President's Message Issue 67

Summer CSANews Issue 67  |  Posted date : Jul 22, 2008.Back to list

As most of you are aware, the right of Canadians to travel freely without losing their health coverage or residency status is of paramount importance to the Canadian Snowbird Association.

The portability criterion of the Canada Health Act states that Canadian residents who are temporarily absent from their home province and outside of Canada must continue to be covered for insured health services during their absence. When the insured services are provided outside of Canada, payment is to be made on the basis of the amount that would have been paid by the province for similar services rendered within that province. Unfortunately, the manner in which this principle is defined across Canada varies widely from province to province.

The CSA has never asked our provincial or territorial government to pay the high cost of U.S. hospital stays, and the changes which we have long advocated would not cost our provincial governments (our territorial governments ARE meeting the standard) any more money than if the emergency had occurred while the patient was in his or her home province.

As I reported in the spring edition of CSANews, your board of directors retained one of Canada's top litigation lawyers to explore the possibility of bringing a case against the Ontario government in the hopes of establishing a precedent that would force provincial governments across Canada to abide by the portability criterion in the Canada Health Act.

After undertaking a thorough review of the potential financial costs involved in pursuing a case in the courts, your board of directors has decided to cease and desist any further legal action on this matter. As president, I am in full agreement with this decision. The association is a non-profit entity supported by the generous donations of our members and frankly, the financial risk was just too great.

Let me be clear, we are not giving up the fight. There are other ways to persuade our elected representatives that we deserve full and equal access to the health care for which we pay our taxes. It is my view that dialogue accompanied by political pressure, when the situation warrants it, is a more effective approach and is a more responsible use of the funds which our members entrust to our care. I am hopeful that this gesture of good will on our part will help us establish a fresh dialogue with the Ontario government.

In other news, I, along with research and communications officer Michael MacKenzie, have just returned from my initial visit to Ottawa in my capacity as your new president.

Our first stop was a June 10 meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Canada, the Honourable David Wilkins. Our agenda included a lengthy discussion about the inequitable property tax situation in Florida and an update on the latest developments with respect to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) or, as it is more commonly referred to, the "passport issue."

First of all, let me say that Ambassador Wilkins is a true gentleman and could not have made us feel more at home. He served for 25 years in the South Carolina House of Representatives – 11 of those years as Speaker of the House – before becoming the 21st U.S. ambassador to Canada in 2005.

In his capacity as Speaker, Ambassador Wilkins was in charge of shepherding the state's multibillion-dollar budget through the House. While the United States experienced a severe economic downturn during Wilkins' years as Speaker, he refused to raise taxes and as a result, South Carolina was one of only a handful of states that did not raise taxes during the recession in the 1990s. In short, he understands our desire to see fair and equitable treatment on the property tax front in Florida. He gave us some good advice regarding potential next steps about which I will be updating you in the fall edition of CSANews.

On the passport front, maintaining a secure border without jeopardizing two-way trade and tourism between Canada and the United States is a key priority for both countries. More than 400,000 people a day, on average, cross our shared border and trade between our two nations averages out to approximately $1.5 billion dollars a day! Clearly, both nations have an enormous interest in striking the right balance between security and trade/tourism. The mandatory requirement for a passport for air travel between Canada and the United States went into effect in January of this year. While there are still concerns to be addressed, it is important to remember that considerable progress has been made as Americans, particularly members of Congress, have become aware of the risks of implementing this new requirement at land and sea borders before travellers have obtained acceptable identity documents.

Our American friends are listening:
  • Requirement for a "secure travel document" for land and sea crossings has been delayed until June 1, 2009.
  • Minors (sports teams, school trips, etc.) under age 16 are exempted from the requirement.
  • Passport cards for Americans are being issued this summer.
  • Enhanced driver's licences are authorized for some states and provinces, with more on the way.
On June 11, I had the pleasure of sitting down with federal Health Minister Tony Clement for the first time. Some of you may recall the letter (CSANews Spring 2007) which Minister Clement sent to all provincial health ministers reminding them of their obligations to abide by the portability principle of the Canada Health Act. Minister Clement is an ally and we are currently working on a collaborative effort that will move the ball down the field; I will update you in the fall.

Also on June 11, I met with federal Environment Minister John Baird. Minister Baird has long been a friend of the CSA, meeting with us on multiple occasions and attending our Nepean Lifestyle Presentation.

My trip to Ottawa was a chance for me to get to know some of the elected representatives and government officials whom we have to keep informed of the issues that concern our members. Over the course of the summer, I will be meeting with more government members as well as with members of the opposition parties (both federal and provincial), since ALL of our elected representatives have significant roles to play in the advancement of our issues.
My wife Alice and I wish you a safe and happy summer.

Pic 1: (L-R) CSA Research and Communications Officer Michael MacKenzie; U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins; CSA President Don Gardiner.