TORONTO - Armed with the virtues of Canadian health care, Jack Layton is heading to Washington this week, hoping to bolster President Barack Obama's intentions to reform the American health system.
The federal New Democrat leader is to spend two and a half days meeting with White House officials and members of Congress.
"We know the Americans can't just simply adopt our model, walk it across the border and put it in place," Layton said in an interview Saturday after making a speech to the Ontario NDP provincial council in Toronto.
"But the principles of universality, of access and of insuring that health care's available to everybody, those kinds of principles are very much motivating the Obama administration."
Layton said he and his contingent will aim to destroy what he calls myths being perpetuated by right-wing health care privatizers who don't want Obama's plans realized.
He cited what he said was a particularly egregious example - U.S. advertisements in which a former head of the Canadian Medical Association promotes privatization and puts down Medicare.
Dr. Brian Day, a Canadian who operates his own private clinics, says in the ads that Canadian patients are languishing and dying on wait lists.
"Well actually the Canadian system produces better health outcomes, reaches everybody and is less expensive to operate than the U.S. system," Layton said.
It's crucial for Canadians to support Obama's efforts, he said, because it would relieve pressure in Canada to privatize health services.
"If Obama succeeds, it helps us hang onto our public health care system because they're (proponents of privatization) always chipping away at it, trying to say that we need to privatize," he said.
He added that the two countries could also work together to reduce the high price of pharmaceuticals.
Art Field, who attended the council meeting, applauded Layton's decision to visit Washington.
"You'll help them get the courage to put single payer on the agenda, so that people have got a real choice," he said.
"They can learn how people, when they have something to fight for, will support their government, will overcome those right-wing talk show hacks that are distorting the political culture."
Layton will speak to the Woodrow Wilson Center while he's in Washington. He'll also meet with Anita Dunn, Obama's director of communications, who is slated to be the keynote speaker at the New Democrat federal convention in Halifax in August.
A New Democrat government in Saskatchewan was the first to introduce universal Medicare.