The Politics of Healthcare: Canadians Should be “Outraged”

Politicians are just people.

The choices they make are a reflection of their personal beliefs and political biases. As citizens, it is still our obligation to pay attention to the details and take notice when the position of a politician is not firmly supported by professional opinions. Because even politicians must defer to the guidance of experts in their field when making choices that affect all Canadians. 

“I love the thought of helping people — so to be honest this is the best job for me”

In her high school yearbook Rona Ambrose said she “wanted to work for the International Red Cross one day.” Adding, “I love the thought of helping people — so to be honest this is the best job for me.” For what it’s worth, I wanted to grow up to be an archaeologist — just like Indiana Jones. Sometimes our aspirations just don’t make sense in reality. Ms. Ambrose has been serving as Canada’s Health Minister since July 2013. She is the MP (Member of Parliament) for Edmonton-Spruce Grove, in Alberta.

Ms. Ambrose holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Victoria and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Alberta. Her role as Health Minister is her 5th role in Stephen Harper’s Cabinet. Ms. Ambrose’s past positions have included: Minister of the Environment, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Minister of Western Economic Diversification, Minister of Labour, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, and in April 2010, she was appointed to the additional position of Minister for Status of Women.

Wishing to grow up to be a doctor doesn’t make you one

These are all worthy, important positions. I have no intention to detract from the important work that our Cabinet Ministers do; however, we need to recognize that as a rule our Cabinet Ministers really have no experience or education in the roles they are assigned. Wishing to grow up to be a doctor doesn’t make you one. Rona Ambrose recently expressed her outrage over the Supreme Court ruling that permits the medical application of cannabis derivatives in all forms (edibles, oils, tinctures, etc.).

Rona Ambrose recently expressed her outrage over the Supreme Court ruling that permits the medical application of cannabis derivatives

I’ve reproduced her original televised response below:

“Well let’s remember, I think it was Canadians that actually lost public health and safety ground ten years ago when a court ruled that smoking marijuana was a quote-unquote treatment. And, umm, now today the Supreme Court has ruled that marijuana cookies and brownies are quote-unquote medicinal treatment [note the rhetorical language]. Let’s remember there is only one authority in Canada that can crea—, that, that, that has the authority and the expertise to make a drug into a medicine and that is Health Canada. And marijuana has never gone through the regulatory approval process at Health Canada which of course requires rigorous safety reviews and clinical trials with scientific evidence, [as opposed to the other kind] so frankly, I’m outraged by the Supreme Court and by the ruling ten years ago.” 

“That is not my job as Minister”

When asked why the clinical trials were not being conducted, she simply rebuked, “That is not my job as Minister.” She then added that cannabis has never been submitted to the regulatory process in Canada. Yet, Health Canada does have clinical studies on the dangers of marijuana on youth and that is the basis for their ‘awareness’ campaign. It seems as though Health Canada has made a conscious choice to not allow clinical trials of medical marijuana. Therefor it is an ideological objection to not allow cannabis to be used medicinally. What we don’t know can’t help us.

What we don’t know can’t help us

The prevention of clinical trials of cannabis and cannabis concentrates is the easiest way for Health Canada to block the progress of medical marijuana. We need to get clinical trials of medical marijuana in Canada. We need to make this an election issue. Just as Ms. Ambrose said, “I am Canada’s Health Minister, and I am never going to tell Canadians that marijuana is a medicine when it has not been approved as a medicine.”

We need to make this an election issue

In an exclusive interview with 24 SEVEN, Ms. Ambrose placed a great deal of emphasis on the government’s Child Fitness Tax Credit (a reimbursement to parents for signing their kids up for organized sports). She seems genuinely concerned for the health and well being of children and yet she is “outraged” that medical marijuana derivatives that may help children are now legal.

I can only assume our Health Minister’s difficulty with cannabis as medicine is born out of personal unawareness. Period. She was near frantic during the press conference when she uttered: “This is a larger issue. We need to continue to get the message to Canadians that this is not a drug, it is not a medicine.” (*Ms. Ambrose seems to generally define drugs as bad and medicine as good: Although she is inconsistent with her terminology). 

