Slow down and think it through

Former vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin is being pilloried for an admission that her family crossed the border to obtain Canadian health care—a system she previously said should be dismantled.

“My first five years of life we spent in Skagway, Alaska, right there by Whitehorse,” Palin said during a speech in Calgary on Saturday. “Believe it or not — this was in the ‘60s — we used to hustle on over the border for health care that we would receive in Whitehorse. I remember my brother, he burned his ankle in some little kid accident thing and my parents had to put him on a train and rush him over to Whitehorse and I think, isn’t that kind of ironic now. Zooming over the border, getting health care from Canada.”

— Canwest News Service (with files from Jason Markusoff).  “Sarah Palin’s Canadian health care link has critics sick.”  Calgary Herald, 8 March 2010. [Emphasis mine]

Some excitable journalists and commentators are trying to insinuate the stink of hypocrisy and covering the story like it’s a giant contradiction, but what it really tells us is that they have no deductive reasoning capability whatsoever.  I am no Palin apologist (my impression is that she is an earnest but incompetent politican, like Stephane Dion or John Tory), but surely the woman can not be called a hypocrite for an act she could not have influenced in any way, shape or form.

Let the record show that Sarah Louise Palin (née Heath) was born in 1964.  At the end of the 1960s she would be five years old.  Hands up, everyone who had the authority to select a sibling’s trauma treatment facility (in lieu of their parents doing so) at the age of five.  If you are guessing that Mom or Dad Heath was responsible for sending her brother to Whitehorse for treatment, you’re correct.  Now, hands up everyone whose parents made a decision in your formative years that you now, as an adult, find disagreeable.

Canada’s publicly-funded health care system was initiated by some provinces in 1961, but key federal legislation (the Canada Assistance Plan, 1966, and the Medical Care Act, 1966) did not come into force until 1968 (see timeline).  Yukon Territory set up a hospital insurance plan with federal cost sharing in 1961, and a more general medical insurance plan with federal cost-sharing in 1972.

It will not surprise you to learn that in that time, non-Canadians were not eligible for our publicly-funded health insurance, so the American Heath family would have paid for any medical services that were provided.

Palin’s father said his family probably boarded the train for the Whitehorse hospital only twice — once when a daughter had rheumatic fever, and once when his son, also named Chuck, severely burned his leg and an infection set in.

“We much preferred to use our facilities because my insurance didn’t cover anything in Whitehorse. And even though they have socialized medicine, I still had to pay the bill, being an American citizen,” Heath said.

Heath worked part-time for the White Pass & Yukon Railroad and had a pass allowing him and his family to ride for free.

— Markusoff, Jason.  “Sarah Palin heads north. Er, south. Er, to Calgary.” Calgary Herald, 7 March 2010.

If you want to drag Mrs. Palin over the coals about why the details of this story are eerily similar to another one told previously (where her brother burned his foot and went to Juneau, Alaska for treatment), you may have firmer ground to stand on.  It’s okay to dislike a pandering politician; I dislike lots of them.  But hypocrisy?  Please.  Palin was a five-year-old girl, at best, not the parent who decided where their children got treatment.  If there’s a contradiction here, it’s why a non-story is garnering so much breathless media attention.

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