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Idea Exchange series: Why is it so difficult to reform health care in Canada?

UCalgary alumni and friends in Edmonton hear perspectives on important, timely question
May 1, 2017
Pierre-Gerlier Forest, director of The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, leads a discussion in Edmonton on the Canada Health Act. Photos by KTB Photography

Pierre-Gerlier Forest, director of The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, leads a discussion in Edmonton on the Canada Health Act. Photos by KTB Photography

“With two-thirds of our alumni remaining in the province after graduation, (that) speaks to the spirit of our province and the impact that our alumni have on Alberta,” said University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon.

“With two-thirds of our alumni remaining in the province after graduation, (that) speaks to the spirit of our province and the impact that our alumni have on Alberta,” said University of Calgary President Elizabeth Cannon.

EDMONTON — University of Calgary alumni living in the Edmonton area gathered on April 10 for a UCalgary Alumni Idea Exchange event featuring a lively and provocative discussion about the Canada Health Act.

A total of 41 alumni and friends came to the event, hosted by President Elizabeth Cannon and featuring a talk by Pierre-Gerlier Forest, director of The School of Public Policy and holder of the James S. and Barbara A. Palmer Chair in Public Policy.

Alumnus Sean Mallany, BA’10, MPP’12, kicked off the discussion with a definition of what exactly constitutes a good idea: “UCalgary believes good ideas are transformational, and that is what these Idea Exchange events are all about, sharing ideas that push perceptions and boundaries.”

Cannon shared an update on the growth of UCalgary over the last half-century and the wrap-up of the university’s 50th anniversary celebrations, emphasizing the excitement surrounding the university’s vision for the next 50 years. “With two-thirds of our alumni remaining in the province after graduation, (that) speaks to the spirit of our province and the impact that our alumni have on Alberta,” she said. “That is why opportunities like these Idea Exchanges are so wonderful, not only to connect outside of Calgary, but to engage on topics that are so important and timely.”

Prior to joining UCalgary in 2016, Forest was director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy with the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. He began his presentation with a humorous recollection of comments he received from colleagues when he first made the move to Johns Hopkins and the U.S. health-care system. He said, “One of my colleagues called me a traitor when I went to Johns Hopkins because he said that I always advocate for introducing some of the solutions that have been implemented in the American health-care system,” demonstrating the polarizing nature of the health-care debate.

Forest emphasized that the Canada Health Act does not consider the reality of today’s day and age. “The act does not reflect the knowledge of the century,” he said. “It does not need to die, but perhaps now would be a good time to reopen it.”

Forest looked back at the creation of the act. Throughout this history lesson, he demonstrated that our system has fallen behind in the areas of quality and innovation, tying into the driving question: Why is it so difficult to reform health care in Canada?

According to Forest, the four main reasons include the polarizing nature of the discussion; an outdated power structure within the act; biased evidence from opposing sides; and a decline in federalism amongst the provinces.

Forest concluded the discussion with examples of places where there are functioning and successful health-care systems, and then responded to audience questions.

Following the lively discussion, alumni and friends of UCalgary continued networking and discussing their thoughts on the evening’s presentation.

Interested in hearing about future Idea Exchange events? Visit our website.