The doctor on a mission to heal medicare
Her sense of social justice was nurtured during a privileged childhood, by parents who stressed the importance of giving back.
But Dr. Danielle Martin’s focus on protecting and improving this country’s universal health-care system can be traced to an earlier generation — to her grandfather, who died a broken man for want of it, before she was even born.
Martin’s stature as an eloquent advocate for Canadian medicare — which did not exist when her grandfather, Jacques Elie Shilton, had a heart attack in 1952 — has attracted invitations to join political parties of all stripes across Canada.
This wooing became particularly ardent following her appearance before a U.S. congressional committee in March 2014 — a bravura turn viewed 1.5 million times on YouTube.
Despite the political overtures and her agile oratory — honed as an undergrad debater at Montreal’s McGill University — elected office isn’t on Martin’s charts for the foreseeable future, the 41-year-old says
“I don’t have political ambitions.”
Instead, she says, she’ll continue to concentrate on protecting and improving the country’s most valued asset — the health system she went to Washington to defend.
“Ninety-two or 94 per cent of Canadians will say medicare is a source of personal pride … an expression of what it means to be a Canadian,” says Martin, a founder and past chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.
Outside politics, Martin says, she can express herself unhindered by partisan stances.
“I have come to a point in my own thinking where I believe I can have a greater impact on health policy by avoiding partisan electoral politics, and instead continuing to engage in non-partisan work and public advocacy.”
A new book, Better Now, is Martin’s latest salvo.
To be released Jan. 10 by Allen Lane, a division of Penguin Random House Canada, the book is subtitled Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for all Canadians. And the author is no Pollyanna about the country’s medicare apparatus.
Martin sees a troubling disconnect between the pride Canadians feel in the provision of universal health care and their frustrations with its delivery.
“Too often people who believe in the principles of the public health-care system end up backed into this corner of being apologists for every single thing” about it, she says.
“And I can’t in good conscience as a physician working in that system defend everything about it.”
Martin says Canadians criticizing any aspect of health care are often labelled as traitors to the entire sacrosanct system.
“But the question is ‘that’s what we did yesterday, what are we going to do today to make it better?’ ”
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