Universal health care, a stronger democracy and praise for the Canadian way: these were the pillars of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ speech in Toronto Sunday morning.
The junior senator of Vermont spoke at the University of Toronto’s Convocation Hall Oct. 29 as part of an event titled What the U.S. Can Learn from Canadian Health Care. Other speakers included Premier Kathleen Wynne and U of T president Meric S. Gertler.
A cornerstone of Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign was the promise of a shift towards universal health care. During his Toronto address, he discussed the merits of the Canadian single-payer system.
“How does it happen that here in Canada you provide health care to every man, woman, and child, and you do it at 50 per cent of the cost that we spend on healthcare in the United States,” he asked.
The core reason, according to Sanders, was that compared to the American system, Canadian healthcare is more value-based—it assumes healthcare is a human right, not a privilege.
He advised Canadians to “be a little louder” about the international healthcare debate and to defend the benefits of their system, such as paid leave for new parents.
Sanders criticized both Canada and the U.S. for having unaffordable dental care, saying that “dental care is part of healthcare and cannot be ignored.”
Sanders also addressed how democracy has changed in the United States since the election of Donald Trump, during a Q-and-A session with Dr. Danielle Martin of Women’s College Hospital, a teaching hospital in downtown Toronto that specializes in women’s health.
“In my country and many parts of the world, we are moving away from democracy into kleptocracy and oligarchy,” he said. “What we need to do is take those oligarchs on.”
The senator called for more political involvement, stating that those who believe politics don’t affect their lives are “sorely mistaken” and that it is “absolutely imperative” for everyone to get involved.
While in Toronto, he visited three hospitals alongside Premier Wynne to learn more about the Canadian healthcare system.
Many parts of Sanders’ speech were met with standing ovations from the audience, some of whom had been waiting in a rush line outside since 5 a.m. Tickets to the event sold out in under a minute.
In September 2017, Senator Sanders introduced a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer bill in Washington with other Senate Democrats. The bill would ensure a universal Medicare card for every American, which would allow them to access comprehensive healthcare services like hospital stays, doctor visits, and dental and vision care.
Sanders has announced he will run as an independent in the 2018 Senate race despite recent pressure from some Democrats to join the party.