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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let Them Eat Cookies: Canadian Journalism and Medicare

For the record, it looks to have been chocolate chips:

Alberta's healthcare CEO issued an apology Saturday after telling reporters he was too busy “eating a cookie” to answer questions about crowded hospitals.


"I'm interested in eating in my cookie," said Duckett with a smile.

In fairness to Stephen Duckett, he did tell reporters he would answer media questions at a press conference later that day. In another universe this might be Medicare's Marie Antoinette moment, when finally Canadians begin to understand just how out of touch Medicare's masters are with its on the ground reality. However, we have had many such moments over the years, including the Chaoulli decision. The Cult of Medicare still survives, still claiming victims.

Just as the historical Marie Antoinette never asked why the peasants didn't eat cake instead of bread, so Dr Duckett's evasions might be more of place and time, rather than refusing to answer questions at all. Journalists, especially television journalists, love the runaway perp clip. Important person, wearing a suit and tie, is being chased by the valiant ill-clad reporter. The implication being that the important person is afraid of the valiant reporter's gotcha questions. The truth is rather more complex, these are examples of the spectacle nature of modern journalism.

To those who have witnessed media scrums first hand, they are a feeding frenzy. I'm amazed at the restraint shown by most politicos. Ravenous is not the word to describe the conduct of scrum reporters. Most of the questions are geared not to get an intelligent response, but to embarrass the important politico. As a means of self-protection, most politicos don't answer questions, they just recite talking points. An utterly futile back and forth results, whose sole purpose is to fool the folks at home into thinking that both sides are still doing their jobs.

Modern media-government interactions are reminiscent of that old joke about Soviet industry, the workers pretend to work and the managers pretend to pay. In the Ottawa Press Gallery, and the provincial bureaus, the journalists pretend to ask questions and the politicians pretend to answer.

Meanwhile, genuinely important questions need asking, such as those that surround the fate of Therese de Repentigny:

The family of an elderly Quebec woman who died in hospital after waiting six hours in the emergency room to see a doctor has filed a complaint with the facility.

Last Tuesday, Therese de Repentigny's daughter took her to the hospital after she began complaining of pain. De Repentigny, 78, was seen by a triage nurse and then told to wait.

De Repentigny's daughter, Fernande Blais, says her mother got up from her hospital stretcher several times, asking to see a doctor. However, she was repeatedly told she would have to wait.

Like in old episodes of M*A*S*H modern Canadian doctors and nurses also conduct triage. This only makes sense. The massive coronary is a logically higher priority than a broken leg. In a system where patients are bureaucratized numbers, rather than clients and patients, resources are never properly allocated. There are often too many administrators and too few nurses. Since competition is not allowed what choice do the sick have? It's pretty much the same all over.

A system of perpetual shortage - like all planned economies - requires rationing. One of the informal ways in which ER's ration is by prioritizing the young over the old. Again, this is probably the least worst alternative. Still, it leaves some of the elderly, who have spent lifetimes supporting the current system, waiting to die. The hospital administrators and front-line staff make their own calculations as well. The outrage over a dead toddler will be far greater than of an elderly woman. Universal health care is not universal to all. Now that's a story that needs to be covered.


Posted by Richard Anderson on November 23, 2010 | Permalink


"Still, it leaves some of the elderly, who have spent lifetimes supporting the current system, waiting to die." - Publius

Since tax revenues are not allocated towards their originators and instead a ponzi scheme not unlike that of Bernie Madoff, the analogy doesn't unfortunately work. The system rewards the incompetent, lazy, irresponsible, permanently adolescent, (and unlucky), and penalizes the productive, responsible and enslaved.

Any reform possible must be directed toward disincentivizing the rewards for all but the unlucky. That will never happen in Jack Layton's Canada. There is too much investment in the politics of entitlement and resentment.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-11-23 10:26:02 AM

He said very clearly in the tape there would be a press conferarnce in 30 minutes all these outraged reporters had to do was wait......

Posted by: JoeFrmEdm | 2010-11-23 12:01:41 PM

please be kind to him - not many people want him back in Australia.

Posted by: malcolm | 2010-11-24 2:38:19 AM

Can there be a better example of a hatchet job by the media? Duckett made it very clear that there was going to be a press conference in 30 mins. I guess she should have thrown his cookie at that badgering, obviously lesbian, reporter. Worse. AB's health minister got his pantaloons in a knot when he saw his career implode and demanded Duckett's resignation. AHS is legally designated to be greater than arm's length from the minister, but that didn't stop him from saving his political hide. In the end, this is what socialized medicine leads to. Like the NHS in the UK, Canada's healthcare sacred cow is close to dying its final death, and not too soon. Of course, the better way would be everyone must have private health insurance. (And I suppose the state can purchase the insurance for those who cannot. Who says it doesn't pay to be stupid?) But what are the chances of Canada heading down that path? Not before we are all broke, I trust.

Posted by: AB Patriot | 2010-11-27 8:37:16 AM

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