By BRIAN LAGHI and PAUL ADAMS
Globe and Mail Update
Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day used the release of the Liberals' latest red book to try to push the focus of the federal campaign away from his health-care headaches Thursday, but the Liberal Leader pushed right back.
Mr. Day, who has been pummelled by Mr. Chrétien for policies that would allow an expansion of private health services, took aim at Liberal fiscal policies, which he said shortchange medicare.
"It's the federal Liberals that slashed health care in a way that brought health care to its knees" in their first term, Mr. Day told reporters. And now the Liberal platform Red Book III "is going to take a huge bite out of our wallets and our purses."
The Liberals reiterated a September promise in this week's election platform to ante up more than $21-billion extra in health social spending for the provinces.
The introduction Wednesday of the red book was seen by Alliance staffers yesterday as a lucky break for a campaign that has had few since it kicked off two weeks ago. The Alliance was being piled on by all of the other major parties over the past two days about medicare.
Yet, despite the effort to take the glare off, Mr. Day did not escape questions on the issue from reporters or Mr. Chrétien, who continued to press him hard on health care.
Mr. Chrétien has been highly critical of the Alliance proposal to replace federal cash transfers to the provinces with a hand-over of taxing power to let them raise the money for health care directly.
"I'm still waiting for Mr. Day to answer the questions I asked," Mr. Chrétien said Thursday, referring to a series of pointed queries earlier in the week demanding Mr. Day explain how he would enforce the Canada Health Act if transfers were eliminated.
Under the existing medicare system, Ottawa can withhold cash transfers from a province that violates the rules contained in the federal act.
The Liberal Leader cast the federal government in the role of a police officer who needs to patrol for provincial violations of the principles of medicare.
Asked whether it's Ottawa's job to "punish" provinces if they violate the health act, by charging user fees, for example, he said: "It's not to punish, it's to enforce and respect the law. If you drive 100 kilometres an hour in a 50 kilometres an hour zone, you will be punished. You will be arrested by the police, taken before a judge and you'll have to pay a fine."
Mr. Chrétien pointed out his own government used enforcement provisions in the mid-1990s to pressure the Alberta government of which Mr. Day was a member.