The government’s own website foreshadowed the Supreme Court decision

During her 24 SEVEN Exclusive interview Rona Ambrose answered 24 questions about herself and her role as Health Minster. She also endorsed a government website (www.healthycanadians.ca) describing it as containing “all kinds of advice and information on how to stay healthy.” If you search for “cannabis” on the site it provides the reader with this information: “Marijuana smoke irritates the throat and lungs, causes coughing, and is associated with symptoms of bronchitis. Marijuana smoke also contains many of the same cancer-causing materials as tobacco smoke.”

This seems like a pretty strong argument in support of cannabis derivatives. This is exactly why some patients opt to consume their prescription in edibles, teas, pills, and tinctures.“ The government’s own website foreshadowed the Supreme Court decision. So why is our Health Minister outraged?

“I look back on the billions of dollars we have spent fighting big tobacco”

It is also ironic that Ms. Ambrose was quoted during the interview saying: “As health Minister, I look back on the billions of dollars we have spent fighting big tobacco.” The decision to extend the permitted forms of medical marijuana beyond just smoking dried herb just makes too much sense. Ms. Ambrose agrees with the Supreme Court decision — even if she lacks the self-awareness to realize it.

During the interview Ms. Ambrose said it is important to “be really open” when talking to your kids about drugs. She recommends to “make sure they have lots of information and there is lots of information available.” But in particular, she suggested parents should “maybe introduce them to someone that has had a bad experience with drugs — so they understand the harmful impact of drugs.” Ok, but what about all the people who have recovered from their debilitating illnesses with the help of “drugs” like cannabis. Why not share that information with your kids as well?

Ambrose has been cherry picking and presenting the research that supports her personal beliefs

This interview response works as an analogy for the lack of clinical trials in Canada. Our Health Minister is telling us to look at how bad drug addiction is, but then refuses to do clinical trials to show that certain “drugs” can also hold significant health benefits. Ms. Ambrose has been cherry picking and presenting the research that supports her personal beliefs that pot is bad while meanwhile ignoring the studies from other countries that identify cannabis as medicine.

“We will continue with our anti-drug strategy, we will target youth with the message that marijuana pot is bad”

In case her underlying beliefs were not already explicit enough, consider that Ms. Ambrose told reporters: “the original court decision . . . over 10 years ago . . . forced this issue of normalization . . . we will continue to combat it, we will continue with our anti-drug strategy, we will target youth with the message that marijuana pot (sic) is bad . . . that is clear in the clinical evidence.” We have had plenty of time to conduct clinical trials on medical marijuana; it is no coincidence that the only research Health Canada has pursued was done with the intention of demonizing cannabis. 

Frankly I’m surprised that someone with an Arts Degree is so morally opposed to smoking pot

“As Health Minister I will continue to convey the message, to uh make sure that we fight idea that’s it’s normal, and healthy, and ok to smoke pot.” Frankly I’m surprised that someone with an Arts Degree is so morally opposed to smoking pot. I digress. (Although again, with such strongly held opinions against smoking pot, you would think she would be in favour of the recent Supreme Court decision to allow edibles). In all seriousness though, Rona Ambrose is not a doctor, despite her childhood dream. She is just another morally mis-guided politician imposing her personal bias onto modern medicine. 

“There has been no sign that you or your government pay the least attention to scientific data in formulating drug policies”

While researching this piece I came across a rather scathing open letter to Rona Ambrose. A physician in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside wrote the letter in 2013 (the same year Ms. Ambrose took on her new role as Health Minister). Prior to the open letter being written, Health Minister Rona Ambrose visited the University of Alberta to demonstrate an interest in science, but her government rejected experts’ advice on drug addiction.

It reads: “There has been no sign that you or your government pay the least attention to scientific data in formulating drug policies.” “Given such findings, Minister, your opposition to this Health Canada permission, which you have moved to block, has little to do with insufficient proof. More to the point may be another statement of yours: “This decision is in direct opposition to the government’s anti drug policy.” 

Ambrose: “Vancouver has more pot dispensaries than Starbucks”

Rona Ambrose has consistently demonstrated that she is not objective and should not be guiding health care in Canada. She claimed “Vancouver has more pot dispensaries than Starbucks” and while I don’t believe this is true, that sounds like a country I would be okay living in. It would be an improvement to the dogmatic, arbitrary, and out-dated laws we live with now.

Canada, we’re in an election year. On October 19th, 2015 we have a choice. Let’s make the right one.

 

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Seth MacCallum
Seth MacCallum

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