I will honestly never know how it was that conservatives got this reputation as being “fiscally responsible”. People who fancy themselves politically savvy centrists will often describe themselves as “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” as though that was a superior approach to just calling themselves “moderates” or something. Nuanced it may in fact be, but a point in their favour it is not. Classical fiscal conservatism is, at its heart, an argument that the state should interfere with economic matters as little as possible, and even then only to encourage the development of private industry through competitive markets and maintaining standards of fairness.
Since the days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, however, fiscal conservatism has come to mean “get the government out of the way” by “starving the beast” and basically denying the possibility that public control over any industry is anything other than a surefire path to failure. It’s not enough to maintain fairness – it’s an absolute necessity that government be powerless not only to participate in markets, but to also demonize the possibility of intervention when things are clearly headed for calamity.
Specifically, this attitude has reared its disgusting and self-centred head in a discussion over the provision of health care to refugees. The basic underlying philosophy of publicly provided health care is to ensure that people are able to access medically-necessary services based on their need for those services, rather than a market-based approach that prioritizes those who have superior ability. Yes, it happens to be anti-capitalist, but it has the side benefit of being more fiscally responsible, since people aren’t putting off illness management until it’s too severe for them to ignore it. Refugees, people literally fleeing to Canada for fear of persecution in their home countries, often have greater need (particularly for psychological care, a particular bugbear of mine). The public health care system, it therefore seems to follow, should respond with greater provision of services.
Not if you’re a “fiscal conservative” though:
The Conservatives argue the extended benefits are better than those received by most Canadians. “We are rescoping the program to ensure that there is equity and fairness in health benefits,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told a Senate committee studying new refugee legislation.
But Tyndall said the government is playing politics. “The government has used this issue to divide Canadians, pitting those who are dissatisfied with their own health coverage against refugees,” he said. “Canadians are smarter than this. This is an attack on our entire health-care system.”
The Conservatives also argue good health-care benefits attract bogus refugee claims. The government estimates that the cuts will save about $20 million a year for the next five years.
The emphasis in the above paragraphs is mine, because it shows the sowing of the seeds of a meme (this story is from the summer). The idea is not that refugees are people who need help and that Canada is a compassionate and forward-thinking place that recognizes the contributions that people who arrived to Canada as refugees can and do make if only given a chance. It certainly isn’t that refugees are people with particular ongoing needs who are relying on the basic decency of Canadians for help.
No, this meme is that refugees are a bunch of lying freeloaders who are just looking to get in on the whole “free health care” scam in order to sucker hard-working Canadians out of… 59 cents a year. And if Canadians are simply too stupid (or rather, not crazily xenophobic and racist enough) to see the clear obvious truth of that meme, then maybe we should give them a little nudge:
A political flyer sent out by a Saskatchewan member of Parliament has outraged some medical students and doctors in Ottawa. Earlier this month, Conservative MP Kelly Block sent out a letter to constituents praising recent cuts to refugee health benefits. “New arrivals to Canada have received dental and vision care paid by your tax dollars — not anymore,” the letter read in part.
This is a clear and obvious appeal to to meanest, most selfish, and most short-sighted instinct of Canadians, nakedly and intentionally stoking the flames of resentment of those refugees with their cushy benefits and gold-plated post-traumatic stress disorder. The language of the feedback in the flyer is telling as well, asking people to choose between “Newcomers don’t deserve more benefits than Canadians” and “Refugee claimings should get dental, vision, and pharmacare even if I don’t“. There is no discussion of why this is necessary (it isn’t) or about the plans Conservatives have to make life better for Canadians (there aren’t any). No, this is simply telling you to snatch the spoon out of the person next to them because their gruel looks a bit better than yours.
As a nurse, Daigle said she understands the impact. “A lady was having excruciating pain,” Daigle said. “Her whole cheek was swollen. She had infection. She had to actually wait over four days before she could actually be seen. She could have died from infection, becoming worse and worse. “We’ve been seeing delays in care that can compromise their health.” Daigle said some Ottawa doctors are refusing to see refugees because the system has become more complicated.
These things are awful, but (cynically) short-term issues. The problem is that this will end up in a campaign mailer touting the Conservative Party of Canada’s “fiscal conservative” credentials, even though the decision is more than likely going to end up costing taxpayers more money as people require emergency care instead of preventive care. When it comes from the CPC, “conservative” seems to simply mean “blinded by small-minded hatred”. Given an opportunity to make a forward-thinking policy decision to invest in refugees as people who will ultimately benefit the country, or even just as a cost-minimizing exercise of making sure that people don’t end up in hospital down the road, this government has decided instead to sacrifice refugees (and Canada’s international reputation) on the altar of “fiscal conservatism”. And in order to back-fill some astroturf support for their ethically and mathematically indefensible policy choice, they’re relying on the tried and true tactic of stoking racial resentment.
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!