Exploding Some Myths About Canadian Healthcare

Via Metafilter, I read two really well-written pieces entitled Mythbusting Canadian Health Care (here’s part two). They’re written by one Sara Robinson, who apparently lives in ‘suburban Vancouver’:

The percentage of Canadians who’d consider giving up their beloved system consistently languishes in the single digits. A few years ago, a TV show asked Canadians to name the Greatest Canadian in history; and in a broad national consensus, they gave the honor to Tommy Douglas, the Saskatchewan premier who is considered the father of the country’s health care system. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that he was also Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather.).

The argument and the writing are both quality. I’d like to read an equally well thought-out article from the other camp.

There is one fundamental problem with these articles: their total lack of citations and references. Both articles are full of facts, figures and claims, but there’s barely a hyperlink to be seen. This lack of transparency really undercuts Robinson’s argument, and it’s a shame.


  1. I’ve pointed out before that I could not imagine getting better cancer care than I’ve received over the past year (doctors even bumped my surgery ahead in July when they realized how serious things were).

    When it’s important, the Canadian system has served me well. Now, things may be better on average in some countries in Europe, but when people in the U.S. denigrate our socialized medicine in comparison to theirs, I have to wonder what Bizarro-world version they’re talking about.

  2. I am happy with the Canadian health care system, but when I *really* need to get well, I fly to Mexico. That’s when I REALLY get good health care. But for very bare, basic needs, Canadian doctors have served me right. Nevertheless, my experience with the Mexican health care system has been simply outstanding (and yes I know it’s criticized too).

    I also agree with the lack of references and citations as totally undermining an otherwise solid paper. Perhaps you should write a blog post about citations? 🙂

  3. Experiences are mixed with our system. I have had two surgeries this last year, and most of them I had to wait several months for. Granted, they were not life threatening, so there was no rush. That being said I was in the hospital with severe pneumonia last September. Not only was it crazy crowded in emergency (I was forced to be treated in the hallway), but it took over 24 hours to find me a bed. My dad had to wait 5 days in an ICU in Chilliwack after a heart attack just so they could find room in Vancouver to give him an angioplasty.

    The fire marshall was forced to clear part of the ER in New West the other day due to severe overcrowding. I think our system is underfunded, and in many places it’s about to burst at the seams. While it is universal, and I think is far better and more humane than the US system, it is a system that I think is in danger of collapsing.

  4. If waiting for a period of time to receive non-life threatening surgery in exchange for EVERY Canadian receiving healthcare, then this seems like a small price to pay……..and I’ve paid that price a fair number of times.

  5. Oh, please, Darren. There’s lots of stuff on the web … but there’s even more stuff that isn’t. Even for the stuff that is web accessible, lots of it is behind subscription “walls”.

    But … you want facts with urls? Sure, how about US government facts:

    Infant mortality rate:
    total: 4.63 deaths/1,000 live births
    male: 5.08 deaths/1,000 live births
    female: 4.17 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
    Life expectancy at birth:
    total population: 80.34 years
    male: 76.98 years
    female: 83.86 years (2007 est.)

    United States
    Infant mortality rate:
    total: 6.37 deaths/1,000 live births
    male: 7.02 deaths/1,000 live births
    female: 5.68 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
    Life expectancy at birth:
    total population: 78 years
    male: 75.15 years
    female: 80.97 years (2007 est.)

    Ask anyone (and give us a full citation when you do) who knows about infant mortality and life expectancy and you’ll find that the differences above are *huge* … 4.63 deaths/1000 vs 6.37 / 1000 is a crushing example of how poor the US medical system is.

    Or there’s this graphic

    Marvellous … the US has better life expectancy than (wait for it) Cuba. Cuba? You know: that’s the country that the US has had an embargo on for more than 40 years.

    There’s no reason for you to say the lack of reference urls undercuts the argument. If you want to undercut it then you make your rebuttal and *you* cite the urls where the information supports your argument and countermands theirs. To dismiss the other side’s argument simply because citations weren’t provided is merely evidence of your own intellectual laziness.

  6. JohnB: Can you please:

    * Indicate I specifically stated which side of the debate I’m on.
    * Once you do that, demonstrate how I specifically “dismiss” the opposing side’s argument.

    You said “there’s no reason for you to say the lack of reference urls undercuts the argument.”

    This is simply wrong. It is standard procedure in academic and rhetorical circles to footnote, reference or otherwise link to sources for facts. To quote from the APA Citation Guidelines:

    “Why Is Citation Important? To back up your assertions. Otherwise what you say is simply your opinion. Providing sources for what you say allows the reader to understand and evaluate the bases of your assertions.”

