NDP push to reform Saskatchewan health care by ending private MRIs

Should the Saskatchewan NDP form government in October, the party would craft the Saskatchewan Medicare Protection Act which would end the province’s private MRI system.
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OTTAWA – Ahead of next week’s throne speech, Jagmeet Singh on Friday gave his demands to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in public hours before he was set to deliver them privately in a one-on-one meeting. Among the demands, Singh wants to ensure people transitioning from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to a revamped employment insurance aren’t worse off. CERB has paid out more than $72 billion in benefits since its inception shortly after COVID-19 forced lockdowns in March, the new EI would reduce the monthly payment most Canadians receive by $400. He also wants to introduce a wealth tax. With Parliament Hill as his backdrop Friday, Singh said he doesn’t want to trigger an election. “It is not my goal to tear down the government. It is not my goal to fight an election. My goal and New Democrat’s goal is to fight for people,” he said. But he also warned his party is fully prepared to take the country to the polls, pandemic or not. “We are absolutely prepared to fight an election.” However, is the NDP really prepared to vote down a government in the midst of a pandemic? A government that has hinted it is prepared to go on a spending blitz with an ambitious agenda that may include many of the policies promoted by the NDP, not least pharmacare and childcare? The Canadian Museum of History, where Singh delivered his speech Friday following several days of caucus meetings, is a place his predecessors have used to launch campaigns. Those previous NDP leaders have also faced a similar choice now before Singh: whether to prop up a Liberal minority government and what concessions can be wrung from them. “I’m less concerned about what the prime minister says, I’m more concerned about what he does,” said Singh. “The throne speech is just words on paper. I want to see concrete action.” 'A pandemic is job one': Trudeau says COVID will be main focus of throne speech Trudeau promises 'ambitious' throne speech, but says he doesn't want fall election Singh said the Liberal’s legislation, the fall fiscal update and a potential budget are the real test. To start with, he wants the government to change its proposal to end CERB and move people over to a revamped EI system. “Justin Trudeau has put forward a plan that will actually cut help to people in the middle of a pandemic. That’s wrong.” Meanwhile, a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a left-leaning think tank, says the country’s billionaires saw their wealth grow by $37 billion during the pandemic. In his speech, Singh said as the Liberals look to get a handle on how to pay for the massive spending they should be looking at those fortunes. His party is proposing a wealth tax and a crackdown on loopholes and tax avoidance. He hinted he wants to see action on that from Trudeau. “Canadians who are worried about paying the bills shouldn’t be the ones paying for the pandemic. Those who made billions off this crisis should pay for the recovery,” he said. The Liberals will need the support of one party to get the throne speech through. New Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is unlikely to support the throne speech and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has threatened to vote no confidence if Trudeau doesn’t step down in the wake of the WE charity scandal. Blanchet was in isolation Friday after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and O’Toole was similarly staying inside, waiting for test results after a member of his staff was diagnosed with the virus. That means Singh might be the only opposition leader in Parliament when the throne speech is delivered. The dilemma facing Singh is whether he can trust the Liberals to deliver on any promises made to his party. It is a position the NDP have been in before. In 2005, then NDP leader Jack Layton secured several promises from then prime minister Paul Martin to pass his spring budget. But Layton then voted against the government in a fall confidence vote forcing an election, that became Stephen Harper’s first win. Layton’s side says in the fall Martin’s government war mired in scandal, no longer able to deliver what the NDP wanted and was unwilling to listen to demands they made to protect healthcare. The NDP’s decision to vote down Martin’s government in 2005 is regularly criticized by Liberals. Martin was in the process of securing childcare funding agreements with provinces and attempting to implement the Kelowna accord, a deal to provide significant funding to Indigenous communities. When Harper was elected in early 2006, he pulled back from both those initiatives. However, Kathleen Monk, a veteran of Layton’s team, is dismissive of the people who blame the NDP for the lack of childcare. “I call bullshit on that. You had 14 years with Mr. Chretien, where Paul Martin was at the helm, to do these things.” Brad Lavigne, another of Layton’s advisors, said Martin’s team was unwilling to move when Layton asked for restrictions on private health care delivery. He said minority governments have to be willing to deal and Martin’s team wasn’t. “They came to their goodwill late in the 2005 budget, but it was a shallow pool of goodwill that they had and it quickly dried out.” He said Trudeau’s decision to sit down with Singh and other opposition leaders was a step in the right direction, but that’s the minimum. Karl Bélanger, Layton’s press secretary at the time and now president of Traxxion Strategies, a communications firm, said the challenge the NDP will face is weighing the seriousness of the Trudeau Liberals commitment. “Look at the feasibility of these measures and how likely the government is to move forward with it. And how long it would take because of course, you do not want to give a blank cheque,” he said. Bélanger said the Liberals have often promised items from the NDP platform, but the delivery is where the promises fall down. There are hints next week’s throne speech will include bold moves on pharmacare or childcare, but he said those promises have been made before. “You have to be skeptical of the political will of the Liberals to move forward with such a bold agenda.” But the NDP are also facing two major problems. A recent poll would see them losing seats in a general election and they have a funding crisis. A recent Campaign Research poll put the NDP at 13 per cent nationally, well back of the Conservatives and the Liberals who have a narrow lead, despite the WE controversy. If that support level held in a campaign, the party would lose seats in the next election. The party is also still digging out from a financial hole, with several loans that they took on for the campaign still having to be paid off. Even with its assets, the party’s overall financial position is still nearly $2 million in the red. Their fundraising this year has