Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Should Chalk River’s medical program be treated as a private or public resource?

Interesting take on the Chalk River developments in this letter to the editor (also appearing here). Raising the question of what Canadian assets are properly private versus public when they have a significant impact on the Canadian health care system.
What does the shutdown of Chalk River’s medical isotope program have in common with the 17th-century battle between feudalism and democracy? Tragically, far too much.

Modern democratic economies work on the principle that raw resources, consumed by either companies or individuals, are public assets used by all (such as water, air, land, public infrastructure). Normally, you are required to pay the public back for what you consume; and then the profit you create by adding value is yours. Modern democracies assure there is a public benefit from the use of common resources. That’s our democratic-economic system.

In the 17th century, kings and feudal lords claimed ownership of both resources and government for their own control and benefit. Then, humanity debated whether private enterprise belonged under feudal-individual management or democratic-public administration.

In the case of Chalk River’s public medical program, the Harper government has cancelled it in order to make room for private control — distancing a Canadian medical program from democratic administration. At issue, should Chalk River’s medical program be treated as a strictly private resource under the control of its individual owners; or is it fundamentally a public resource run for common public benefit?

No matter the answer, Harper is clear that he believes the feudal approach of strictly private control justifies his decision to cancel the Chalk River program — the public interest be damned.

Eugene Parks
The "Chalk River medical program" encompasses isotope production at the NRU reactor and it was contemplated to include the Maples reactors, as backups to accomplish the same production. I think this letter fairly characterizes these significant research assets as health care assets as well, all of which the Harper government has decided to divest Canadian control of, over the coming years.

Update: If it's not clear from the above, the present categorization of Chalk River and its assets is a public one. It's Mr. Harper's government that seeks to privatize AECL (Candu reactor division + management of Chalk River), perhaps flip the Maples reactors to private industry and ultimately walk away from isotope production out of the NRU. That's the path they've put us on, walking from public control to private. What's interesting about the above letter is framing this Chalk River debate as one about the privatization of a key element of the Canadian health care system. As we watch the Canada versus U.S. health care system debate play out in the American media, and great pride being displayed by Canadians in the public nature of our system, it's worth wondering why the privatization aspect of the Chalk River situation does not warrant similar attention.