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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.

It’s time for Ottawa to pay the cancer piper

by Tom Philip

If you have been following this series from the start, you may remember that I work for a federal politician. I’ve been away from the office for the past several months, recovering from the colon surgery that removed a cancerous tumor from my bowel.

Politics has become a lower priority in my life; but one issue that has come before our House of Commons repeatedly continues to hold my attention. Despite nods and smiles of acceptance, handshake agreements, even firm promises of support from a succession of Health Ministers, Canada still lacks a fully funded national strategy for cancer control.

It’s not that the federal government is unaware of rising cancer rates in our country, or that an estimated 68,300 of the more than 145,000 Canadians diagnosed with cancer in 2005 will die, or that cancer specialists predict the number of new cancer cases diagnosed each year will jump by 60 per cent over the next 20 years. The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), the National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC), the Canadian Association of Provincial Cancer Agencies (CAPCA), and other similar cancer interest groups have made the need for a national cancer strategy abundantly clear.

“Making progress in the fight against cancer requires both a much wider investment of resources than a public health agency alone provides,” said CCS head Dr. Barbara Whylie, quoted in the June 2004 edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Dr. Whylie believes the need for “a national, coordinated strategy” is urgent.

Cancer is estimated to have cost the Canadian economy more than $15 billion this year, including about $12 billion in lost productivity costs, yet there is no political will to commit substantial dollars to a national strategy to combat it. Federal cabinet ministers appear unable to fathom how investing $250 million over five years (the amount NCIC, on behalf of its partners, has requested from Parliament) in cancer control will translate into enough local and regional votes to keep them in power. Cancer never seems to make the agenda at all-candidates’ debates.

Despite an endorsement of the request in early 2004 from Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of State for Public Health at that time, and promises from current Minister of Health Dosanjh prior to the government’s 2005 budget that an initial $24 million had been “earmarked” in that document as a sort of down payment on the national strategy investment, a consortium of CCS, NCIC, CAPCA and Health Canada has managed to secure only $1.15 million in annual funding to coordinate the plan and set priorities.

By comparison, the Canadian taxpayer funds the national AIDS strategy to the tune of $42 million annually, and that’s probably not enough.

When it comes to cancer, our federal Liberal government seems quite willing to pay a pittance to gather evidence for, and advice about a national strategy to combat this scourge, even sit at the table and nod agreeably, and equally eager to ignore the information it receives from acknowledged experts. Surely it’s not just about the money!

Is $250 million, over five years, too much to ask to make great strides in getting cancer under control in Canada? Perhaps some perspective is in order.

Two weeks ago, our own Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, with reserves of nearly $92 billion, made a $400 million commitment to Canada’s equity and venture capital market. An American company invested $250 million last year to help Air Canada “advance its plan to emerge from bankruptcy protection.” By the end of this year, Canada will have contributed $250 million, over three years, towards reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and the democratization of that country.

In May, the governments of Alberta and Canada committed $250 million to improving a 15-kilometre stretch of the Calgary ‘Ring Road’, a by-pass that makes it easier for motorists to avoid driving through that city.

And my personal favourite: Between now and the end of January 2006, Canadian taxpayers will spend about $250 million to hold another federal election, a scant 18 months after we forked out the same amount for an identical event. Apparently, that’s money well spent!

If we’re ever going to eliminate cancer in this country, I can think of a good place to start.

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