been relatively strong having raised $965,000 in the first quarter and an additional $1.3 million in the second. But senior veterans within the NDP believe the party’s strength is that it can get things done even without forming government . Lavigne said the NDP had secured support for programs like universal healthcare, old-age security and public housing From 2004 in Martin’s first minority government to 2011, the start of Stephen Harper’s majority, the NDP improved its seat count each time. Anne McGrath, the party’s national director and another veteran of the Layton team, said that was because they were delivering results from the opposition benches, forcing both the Liberal and the Conservatives to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. McGrath said the NDP are fully ready to hit the campaign trail. “We’ve done it before, under difficult circumstances, and we can definitely do it again. And I feel like we would be in much better shape even at this time than last time,” she said. She said even if a campaign were called next week, the party would be in better shape this time than it was in 2019. Singh said he would rather see the Liberals enact childcare, pharmacare and other progressive policies then save them for an NDP campaign, whenever the election comes. “I’m worried about the Liberal government not acting on those things. I’m worried about them not delivering the help that people need.” His pitch to voters is that he made the Liberals pandemic response more generous, more helpful. “People have seen that if you want someone on your side in your corner when the chips are down, New Democrats have fought for people.” • Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com | Twitter: ryantumilty
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Lights, Camera, Rabbi: For limelight-loving Yossi Sapirman, the show must goes on, even during COVID
Yossi Sapirman’s unlikely path to being one of Toronto’s most unconventional rabbis didn’t begin in New Jersey, where he was born into an ultra-Orthodox family, but in Toronto’s Greektown, where he opened a bike shop. Nearly three decades later, he is rewriting the script again to meet the challenges of a pandemic, planning a high holidays broadcast Saturday that includes a Grammy-winning singer, multiple cameras, and a dramatic drone entrance. Sapirman, 52, is a fantastical blend of P.T. Barnum and Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. He favours black, with a long greying beard that evokes the director Orson Welles. He loves rap (and opera) and the speed rush of his 707 horsepower Dodge Hellcat muscle car. I first met Rabbi Yossi in 2014, while he was officiating at the bat mitzvah for the granddaughter of the late, legendary criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan. He blended the ancient traditions and scriptures with modernity and schmoozing, leaving the pulpit, wandering throughout the congregation, mingling. Sapirman was one of nine children, to a family that claims lineage to rabbinical royalty, dating back over 500 years. He moved to Toronto in 1973 at the age of 5. As he grew up, he was drawn to the rich traditions of Judaism, but its severity, and his father’s demands to maintain the rigidity of orthodoxy, tortured him. At the age of 15, amidst enormous tension between father and son, Sapirman moved out and rented a basement apartment, earning money fixing appliances and later opening his own bike shop. He immersed himself in Jewish studies at night, determined to discover a mix of antiquity with modern theology. If he couldn’t find it, he would invent it. Clad in grease-covered overalls, Sapirman developed a reputation as the somewhat cool, go-to guy for spiritual advice, modern thinking and bike repairs. Although not yet ordained, he was invited to lead a small Jewish congregation in the back of a nearby Greek restaurant, assured that he could run the service his way. His congregation ultimately found him too progressive and he left. Sapirman realized that without formal rabbinical credentials, he would never succeed in having his unconventional approach accepted, so he went to Israel to study. He returned to Toronto in 1986 as an ordained rabbi. All he needed was a congregation. In the meantime, he tutored Jewish children, including preparing future actor Daniel Levy for his bar mitzvah. Sapirman’s first prime time gig was as a rabbi for an orthodox synagogue in Peterborough, but the older congregants again resisted a modern style that included women playing a role and actually touching the Holy Scriptures. A short time later, when a fading synagogue with a dwindling congregation in North Toronto asked to meet with him, he pitched hard, telling them he was their messiah. Facing a dire situation that included diminishing revenue and very few alternate candidates, the Beth Torah elders rolled the dice. He immediately modernized the service, engaged younger audiences with diverse programming and high-profile speakers, added live music — like inviting the Toronto Symphony to play during the high holidays. He involved women in all of the rituals, creating a highly immersive experience. Suddenly, this messiah was a superstar. The temple grew from 100 families to 500, along with a waiting list. Some felt he had gone too far, but there was no disputing his success. Sapirman drew crowds that rewarded him with significant donations to fund a massive renovation to fit his growing flock. The result was a brightly lit modern sanctuary that matched his personality, complete with a thrust stage inspired by the Stratford Festival that allows him to engage dramatically with his congregation. When COVID-19 hit, he had already been experimenting with livestreaming. He had found the use of a single camera limiting and a convoluted distraction and set to work on a new plan to prepare for the impending closure caused by the virus hit. Fuelled by his determination that spirituality should not be experienced in isolation, he transformed his synagogue into a television studio with six HD cameras and a black box studio to film and edit socially distanced interviews and learning sessions. He hired an experienced technical crew to operate from within a safe, state-of-the-art control booth and spent the last six months producing content and warming up for the main event; the upcoming Jewish high holidays. So while concerts are cancelled and movie theatres are struggling, Sapirman has pre-sold his high holidays broadcast to 95% of his congregation and potentially his largest audience ever through a professionally produced stream. He will have a mix of live and taped segments featuring custom soundtracks, large choirs filmed by multiple cameras, and a dramatic entrance to ensure congregants feel they are still entering the sanctuary. Above all, he promises an earth-shaking live sermon to help congregants make sense of this agonizing moment. For Yossi Sapirman, the show must go on. — Barry Avrich is an advertising executive and filmmaker (Prosecuting Evil, Made You Look).
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