    Or, from the Writing Centre at the University of North Carolina:

    “One purpose of citations is to leave a trail of clues for interested readers. When you document papers correctly, you provide others with a way to find the sources you have used. Another purpose of citation is to promote ethical responsibility and academic consistency within a discipline. If you do not cite and document your sources carefully, you run the risk of plagiarism, described in the MLA Handbook as “intellectual theft” (Gibaldi 66).”

    It is the burden of the writer–not the reader–to support their argument through references and citations. I can’t imagine why Ms. Robinson wrote such excellent articles only to ignore this vital step (particular given that they’re published on the web, where much easier to cite sources).

  7. One other point: after Tommy Douglas established Medicare in Saskatchewan, the hostility of the doctors was so rabid that they went on strike. After Tommy Douglas died the Canadian Medical Association elected him to their hall of fame.

    As Yogi Berra would say: you could look it up. For those too lazy to look it up:

    The strike:

    The election to the hall of fame:

  8. “Indicate specifically which side of the debate I am on.” Don’t know, don’t care. My comments were directed towards your requiring urls to substantiate the argument. Blogs are opinion pieces not well-crafted arguments rigorously exploring in a dispassionate manner a particular point of view.

    “Once you do that…” You challenged the support for the blog entry by noting “There is one fundamental problem with these articles: their total lack of citations and references.”

    “This is simply wrong. It is standard procedure in academic and rhetorical circles to footnote …” These are blogs, not Socratic dialogs, not refereed journals, not substantive compositions. Your requirement is as valid as mine would be in requiring ephemera to have permanence: it’s a search for an attribute that, by the very definition of the object, is missing.

    Your concluding para again confuses a blog entry with something much more substantial. It considers an opinion to have the same weight as a well-defended research project and treats personal viewpoints the same as it treats proven theorems.

    Nobody holds up Wikipedia as a resource as definitive as Encyclopaedia Britannica; nobody considers Webster to have the same authority as the OED. And nobody should expect a blog to be a citable authority.

  9. It sure sounds like you know which side of the argument I’m on, because you indicated that I was “dismissing the other side’s argument”. For me to do that, wouldn’t I have to pick a side?

    And, incidentally, I never ‘dismissed’ Ms. Robinson’s argument. I said it was ‘undercut’ and had a ‘fundamental problem’. You may find those concepts synonymous, but I don’t.

    “Your concluding para again confuses a blog entry with something much more substantial. It considers an opinion to have the same weight as a well-defended research project and treats personal viewpoints the same as it treats proven theorems.”

    I’m not disputing Ms. Robinson’s opinion. Her articles are, in fact, written like well-researched papers. Like a good writer, she supports her viewpoint with plenty of facts. It’s those facts, however, that are uncited.

    I actually don’t care if this blog post becomes a ‘citable authority’. I never said that. I just want her facts to be sourced.

    Incidentally, academics do consider blogs to be citable. In reading about MLA and APA citations, acamdeics were discussing how to cite blogs (and even blog comments). Here’s an example from Yale.

    But regardless, we shouldn’t confound this argument (whether blog posts should be cited) with one about whether blog posts should be citable.

    It’s funny you should mention Wikipedia–it publishes its sources, which is something that the EB doesn’t (I think). I’m not claiming that the former is more authoritative, but at least I can verify the information in it more easily.

    It’s simple–it’s a writer’s responsibility to cite sources. Arguments are made more powerful by referenced facts. It’s so profoundly easy on the web, there’s no excuse not to.

    Ms. Robinson clearly had a rhetorical agenda. I applaud that, but clearly her argument would be strengthened by linking to sources.

  10. See http://www.diemer.ca/Docs/Diemer-TenHealthCareMyths.htm for a similar, though older, piece of myth busting regarding the Canadian health care system, with citations.

    By the way, regarding underfunding, I seem to remember reading several years ago, perhaps in Canadian Dimension, that the Canadian public health care system had been systematically underfunded by right-wing governments over the preceding decade or so as part of the wider effort – ideologically led by the free marketeers of the Fraser Institute – to undercut public support for the system. The hostility of such politicians to public health care programs, public pensions and the state provision of public welfare programs of any kind whatsoever should be kept in mind, and investigated by those able to do so, when we consider problems in such programs, especially any noticeable declines during the 20-30 years of the international Reagan-Thatcher Revolution.

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