk about the economy, but here are three issues that we, as women, would like to hear more about:
- A national pharmacare program
1 in 10 people in Canada go without filling a prescription due to cost. While most provinces provide public drug plans for seniors and people on social assistance, the rest of us live with a patchwork of insurance companies. If you’re lucky enough to have a well-paying full time job with benefits, you might have coverage for medications. Even then, it’s likely you pay some percentage of the cost of your medicines every time you buy them. With an increase in part-time, precarious work in Canada, we also see fewer people having access to these benefits. Women are disproportionately impacted because 70% of part time workers in Canada are women and 66% of minimum wage earners in Canada are women. National pharmacare means universal drug coverage for everyone where you don’t pay a cent at the pharmacy, just like when you go to see your doctor. It means pooling our funds based on who can pay more to create a system where no one goes without medicines because they cannot pay. As well, because Canada currently does not take advantage of bulk buying and price negotiation, we often pay more for the exact same medication than most other countries, and have the second highest total drug costs in the world. National pharmacare could save us $7.3 billion as a country. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do.
- Fair immigration policies
The Syrian refugee crisis has demonstrated the failure of this prime minister to act. In 1979, during the refugee crisis that followed the Vietnam War, Canada swiftly accepted 60,000 Indochinese refugees in only 18 months. Today, we have accepted only 2,300 Syrian refugees in the last 24 months. While many in Syria are leaving to reach neighbouring countries, women who disproportionately bear the burden for childcare are less likely to engage in such perilous journeys, making resettlement programs from countries like Canada that much more important. As well, this government has brought in various regressive policies, many of which disproportionately impact women. Much fewer individuals are now coming to Canada to make refugee claims, a group that includes many women fleeing sexual violence. As well, many women come to Canada as a sponsored spouse and under this government, are required to stay in the relationship for two years or they may lose their permanent residency. This government also brought about drastic cuts to refugee healthcare which disproportionately impacted women of childbearing age, many of whom are pregnant on or after arrival. Beyond just those health cuts, we currently have approximately 500,000 people living in Canada who cannot access healthcare because of their immigration status. Such policies put women at risk and must be challenged.
- Real action on poverty
We know that income is the most important thing that determines how healthy you are. In general, the lower one’s income, the more they are at risk of a whole host of diseases ranging from mental illness to heart disease to various cancers. On average, about 9% of people in Canada are poor, but 25% of women with disabilities 35% of racialized women and 36% of aboriginal women live in poverty. We need real action on poverty. This could mean an increase in the minimum wage or the implementation of a basic income guarantee. A basic income would mean that we would raise the floor for everyone so that families wouldn’t lose their homes because one parent lost a job and couldn’t pay rent. A large study in the 1970s in rural Manitoba found that having a basic income guarantee decreased rates of hospitalization. A guaranteed basic income would decrease the stress and instability that our current system poses, and it would improve our health as a society.
These are ideas whose time has come. Check out the campaigns for a national pharmacare program, fair immigration policies, raising the minimum wage and a basic income guarantee to show your support. The only way we will see these policies come to life is if women across Canada tell party leaders that this is what we care about. Remember these issues when you vote, and no matter who wins, make sure you remind whoever is elected that these are the policy changes we want to see. With your support, we can start to make real change in this country.
-Dr. Ritika Goel
Ritika Goel is a family physician and activist in Toronto. She is active in various social justice causes and a member of grassroots organizations such as Health for All and Canadian Doctors for Medicare. Find her on Twitter at @RitikaGoelTO.