Painful Truth: Canada could eliminate cancer

Psst! Stephen Harper! Thomas Mulcair! Justin Trudeau! C’mere for a second. I’ve got an idea for all of you. Don’t worry, it’s non-partisan – but whoever actually goes for it might win a big chunk of votes.

Here it is: cancer stinks.

You know that? So why aren’t we doing something about it right now?

I’m serious.

Ah, you can point me to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Yes, a very worthy organization, which pours money into a wide variety of research projects. Its budget is hovering around $1 billion annually now. That’s not bad.

Of course, Canada’s gross domestic product is currently a hair over $1.9 trillion. Yeah, trillion with a T, a one with 12 zeroes.

Which means that in terms of health research in Canada, we’re putting one dollar out of every $1,900 into the pot, through the federal government. And that pot is then divided up for a variety of health projects.

Obviously, the government doesn’t have access to every dollar floating around in the economy. The total federal budget this year was $279.2 billion. So for health, the government spent 0.0035 per cent of the budget on health research.

That’s too low.

Now a digression for a moment, but don’t worry, this will make sense.

What is Canada known for? Hockey, yes, politeness, maybe sorta, definitely Mounties. We used to define ourselves by our U.N. Peacekeeping, but that has dwindled. We could use a bit of a rebranding. Something else to put on the ol’ international resume, some bragging rights to take into those G7 meetings.

How about we cure cancer?

This weekend, a few hundred folks will be walking around the track at McLeod Athletic Park in Langley for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. It’s the same day as the Ride to

Survive, and week after the Ride to Conquer Cancer, and this fall the Cops for Cancer hit the road, right around the time of the Terry Fox Run. Canadians have an appetite for funding cancer research. We’ll walk, bike, run, wear our underwear outside of our clothes, bungee jump naked, do whatever it takes to get a few extra bucks.

So why not give the cancer research budget a bit of a boost? It’s possibly the only government program I can think of where you could announce, “We’ll spend a lot more money,” and it could get you votes.

In fact, let’s turn it into Canada’s Apollo Program.

In the mid 1960s, when the U.S. was trying to put humans on the moon, NASA soaked up 4.4 per cent of the entire government budget.

If we got just half of that, we’d have a $6.1-billion cancer-fighting effort. And trust me, all the Relay for Lifers and Terry Fox runners around the country aren’t going to stop while more money will help. We’ll top up that fund. Bet you we can get to $7 billion?

I am dead serious about this. Put the money out there. Offer the grants. Bring every brilliant scientist and grad student with a good idea to Canada. Get them to tackling the cancers, one after another: leukemia, lung cancer, brain tumours, bone cancer, skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer.

We’ll knock them over like dominoes. We’ll figure out cancer’s secrets and subvert it, zap it, drive it out.

There would be economic spin-offs for us, of course. A huge scientific dividend we can’t even predict, lower health care costs, people living longer.

But mostly, we should do it because it’s right, and because we can, and because you don’t achieve wonders without effort.

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