Liberals to restore refugee health care within months: Immigration minister
Published Saturday, November 7, 2015 7:35PM EST
Immigration minister John McCallum says the new government will “expeditiously” reinstate full health care for refugees, a service that suffered drastic cuts under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
“I can say that within a matter of months, we will fully restore health care for refugees,” McCallum told CTV’s News Channel Saturday.
It’s a significant step towards providing refugees with the same level of universal health care that all Canadians receive.
McCallum says the reinstatement signals a “compassionate, humane and helpful” approach to refugee health care, a service that was stripped of coverage such as dental work, prosthetics and medication under the Conservatives in 2012 as a way to save taxpayers money.
The cuts sparked outrage from several health groups across the country, and volunteer clinics quickly popped up to bridge the gap in care.
A federal court later called the policy “cruel and unusual” and overturned it, forcing the Conservatives to restore some essential health-care benefits.
McCallum argued that the Liberal approach is a pre-emptive measure that ensures refugees get immediate care rather than having them fill up costly emergency rooms.
“So overall the taxpayer actually pays more money under the [previous] government’s restrictive policy than it would under our policy,” McCallum said.
What about privately sponsored refugees?
The move to reinstate health care for refugees is being lauded by doctors and health care experts who long rallied against the Conservative’s controversial cuts.
“We’re very relieved,” Dr. Philip Berger, co-chair of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, an advocacy group that challenged the Conservative cutbacks in court.
“It will make a difference in the lives of vulnerable and disconnected people.”
Berger said he hopes the measures will include refugees who are privately sponsored by groups such as churches and businesses.
“They do not get coverage for medication, vision or dental care, prosthesis for amputated limbs or even counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder, and we’re hoping that those will be restored as well,” Berger said.
“Working around the clock” to meet refugee goal
Another cornerstone of the Liberal campaign was the pledge to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015, and McCallum says it’s a promise they intend to keep.
He described the December 31 deadline as “a target” and said the government is determined “not to do it fast, but also right.”
“We have to have proper safeguards on health and keeping Canadians not affected by communicable disease and things of that nature, and we also have to be concerned with security issues,” McCallum said.
Berger cast some doubt on the idea that the Liberals can meet their fast-approaching resettlement target.
“I think 25,000 may not be achievable in the next two months, but we expect to see thousands anyway,” he said.
But McCallum says he aims to reach the goal by crafting a thorough plan with the ministers of public security, health, foreign affairs, defence and transport.
“I sense that as long as we do it right, as long as we take care of the health and security issues, there will be much support from Canadians as a whole,” he said.