Navigating the boomer glacier

A column by MLA Norm Letnick

In Canada, health care is an expression of compassion.

And while compassion is at its core, it’s still necessary to understand the economic and demographic issues impacting health care demand and delivery. Policy makers need this information to make decisions to best utilise scarce taxpayer dollars.

On June 22, Premier Christy Clark charged the bipartisan 10-member Select Standing Committee on Health with developing a long-term plan for our health system. Not because it will be easy, but because it must be done if we want to navigate the health care system through the coming “Boomer Glacier” and beyond.

There are strong and often differing opinions on what impact the Boomers will have on B.C.’s health system, and what changes should be introduced. With Health currently consuming approximately 41 per cent of our provincial budget and with so many parties having a financial or personal stake, discussions can quickly become passionate and polarised.   Some project health care consuming over 60 per cent of the provincial budget. Others, like the OECD, estimate our ageing population will require Canadian health expenditures to rise from about 11 per cent to 14 per cent of GDP.

The Premier’s decision to re-engage the committee after a five-year hiatus is timely and smart; the first wave of Boomers is turning 65. Many of them are sandwiched between caring for ageing parents, while still caring for children who live at home.

The first part of the committee’s mandate is to assess the Boomers’ potential impact on our health system as they age over the next 25 years and construct an economic model – a road map, if you will – with likely scenarios and benchmarks. Over the next few months, a subcommittee of three members will consult with experts on options, which will be presented to the full committee sometime this fall.

The second phase of committee work will most likely start in 2012. This will involve a rigorous review of potential system changes.

The last phase is to present the public with our findings (in other words, the challenges), a number of potential system changes to mitigate them (in other words, potential solutions), and from there, to measure their level of public support.  It will likely take a year or more of work for our bipartisan committee to submit its final report to the legislature.  It is my hope that the committee will be charged every five years to measure progress and update the plan as needed.

By creating a bipartisan 25-year plan for health care in B.C., we are breaking new ground. With your participation and the guidance of some extremely well-qualified experts and MLAs on this committee – including two former ministers of health, two physicians, former ministers of finance, education, and advanced education – we are all excited about the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of all British Columbians.

Both those around today, and those who will come after the Boomer Glacier has passed.




Norm Letnick is MLA for Kelowna – Lake Country. Visit his website at

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