DR. DANIELLE MARTIN KNOWS HOW TO SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. She became famous for it. Her YouTube video doing it has 1.6 million views. But it is her fierce and proud commitment to Medicare that makes her so important to all Canadians.
It is that commitment that makes her YouTube video so compelling. In it she uses plain and simple facts coupled with deep personal conviction that overwhelm a US senator’s attack on our Canadian Medicare.
Her “in the moment” response to a question about long wait times in Canada emphasized how the values that are the foundation of our Medicare matter as much as the care that it delivers.
“I waited more than 30 minutes at the security line to get into this building today. And when I arrived in the lobby I noticed across the hall that there was a second entry point with no lineup whatsoever.
“Sometimes it’s not actually about the amount of resources you have, but rather how you organize people...most effectively. And that’s what we’re working to do. Because we believe that when you try to address wait times you should do it in a way that benefits everyone—not just people who can afford to pay.”
When Senator, Richard Burr, took another cheap shot by asking Danielle how many Canadian patients died each year while on a waiting list for care, she quickly replied: “I don’t know sir, but I know there are 45,000 in America who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all.”
Dr. Danielle Martin appears before US Senate committee in 2014
Of life, death and family
Danielle Martin never met her grandfather. But it is his way of living and dying that set her on her life’s course.
Jacques Elie Shilton emigrated from Egypt with 10 of his family members. A hard-working and accomplished man who spoke seven languages, he came to Canada with the hope of a better life for his family. A few months later, he suffered a heart attack that dramatically affected his health and finances.
With no Medicare system to support him, he had to pay for his own treatment. This led to debt, family breakdown and financial ruin, and meant that he often had to go without the drugs and treatment he needed. The stress of his situation and his inability to afford the care he needed led to his early death. He was only 54.
Danielle Martin grew up with the family tragedy weighing heavily upon her. Her mother’s painful account of finding her grandfather’s lifeless body and her belief that his illness and resulting financial difficulties destroyed the family, led Martin to become an advocate for Medicare long before she ever entered the medical profession.
Her mother, a dean at Ryerson University and her father, a labour activist, encouraged her in her activism.
“I grew up being taught and therefore believing that everyone should be pitching in and doing what they can to make the world a better place,” she explained.
After receiving a science degree from McGill in 1998, she took a job as assistant to Gerald Kennedy who was Liberal health critic in the Ontario Legislature at the time.
When she did decide to apply to the University of Western Ontario’s medical school, she was sure she had scuttled her admissions interview after she went on a tirade about issues that needed to be addressed within the medical system. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and she graduated as an MD in 2003.
Danielle worked as a family physician worked in areas across northern Ontario that had few of the services those in larger cities took for granted. She got to see firsthand the challenges facing Canadians in more remote communities.
This experience strengthened her resolve to protect and improve the single-payer system. In 2006, Danielle was one of the founders of Canadian Doctors for Medicare—an organization opposed the increased privatization of Canadian health care and the development of a two-tier health care system.
A head and heart connection
Danielle Martin has a high-profile career: she is the vice-president of medical affairs and health system solutions at Women’s College Hospital, and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. But she has never stopped being a family doctor.
She maintains a thriving family practice in Toronto. She says it is what connects “my brain to my heart.”
But her support for Medicare doesn’t stop her from addressing the problems within the system.
“I do not presume to claim today that the Canadian system is perfect or that we do not face significant challenges,” she told the senate committee. “The evidence is clear that those challenges do not stem from the single-payer nature of our system. Quite the contrary.”
Danielle Martin has continued that theme in her new book Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care. She outlines her proposals for improving healthcare in Canada. with provocative headings like “A Nation with a Drug Problem,” and “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There.”
These include such things as ensuring relationship-based primary healthcare for every Canadian, which she calls the “secret sauce of primary care,” and bringing prescription drugs under Medicare—commonly referred to as Pharmacare.
Her ideas expand the whole idea of what makes up a complete medical care system. For example, she maintains full health care should include a basic income guarantee. “Like medicare, a basic-income guarantee is a form of insurance against hard times,” she writes. She believes it should be deemed “a right of citizenship rather than an act of charity.”
Together with fellow policy expert, Dr. Pierre-Gerlier Forest, Danielle Martin has just wrapped up an external review of the federally-funded pan-Canadian health organizations (PCHOs) and released a report which calls for a major overhaul that would eliminate duplication and tackle the huge policy gaps that exist.
How the findings will be implemented is yet to be determined but it is one more step forward in Martin’s push to improve healthcare and better serve the needs of all Canadians.
Martin does have a private life. She lives in Toronto with her partner, Steven Barrett, a well-known labour lawyer, and her young daughter Isa. But the memory of the grandfather she never knew because there was no Medicare system to support him when he needed it continues to impel her fight to protect and enhance the system that could have saved him.
Hockey is good, Medicare is better
Danielle Martin joined Bernie Sanders and 14 other US senators in September 2017 news conference when they introduced their own single-payer medicare bill. Danielle spoke about how important Medicare is to Canadians. She told them a Canadian poll found: “94% of Canadians say that our healthcare system is a source of personal and collective pride, even more than ice hockey,”
Danielle Martin is someone who demonstrates that reality every day. The task for us all now is clear, as she says, what we need to do is: “less talk about whether Medicare is good, more talk about how to make it better.”
Dr. Daneille Martin is someone we can count on to keep that talk going until we make our Medicare better and still better.