It was hard not noticing that America’s favourite social justice senator Bernie Sanders was in Toronto over the weekend. He was speaking at the University of Toronto and it was all thanks to acclaimed physician and health care expert Dr. Danielle Martin. Dr. Martin—who speaks passionately on our national health-care system, defending, defining and drawing attention to how it can be improved—helped organize the trip. Many will remember that she was the source of some incredible insights and debunking around US and Canadian health care systems in recent years.
Before the event U of T News posted a great story with some background on how Dr. Martin met Sanders and on the goals of the weekend’s talk:
Sanders, who hopes to reshape American health care into a government-run, single-payer program – similar to what we have in Canada – has taken his bill on the road to various U.S. states. His trip to Canada – organized by Dr. Danielle Martin, a vice-president of Women’s College Hospital, the Broadbent Institute and Marchildon – is an opportunity to learn more about the pros and cons of Canada’s health-care system.
Martin, an associate professor at Dalla Lana’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, first met Sanders three years ago in Washington D.C. Her defence of Canadian health care before a tough U.S. congressional committee debating Obamacare drew immediate international attention. Sanders endorsed her recent book about Canadian health care, titled Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for all Canadians, and she in turn showed up to support Sanders when he launched his bill last month.
“We thought it would be terrific for him to come and see the Canadian system for himself and to learn more about what’s working and also our challenges, to hear directly from patients, health-care providers and policy experts,” she said. “We’re all clear, and he understands very well that in a single day or two visiting the city of Toronto, he’s not going to get a complete picture of everything to do with the Canadian health-care system, or the particular challenges of rural communities, Indigenous health disparities or a wide range of important issues. He’ll get a flavour of what’s working, although it won’t be exhaustive.”
Martin emphasized that the trip will also present some of the challenges of health-care delivery in Canada.
“I certainly don’t think he believes for a minute that everything is positive and glowing, and neither do we. We all know that there’s very significant challenges in the Canadian health-care system,” she said.
“This is not a public relations exercise. It’s a learning exercise, and that means he’ll be hearing about what works and what doesn’t.”
She added though that this was still an opportunity to show pride in our health-care system.
“It’s very Canadian to downplay your accomplishments and focus solely on the distance yet to be travelled. So, we won’t solely be highlighting the challenges, we will also be celebrating our successes. From the perspective of many of the patients that I know he’ll be meeting when he comes to Toronto, many of them, if they had been in similar life circumstances in the U.S., would have almost certainly had a far inferior experience in the health-care system than the one they had in Canada. And that is also an important message for our neighbours south of the border to hear.”